Le Cinéma: cent ans de jeunesse

In the summer of 2009, BFI joined a film-making programme established by the Cinémathèque Française in Paris in 1995 called ‘Le Cinéma, cent ans de jeunesse’.  These pages track the progress of the English participation in the project, from our first venture in 2009/10 (‘Why move the camera?’).  The latest theme is ‘The Situation’, 2018/19.

What is ‘Le Cinéma, cent ans de jeunesse’ ?

In 1995, the Cinémathèque Française set up a young people’s film-making programme to celebrate the centenary of cinema. The programme had a specific approach and working method which is still going strong more than 20 years later.  Firstly, all the young people involved in the programme follow the same process: to make films that respond to an aspect of film language.  Second, the programme is very tightly structured into exploratory exercises and the production of a final ‘film essai’.  The whole process takes between 30 and 50 hours, over two terms.  Thirdly, there is a comprehensive ‘viewing curriculum’ of clips taken from the history of cinema and from around the world. Fourth, each workshop is run by a film-maker and a teacher, each with particular responsibilities.

In 1995 the subject was ‘Lumière’: all participants made films in the same spirit, and under some of the same constraints, as the Lumière Brothers.

Over the next 15 years the programme grew to involve 25 – 30 workshop groups or ‘ateliers’ each year.  In the last few years workshops from Spain, Italy, and Portugal joined the original French groups, and in 2009 the BFI brought groups from south London into the programme.  In 2010 our first cohort of Lincolnshire primary schools joined, and in 2012, several groups from Edinburgh and Dundee, led by the Centre for the Moving Image at Edinburgh Filmhouse.  In 2013/14 there were 31 workshop groups in Scotland, and more in Lincolnshire, London, and Taunton.  By 2018/19, the international cohort had expanded to Lithuania, Bulgaria, Germany, Finland, Romania, and Belgium, and Brazil, India, Japan and Cuba.

The film language topics covered include ‘light’, ‘colour’, ‘figure/fond’ (foreground/background), ‘camera movement’, ‘hiding/revealing’, ‘real/fiction’, mettre en scene’ or ‘staging’.  In 2013/14 we followed with ‘plan sequence’, or ‘the long take’, and the year after it was ‘L’Intervalle’, or the gaps and spaces between characters, and between film and audience.  In 2015/16, the programme joined the international climate change conference in Paris, COP 21, by exploring weather and climate: ‘Le Meteo’.  In 2016/17 the focus was on ‘play’ in the cinema.  In 2017/18, the programme moved on to consider the relationship between ‘places’, and ‘stories’: how particular places can generate, or be associated with, stories in cinema. 2018/19’s theme is ‘the situation’: the common patterns of narrative, and relations between characters, that make up different types of story situation.

Film-making groups in education settings in the UK are welcome to join the project by emailing mark.reid@bfi.org.uk.

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Mid-term meeting in London

We had a very productive reflective meeting today at BFI for schools from Lincolnshire/ Nottingham and London.  Legsby, North Summercotes, Brierley Forest, St. Vincent’s, Vittoria, Tyssen, and Highfield Junior School in Bromley.  We looked at Exercises 2 and 3, and I’ll share a couple below.

First, special mention to Emma from Brierley Forest in Nottingham, first time on the Cinematheque programme, and shared with us this pair of Exercise 3 films, whose brief is to film the same situation in two different ways, bringing out different emotions and dimensions in each.  Emma’s group have a child who is using a wheelchair at the moment; an extra constraint, chosen by the children, was to ensure the films both gave her a role, and enabled her to participate.  The results are two very powerful pieces of film, but with fascinating contrasts.  We noticed how in the second film, with the children playing basketball, the group were so absorbed in the activity that they forgot to ‘act’.  Their performances are more natural for being set in a real activity.  We remembered ‘real/fiction‘ from a few years back, where one Exercise required children to carry out a real activity (tying shoe laces; washing dishes; playing football) while in a story.  In the first Brierley Forest film (Exercise 3 Part 1) the children are ‘play acting’, rather than playing a real game.

And two similarities: both films start with beautifully framed close- or medium close-ups, with the sound of other children enjoying themselves offscreen: our protagonists are already isolated.  Second, we had been talking about the tendency in children’s stories/ films for conflict to be resolved (in a hug, often), and how children seem to want to resolve stories in this way.  Brierley Forest chose a more realistic – or just sadder? – resolution, in which friends don’t make up, loners don’t get asked to join in.  In fact in Exercise 3 Part 2, the movement out of frame of our heroine, unnoticed by the group, is quite devastating.

We had quite a discussion about music – when to use it, when not to, what it adds, what it subtracts/ distracts.  How it’s most powerful when children devise and perform the soundtrack themselves.  Leo, from Legsby Primary, has been soundtracking their cinematheque films for what seems like years.  He gets given the film on a laptop and asked to improvise, then record, a soundtrack to go with the film.  We like what he’s added to Legsby’s two tales about odd shoes.

Legsby’s film also prompted discussion about the challenge this year of children creating situations that conveyed emotion – and then how to perform and film those emotions.  One of the hardest – but most powerful – to convey is ‘shame’, or ‘la honte.’  There is a special section in the CCAJ Vimeo channel on shame this year, and we looked at the end of the Bicycle Thieves.  Legsby’s two films – ‘Odd Shoes’ – creates a sense of shame in their characters, but we also noticed how putting shoes centre frame liberates the camera height and angle.

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Mid-term meeting in Berlin

Partners from Lithuania, Finland, Germany, Belgium, Scotland, and England came together in mid-February for the annual ‘mid-term bilan’, or review meeting, to share progress on Exercises 1-3 of ‘la situation.’

We’ve already looked at Exercise 1 and 2 – the voiced commentaries on paintings, and the four-shot exercises describing a situation without words.  This time we’ll just look at a couple of Exercises 3s:

Film a situation between two characters linked to an emotion – a romantic encounter / envy / jealousy /shame.

 Repeat the exact same situation, but change the space where this encounter takes place, and change the manner in which you film it.

2 mins per situation – 4 mins in total.

North Sumercotes made probably the best piece, about a football game, with a player whose football was found wanting..  The people in Berlin loved the way the piece opened, with the choreography of 6 children all leaving a classroom together, but not bumping into each other ‘like a small flock of birds all gathering and moving in unison’.  The two versions beautifully reposition the isolated girl as popular, then lonely – with a different character arriving with his own, better ball.  A simple situation that gives roles to 7 or 8 children.

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Lincolnshire Catch-up

Cinematheque project teachers came to Fosse Way Primary in Lincoln last Thursday to share progress on this year’s theme ‘la Situation’.  We met Ivor from Legsby, Mark and Guy from North Summercotes, Emma from Brierley Forest in Notts, and Rob from Fosse Way, convened by Christine Whitney.

Exercise 1 asks children to respond to some paintings chosen because of their compelling situations (https://markreid1895.wordpress.com/2018/10/27/images-for-exercise-1/).  The David Hockney painting turned out to be surprisingly popular with children, maybe because it’s enigmatic, or because it’s colourful.  We talked about the difference between children recording improvised voice-over responses while filming the painting, as opposed to putting a still of the painting in an iMovie timeline and having children record scripted voice over.  We found that children can speak for longer when they’re improvising, and pointing to features of the image.  One boy from Legsby spent a good two minutes talking us through the Tissot painting, noticing the man’s discarded hat, the samovar, the looks on the characters’ faces.

We asked what the groups had been watching, and which films from this year’s list were popular.  Emma’s group in Brierley Forest had just watched The Letter that morning – one of last year’s final films, made by the Children’s Film Academy in Mumbai.  They liked the wide shot of the boy arriving on the bike, and a shot of the silent protagonist in foreground, with oblivious kite flying boy in the background.

North Summercotes watched The Balcony, though unlike this link, their version had no subtitles!  Mark and Guy proved that children will watch films in different languages if the stories and characters are engaging.

N Summercotes had also begun Exercise 2, to film a sequence of 4 shots/ 2 minutes maximum in which two people are brought together by a ‘situation’.  The rubric says 2 minutes max, but the children interpreted this as two minutes full stop, so some of the shots are very extended – to varying effect.  Some of the pieces make beautiful use of the strong shadows of winter light, and flip between black and white and colour to powerful effect.  Watch them here:  http://blog.cinematheque.fr/100ans20182019/author/northsomercotes/


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Launch PPT for CPD event on ‘La Situation’

Here’s the PPT launching ‘la Situation’ at CPD events in London (31st October) and Lincoln (2nd November).  Also can be found on Slideshare: https://www.slideshare.net/markreid1895/ccaj-la-situation

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Sample scheme for ‘la Situation’

Here’s an indicative plan for going through ‘Situation’, the theme for 2018/19.  It’s set up across 20+ weeks, from November to end of May, but can be condensed/ edited, according to time available.


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Images for Exercise 1

Attached below are the images selected to support Exercise 1, in which students are invited to:

Choose a painting from those proposed by CCAJ. 
What does this picture tell us?
What situation do the characters find themselves in?

Film the picture and record a commentary track, whether improvised 
or from a written text, inspired by the picture.

Individual exercise (or in small groups)
To be made out of school hours if at all possible:
2 minutes maximum

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2018/19 edition: ‘la Situation’

In 2018/19, the 25th edition of le Cinema cent ans de jeunesse, we are looking at ‘la Situation’: the range of dramatic situations that recur in films, how they are shot and edited, and how they position the spectator.  At the training event in Paris on 28th and 29th September, 60 teachers, filmmakers, and cultural partners gathered to hear more about the theme, from artistic patron Alain Bergala.  Participants came from Finland and Lithuania, Germany and Belgium, Japan, Brazil and Argentina, Italy, Spain and Portugal, Scotland and England, and 30 colleagues from across France.

Bergala set out by looking in detail at two films, rich in ‘situational’ possibilities: Balkonas (Balcony) from Lithuania, about the friendship of two children during the Soviet era, that is nurtured across their next door apartment balconies.  And The Lost City of Z, whose narrative is structured around a series of repeating situations of (failed?) exploration in the Amazon jungle.

On the Saturday we looked at collections of themed situations across multiple films, for example, the trope whereby a film opens with a character arriving at an unfamiliar place (think Rebecca, or Edward Scissorhands, Spirited Away, or The Shining); or moments where couples separate at a train station (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg; Casablanca; L’Avventura; Terminal Station😉 or indeed where characters are waiting for the arrival of someone at a station (Once Upon a Time in West; The Railway Children; High Noon).

We considered situations that recur in a film, but where the tables are turned (Mandy; City Lights; Rio Bravo; Bicycle Thieves); situations of social embarrassment or shame (Boudu Saved from Drowning; Toni Erdmann; Bicycle Thieves; Imitation of Life; I Was Born But..); situations that pivot on a sudden twist (La Femme du Cote); and a whole sub-genre of scenes around billiard tables (Three Times; Vivre sa Vie; A Place in the Sun).

Bergala encouraged us to think about the difference between a motif, which is ‘descriptive’ (someone walking along a country lane in spring), and a ‘situation’, in which tension, drama, or change is introduced (someone walking along a country lane in Spring encounters a character mending a punctured bicycle tyre).  What is so fascinating is the number of examples of particular recurring situations: the number of couples who separate tragically at train stations, or who flirt around billiard tables; or the number of fights that start in saloon bars.

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