I’d been wanting to say something about Pie Corbett‘s triad about writing: ‘imitate, innovate, invent’. The idea is that it’s very hard for anyone, never mind children, to create a piece of writing from a blank page; his method is a kind of scaffold – to imitate other examples of writing; to customise other kinds of writing to your own ends, your own voice, and finally, eventually, you will have the confidence to write, invent, in your own voice. I liked it because it reminded me of the rhetorical curriculum – the medieval approach to literacy started with ‘imitatio’ – and because it seemed to concur with the Cinematheque model.
And then I had a conversation last night with Chris Waugh, the teacher at London Nautical School who will be joining us this year (and came along during last year’s project too). Chris was very thoughtfully wondering about how much students on the programme get to understand the core film language concept each year, and how far (or how little) the final film essais demonstrate this understanding. There’s an oft repeated – to the point of cliched – distinction in creative practice between process and product; what I think Chris was saying was too much emphasis on the film as an outcome, and not enough on the learning process. More subtle than this: that the outcome isn’t really the final film, but the better understanding of the concept, of how films show and hide crucial information in last year’s programme. And the process isn’t really the process of making the film, but the process of coming to a better understanding of montrer/ cacher.
We realised the boys from last year were a little disappointed about their final film, especially when they showed it in Paris. We hadn’t reinforced enough – or helped them understand – that the point of the programme was understanding more about montrer/ cacher. Making a final film was one way of demonstrating this; but writing an essay, giving a PPT lecture, doing a director-voice-over, would all be equally good ways of showing this.
This has an impact on how we design the week-by-week programme, we realised. My default is screening/ clip based introduction/ exercises interspersed with more clips/ final film planned through pre-, production, and post production. But maybe we should start with some playing with cameras, and with the idea. Go and film 2 minutes of real life, form either a static or moving camera; compare what kinds of reality you capture from both; then throw in something deliberately – a scrap of fiction – and see what happens. Add something in the edit that ‘fictionalises’ the footage. Then watch some work by other directors: what happens when they capture reality? And when they bring it into a fictional scenario? How do you, and other film-makers make decisions and choices?
It’s a very different approach to imitate, innovate, invent, I think; maybe that linear progression in skills development was just too easy, too straightforward, to be true.
And a propos of nothing much more: last night we watched ‘I Was Born But…’, silent film of Ozu’s, much recommended by Mark Cousins, about.. well watch it and decide. Young Japanese scallies, primary age, picking on each other, and lots of slapstick clowning. Very funny I should think for children, and plenty of ‘real in the fiction’, especially as Bergala says ‘children, animals, fools bring their reality effects to the screen.’