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 ‘Motifs in cinema’, 2021/22.

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.

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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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:


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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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Highfields Exercise 3

Saskia’s group have recently finished Exercise 3 – they’re going to Paris in the summer, so have to be slightly ahead of the rest of us. Their films are all on Vimeo in the Bromley Film Club collection. For a Exercise 3, different groups all made films responding to a piece of music by Årvo Påart. My favourite is Adrian’s play of lights on a wall: https://vimeo.com/389520479

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William Ransom

Lucy Eldridge from William Ransom Primary School in Hitchin has been running ‘sensory cinema’ after school since Christmas. This is what she’s been doing:

‘We started our first sensation by discussing the theme and working through the PowerPoint, talking about what activities we’ll be doing and thinking about what the final film might look like. We then spent time after school getting familiar with the camera on an iPad and learning how to download our footage. We took advantage of the fact that it was a windy day and did some filming of various things around the school that was being affected by the wind, with the aim of showing how it affects everything differently.

The following week we watched Arabesques and Dieu Sait Quoi. With both clips we discussed the objects featured, why they’d been shot this way, how it made them feel and with Arabesques, what may have been the reason for the repetition. Dieu Sait Quoi also raised discussion about how the idea of the same thing (in this case water) being portrayed in different ways changes the effect it has on us, plus the difference the music made to our emotions. We then used this idea to do some filming of our own. Each child chose their own item (a light, a spoon etc.) and put together a collection of shots that looked at the same object in different ways.

Most recently, we watched the clip from Tree of Life and revisited some of our earliest memories but focussed on those connected to school and what they saw/felt when they started at William Ransom. We shot at the entrance and in and around the classrooms they would have first been in. All of the children chose to shoot the things that were personal to their experiences but shared ideas on how they could film them e.g. at a low angle, ideas that we took from the clip.’

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Highfield’s First Session

HIghfield Juniors in Bromley are along for their second year of CCAJ; this year, they’ll be going to Paris!  Saskia van Roomen is running the programme as part of their Into Film club – she’s an Into Film Ambassador.  She writes of their first session:

We had a fun session yesterday and I used lots of Alastair’s exercises to bring the subject a bit closer to home. These included blindfolding children and then scratching their head with one of those scalp massage tentacles. It definitely gives you a frisson…

I also showed them ASMR videos and the Susan Boyle audition at Britain’s Got Talent to illustrate that sensations come before emotion or feeling and that something can be experienced as a pure sensation.

Another film they loved was the clip from Post Tenebras Lux (p/w is sensation) by Carlos Reygadas and they begged me to watch it until the end and they all speculated what may have happened to the little girl (they agreed she probably died). I loved some of their comments such as: ‘what kind of world are we living in’, ‘where are the parents’? They really noticed the change in mood as the light faded and felt that whereas the dogs initially were perceived to be helpers and friends to the little girl, as the light faded they became threats.

They also had lots to say about Brakhage (Anticipation of the Night) and Arabesque. One child commented that the reason why it was called ‘Anticipation of the Night’ was because it felt like the disconnected images where a bit like those images that get recorded on your phone as you are fumbling about to make it work, in a way the random images are what you see before you get to the main event, so in anticipation of what will happen later which I thought was very profound! One child felt that the different pacing, sometimes slow, sometimes very fast were disconcerting and he didn’t like the pink sky either which he thought felt threatening. They did like the refracted light and the water images in Arabesque which they felt was very relaxing and beautiful.

We finished with Lifeline and they were all mesmerised by it including the teacher.

As we are watching so many clips and tackling such an obscure subject I think it is very important to do something active in each session. Next week I will do the little exercise that Alastair suggested about filming a word.

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Sensory Cinema launch – what I learned

This week we’ve met with both groups of participating teachers and film-makers in this year’s CCAJ programme: 8 teachers from Lincolnshire and Mansfield, and 8 teachers and film-makers from London and Cambridge.  Following the clips and PPT and SoW below, here’s what I learned:

Watching the ASMR video of Kinder eggs, we realised how important the voice is, to sensory cinema.  Get children to try whispering on the voice track of Exercise 2; in fact, get them to try out some whisper-tracks as audio recordings.  What sensations can they produce in a listener?

Several childhood memories latched on to colours as defining the memory: almost as if the sense-memory can be reduced to a colour as single point of reference, or signifier.

The 5 Obstructions
We’re uncertain how to interpret the instruction in Exercise 3 for teachers to establish their own ‘rule of the game’.  Usually our friends in Paris do this for us – and we just follow!  How to use this power?  Hans reminded us of Lars von Trier’s ‘Five Obstructions’, where he gets veteran Danish film artist Jorgen Leth to recreate one of his short films from 1967.  The five obstructions are:

  • remake the film in Cuba;
  • remake the film but no shot longer than 12 frames (half a second);
  • remake the film in the ‘worst place in the world’, but ‘without showing it’ (he makes it in the red light district of Mumbai, but shoots from behind a screen);
  • as a cartoon;
  • with a voice-over scripted by von Trier.

Ok, so we’re not going to transfer these wholesale.. but setting a limit on shot-length, shot-type, or prescribing a space – be imaginative!  call out some ideas in the comments.

Amy recalled a sequence of an Iranian woman cycling, prompted by the scene from Petites Fugues by Yves Yersin;  (https://cloud.cfav.fr/index.php/s/MJtqH7AfTAt92Mz?path=/0.%20Introduction).  We think it’s from The Day I Became a Woman, which you can rent for £2 on Vimeo:  https://player.vimeo.com/video/132339704

And then, there are so many other sequences of cyclists experiencing the sensation of freedom..


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