Le Cinéma, cent ans de jeunesse

In the summer of 2009, BFI joined a film-making programme hosted by the Cinémathèque Française since 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 ‘Centred/Decentred’, 2022/23.  In the summer of 2021, the programme cut loose from its parent, the Cinémathèque Française, and went independent, after 25 years!  It is supported until 2024 by the Erasmus Programme,

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

In 1995, a group of film educators 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 25 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 10 years the programme grew to involve 25 – 30 workshop groups or ‘ateliers’ each year, expanding into Spain, Italy, and Portugal aroundf 2005, and then 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 and Argentina, and then in 2020 a major push into South America brought in Chile, Columbia, Mexico and Uruguay.

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 was ‘the situation’: the common patterns of narrative, and relations between characters, that make up different types of story situation, followed in 2019/20 by ‘sensory cinema’: how film mobilises the senses in creating stories, characters, and feelings.  2020/21 covered ‘time in cinema’, and the following year, we looked at ‘motifs’ in film.  The theme in 2022/23 was ‘Centred/ Decentred’ – in shots, scenes, and stories.

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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Centred/ Decentred, 2022/23

In the second year of the newly independent Cinema Cent Ans de Jeunesse, the chosen theme looks at how filmmakers centre, decentre, and recentre, their shots, scenes, and stories.

Partners went to Cine104 in Pantin, on the outskirts of Paris, in early October, to take down notes. Because of our partnership with Documentaires sur grand ecran, we now look at documentaries as well as fiction. And Laia from A Bao A Qu in Barcelona, showed us how to introduce the theme using paintings and photos.

Back in the UK this week (2nd Nov), I shared some of the extracts, the exercises, and images, with a group of teachers and filmmakers from all over – east coast of Scotland down to the eastern reaches of London, via Lincolnshire.

The PPT and Zoom recordings can be downloaded here: https://www.dropbox.com/scl/fo/592nfzrsaxxm2i4okrlbs/h?dl=0&rlkey=cjm91e6re6i1xstq9115i171i

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London Screening June 2022

24th June and 4 schools (and one virtually) came to BFI Southbank to screen their Motifs films. Five very varied takes on the brief for this year:

Make a short film – with or without a story – with 2 or 3 recurring motifs, which evolve during the film.
The filming of these motifs, their structured repetition in the film, must create meaning and emotion. Two of the motifs must be chosen from the list below:

staircase, shadow, tree, window, mirror, store window, swing, umbrella, hair.

Glendale Primary in Glasgow made Amaryllis, in which two children, one coded white, the other red, vie for power using a paper flower. The motifs are colour coded – flowers, dress, paint, balls – and there is extensive use of stairs and mirrors. At the screening we picked up on the tradition of Sleeping Beauty, and the children referenced Alice Through the Looking Glass.

William Ransom Primary in Hitchin took the looser, less narrative approach, building their motifs (stairs, mirrors, trees, shadows) into a dense interweaving of images, allowing, as the brief puts it ‘evolution through the film’, as well as creating ‘meaning and emotion’.

Oldhill Primary, in east London, made an ambitious multi-layered piece, creating two separate story world – one in a computer game – as well as a series of scary characters, one of whom wears the mask of a Greek tragedian. ‘Levels’ refers to the primary motif – stairs and ladders – as well as the levels of a game. Spot the reference to Bergman’s Seventh Seal! And the ending is genuinely chilling..

St. Margaret’s in Withern in Lincolnshire gave us the gorgeously photographed big Lincolnshire skies and wide empty beaches. And also a story built around twins, which as they pointed out onstage in their Q&A is effectively a ‘mirroring’ device. They chose not to record dialogue, instead communicating through shadows and gestures.

Finally, Year 8 pupils at Hayes School in Kent gave us ‘Overlooked’ which amongst many other things is an evocative portrayal of how it must feel to arrive at a new school. Using windows, reflections, and framing, we get to see glimpses of classes until a fellow pupil reaches out to the new boy. And a wonderful credit sequence at the end!

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Montage of Exercises from Paris

Also in Berlin, we watched a compilation of Exercises shown in Paris, the week before. You can watch it here, the second video window on the page: http://lesmotifs.blogcinemacentansdejeunesse.org/blog/exercices/

It opens with Exercises 1 and 2 from (checks notes..) a French school, that use a guitar as a motif. The two are linked, nicely. A girl in a classroom types on a computer; the shot is framed to reveal a tiny figure on a balcony, visible through a window in the top left of the shot. The girl is typing something, which she undoes. She goes to open the window, and the girl with the guitar, still tiny in shot, starts singing. The first girl goes back to her computer and retypes her original lines. If you then rewatch Exervcise 1, the way the guitar is shot, and caressed, suddenly looks quite different..

Second Exercises, from Guadeloupe, feature a powerful, vivid, use of the colour blue, and a paintbrush dipped in a jar of water the stirs up clouds.

And then a fountain. And fourth, two Japanese pieces – one featuring shoes and feet, on steps and stairs, and one using mirrors that pulls out and revelas itself being filmed. Very cheeky. The boy acting is using multiple mirrors to create a conversation, and friends, for himself.

Bergala quotes Jean-Marie Straub, filmmaker, asking that something ‘burns in the shot’. Look through these pieces for ‘what burns’. We also wondered, at length, about how a thing, or an idea, becomes a ‘motif’ in a piece of film. It’s not just a question of filming a thing; there has to be some intention, some emphasis, behind the choice.

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Motifs @ St. Margaret’s

I was lucky to be speaking on behalf of Ivor and James from St. Margaret’s Withern at our mid-term meeting in Berlin at the weekend. I’ve uploaded the short compilation of their Exercises 1, 2, and 3 below: the first Exercise is to choose a personal object, and shoot it ‘like a motif’; the second is to find a place and film motifs on location; and third Exercise is to create a situation with mirrors.

We had quite a long look at these. Silke from the EYE didn’t notice the book at all in Ex 1: she thought the motif was all about the number three! We talked about how looking for motifs changes our attention as viewers – suddenly, everything has meaning. Motifs that weren’t put in the shot suddenly appear. And we liked the way the book moved from foreground object to functional prop – oscillating between visible and invisible, use and ornament. We talked about how motifs can be an ‘idea’, as well as an ‘object’. ‘Motifs that take cinematic form’, as Tomii put it.

People had questions about the photos in Ex 2: the move from abstract distribution, on the floor, to chldren looking at them, to the more experimental notion of hanging them on trees; is the latter a real game, or one they invented?

We liked the piano exercise – the camera hard up on the keyboard, and the sound jarring and harsh. violent, aggressive, supporting the drama. Not many groups made use of their own music, and this film uses musical tunes to signal conflict, and to associate with specific characters.

And the mirrors in Ex 3: people loved the framing, with the constant juggling of atttention from mirror, to real life, not knowing what was live and what reflected – a really complex mise en scene.

We talked about the energy, bordering on violence, that we see in some of the films – tensions, conflict. Is it a response to coming out of the daytime curriculum, which is maybe more repressive? Is it just a feature of English classrooms? Bettina from Germany asked whether it is a challenge to contain all that energy in a frame – does it spill out, over? Do they need a discipline to stay in the frame?

We wanted to know which clips they had been watching, where they took inspiration from. And noted how great they lookd projected on a big screen (sorry you missed that!)

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Mandatory giant door-clanging

A friend and I, separately, saw Dune this weekend. Unlike me, he lasted to the end. When I asked him what he thought, he offered ‘Big canvas, tiny conventonal story.. lots of mandatory giant door-clanging’. ‘Giant door-clanging’ I thought sums up the hour and three quarters I saw pretty succinctly; I thought of all those scenes where small characters are overwhelmed by spectacle, usually in sci-fi/ fantasy (or SF) films, very few of which, it has to be said, I’ve actually seen… The giant door-clanging trope functions as a metonym (is it? Or synecdoche, part standing for the whole?) for all those films.

But it led me to think about the difference between a trope in a genre, and a motif in a film (or a novel for that matter). Aren’t they the same? The sandstone structures of Monument Valley are motifs in John Ford films, but also tropes in Westerns. So what is the difference? I wonder whether because a genre film doesn’t have an auteur in the same way as an arthouse films, means its constituent parts are graded of lower cultural value. But also whether the motif in cinema is somehow smaller, more intimate in scale, more personal; I can’t imagine an auteur like Sirk, Godard, Truffaut, Kiarostami – any of the favourites of Cinema Cent Ans de Jeunesse – using the trope of ‘giant clanging doors’ in a film. But if Denis Villeneuve uses it across more than one film, does it become part of his trademark style, and thus a motif?

And then I thought of Fritz Lang, and wonder whether Metropolis has any (silent) giant door clanging, and ditto Eisenstein.. and I bet Coppola does in his Dracula film..

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Bright Star, motifs

Jane Campion’s Bright Star (2009) is unjustly overlooked I think, as I guess Campion’s work is in general. It’s the story of the love affair between English poet John Keats (the original ‘poete maudit’) and Fanny Brawne; it ends unhappily.

Watching it recently, since beginning to think about motifs in cinema, I noticed patterning around windows, light, and trees. Famny is shot always in luminous space: either seated in window seats, or lit from bright windows. The windows have a practical use: she designs and makes her own clothes, as a creative counter point to Keats’s poetry, and must be in bright sunlight to work.

Fanny is also frequently shot outside, appearing at windows or glazed doors, or crossing thresholds from outside to in; she is a creature of the brightly lit, outside world, in contrast to Keats, who lives in book-lined, gloomy studies, and is often in a ‘brown study’ (the English idiom meaning bored, depressed, or frustrated).

The story of the relationship is also told through a series of walks, through the same set of woods (meant to be Hampstead Heath, but shot in Hertfordshire I think). The relationship grows from initiation, through flirtation, to consummation and finally, loss. There is a dramatic climax in the second walk, and the summer walk carries echoes of Renoir’s Partie de Campagne. You might also notice how the number of characters reduces from scene to scene, with a kind of mathematical precision and inevitability.

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Project update..

From reading the previous post, one could be forgiven for thinking that CCAJ has just been lifted lock, stock, and barrel from its previous home at the Cinematheque Francaise, to its new one at Cine 104…

But what this misses out is the following:

A new organisation has been established, called Cinema Cent Ans de Jeunesse (based on a pre-existing association from the start of the programme); it has taken over the website from the Cinematheque host: only the URL is visibly different (https://www.cinemacentansdejeunesse.org/); Nathalie, Isabelle and Emiliano are working as independents; there are new partners Documentaire sur grand ecran, who are supporting workshops in the Ile de France (welcome new colleague Elizabeth Wotling!); and finally, we are anxiously awating the outcome of an Erasmus+ funding bid, co-ordinated by Tine Kopf at the Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum.

So, on the surface, nothing has changed; but underneath, everything!

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Motifs in Cinema

CCAJ resumed last week, with training in Paris for a new theme: Motifs in Cinema.  Change is afoot: instead of all the partners and workshop leaders meeting at the Cinémathèque Française, the event was held at Cine 104, in Pantin, which is beyond the Périphérique (which marks the city boundary of Paris).  It’s a new venue, and partnership, since CF let the programme go.  And yet, so many of the features of the training event are recognisable; if only the French had a phrase for ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose’..

So the event was led as usual by Alain Bergala, seated behind his desk, lit by a chic table lamp, to the right of a big screen.  And for a cumulative 7 hours or so, over two days, he led us through the variegations of ‘motifs’ in film.

An immediate challenge came in the translation of ‘motifs’: ‘patterns’ was offered, but while watching the examples, it became clear that a ‘motif’ is not a pattern.  ‘Patterns’ suggests something decorative, which is more likely to be abstract, rather than figurative.  It picks up the repetitive aspect of motifs, but not the actual figurative content.  ‘Motifs’ are actual things, that recur, across a text, or across an author or filmmaker’s body of work: Catholic iconography in the work of Martin Scorsese; shadows in The Third Man; staircases in Hitchcock.

So we think we’ll stick with ‘motifs’, but then comes the challenge of presenting them to children, especially younger ones.  ‘Motifs’, I think, live somewhere between fetishized objects, which might have particular emotional or narrative resonance or symbolic meaning, and the repeated use of patterns.  It became apparent that defining motifs, in an exact and explicit way, is much harder than showing examples; and when it comes to working with children, it will be easier to have them choose motifs to film, than worrying over what motifs actually are and how to define them.

Bergala, and his colleagues Emiliano and Sebastian, who also presented aspects of the theme, had a short list of motifs that we would focus on:

  • Trees
  • Windows
  • Staircases
  • Hair

And Emiliano (Ovejero, one of the CCAJ team) made some helpful links between musical and visual motifs in Max Ophuls’s Letter from an Unknown Woman.

For trees, we looked at one film in detail: Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows, in which Cary, a widowed suburban housewife, falls for Ron, a self-determined and composed younger man, who lives close to nature and runs a small forestry business.  The trees in the film are associated with vigorous, outdoor life; they are self managing, independent, robust and true.  Cary’s life is prone to fashion, the gossip of friends and neighbours, the opinions of others.  She is trapped in a network of obligations to others. The attraction of Ron is mediated through trees – the ones they see from his ex-millhouse, the ones he seeks at the Christmas market.

We saw trees in the work of Abbas Kiarostami, another CCAJ favourite, in the form of repeated lattice-patterned woods, through which characters have to snake and weave, and of lone trees, standing atop dramatic hills as landmarks.

For mirrors, we looked at examples from Truffaut’s Stolen Kisses in which a character obsessively repeats his name into the mirror; Orphee, in which the mirror is a portal to the underworld; Bigger than Life (Nicholas Ray), in which a character’s mental disintegration is marked by the cracking of a bathroom mirror.

We looked at how Jean Renoir uses windows in his mise en scene, with scenes from Boudu Saved from Drowning and Partie de Compagne, and also at Hitchcock’s association of windows with voyeurism, for example in Rear Window.

The next day, colleague Sebastian Ronceray showed us examples of experimental video that used the same motifs: Guy Sherwin’s Man with Mirror, in which Sherwin has been filming himself holding a mirror against a background projection of himself holding the same mirror, on and off, for 40 years.  There were compilation films of umbrellas, there was Matthias Muller’s Home Stories, of 1991, which is a compilation of shots of women looking out of windows, or running upstairs, looking through doors, getting up out of armchairs, all taken from melodramas and soap opera TV of the 1950s and 1960s.  It reminded me of this:

Thoughts on introducing the theme to children…

For younger children, let’s start with images from picture books that function as motifs – that is, that are more than objects in the story, but tell us something extra about a character, or about the world the characters live in.

Maybe more straightforward, is to think about motifs in literature that students might be studying: the rabbits, kittens, mice that Lennie keeps, dreams about, unwittingly kills in Of Mice and Men; the images of witches and witchcraft in Macbeth.

Alain Bergala’s own starting point would work for any age group:

Rules of the Game, links to clips, and Exercises will follow… and Zoom training on 8th November, 4.30 – 6.30..

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TIme in Cinema: CPD 23 November

I just want to follow up on the CPD session we held last night to introduce this year’s theme to everyone; great to see people from Scotland, Lincolnshire, Wales and London! Here’s a quick note of the kinds of thing we covered:

On the differences and similarities between the ways in which film and print handle time:

  • how you can have flashbacks and other temporal leaps in both modes
  • time montages – only in film? montage as exclusively a time-based device
  • slowing down time in film – but also expanding moments in print
  • multi-modal nature of film (image, sound, voice) makes simultaneous time frames possible in film/ print is usually linear not multi-layered (but picture books?)
  • both film and print can give the appearance of ‘aging’ in their stock/ pages
  • doing ‘summaries’ – both modes can do this
  • reading a book at your own pace vs willingly submitting ourselves to time in film viewing

We watched the Lumiere Bros films. Anne M spotted the ‘fourth’ layer of time in the Washerwomen on the Seine clip, which we usually think of as having three horizontal layers; it turns out, the river itself is running in its own time frame.

We looked at how time is defined in the Arival of a Train clip – from the moment the train stps, the doors open, to when it leaves; at how ‘waiting time’ (the passengers on the platform) is a different kind of time-scape, and ‘anticipation’ is a time-world where we mix present with future. How ‘train-time’ is its own time world as well.

On the ‘waiting’ aspect, we thought of how close mindfulness is to being ‘outside time’, being in a perpetual present, being ‘in the moment’.

Vimeo playlist here: https://cloud.cfav.fr/index.php/s/PjDWTzycqkyRot6?path=%2F

People suggested other films that had ‘timely’ relevance;

  • Father and Daughter, by Michael Dudok de Wit, a 9 minute summary of a girl’s life, with a devastating ending..
  • The opening of Soylent Green, where a back story is told through still images (and what a great idea for a mini exercise!
  • The Big Blue, by Luc Besson, about free diving, and the time anxiety it provokes in viewers
  • Little Terrorist, 15 minute short from India, and India’s only Oscar nominated short

And there are a couple of links to clips illustrating the ‘pause’ in diegetic/ film story time that we get with big song and dance numbers in musicals:

You can access the recording of the session through this Dropbox link below:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/5csfs12p8tounu0/zoom_0.mp4?dl=0

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Time in Cinema: 2020/21

The 2020/21 edition of Cinema Cent Ans de Jeunesse is following ‘time in cinema’ as its theme. The international participants gathered virtually at the Cinematheque Francaise on 7 november, and were taken through the highlights by Alain Bergala. Below is the Powerpoint I’ve put together to introduce the theme to UK teachers, and the sample scheme of work we usually have as well.

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