The film I talked about at NATE Conference

This is the film I cited today at NATE Conference.  By children at St. Margaret’s PS, Withern, in Lincolnshire.

And this is a tidied-up version of what I said about it, during a debate over the relative merits of film and novels in the English curriculum, in which I seconded the motion proposed by Danny Leigh:

‘I’ll start by repeating a claim about film, originally made by Cary Bazalgette.  I don’t think we’re bold enough in the claims we make for film:

Film is the richest, most powerful artform and medium of expression human beings have yet invented.  And it’s the first that we learn on our own.

At this point, I would usually whip out a short film, put it on screen, and stand back; voila.  Case closed.  But I don’t have the benefit of technology, or a screen, tonight.  So I feel a little naked in the debating chamber.

The film I would show you goes like this.  It was made in a small village primary school in Lincolnshire, by 9 and 10 year olds, as part of a programme exploring mise en scene.  Thousands of young people all over the world follow this programme, every year exploring an aspect of film language through watching and making films.  I saw the film for the first time last weekend, and then again yesterday on the big screen in the NFT.

The film opens with a plangent sounding flute, cello, and piano, over three shots: a close-up of hands tamping in soil in a couple of plantpots; an overhead shot of a broom being swept with unseen hands diagonally across a floor; a wide shot filled by a polythene sheet, behind which two shadowy figures are moving.

It’s a strong opening, controlled, with the confidence not to reveal too much: who these characters are, and where they are, is left ambiguous.  It’s confident story-telling, but showing, not telling.

Next shot reveals two girls in medium shot, but behind the frame of a greenhouse screen door, filled with nylon netting, one of a series of shots that feature nets or matrices in the frame.  We’re closer to these characters, but not yet introduced to them.

Then a voice-over begins: Tegan is writing to her friend Imogen to tell her that her family is leaving for London, and how sad she feels.  There’s an overhead shot of one of the two girls – Tegan, we infer – giving the other a letter, and the other, Imogen, opening and reading it.  Tegan’s v-o continues to recount some nostalgic times they shared, and we cut to black and white flashback.  Then the first of two extraordinary shots: Imogen, standing far right, foreground, and Tegan middle frame in the background, sitting.  Tegan’s v-o says ‘hopefully we can keep in touch’; the shot tells us something else.

The two girls go outside into the school garden, and do some Maths work, using more graph nets made out of string, the squares of fencing – I didn’t know you could do Maths outside!  There are more friends now, and one of them says to Tegan ‘I think you should work with the other group’.  Tegan is shot sitting down, next to a reflective piece of card, just her and her reflection.

And then the second, final, extraordinary shot: a wide shot again, inside the greenhouse, and Imogen and her friend standing up extreme right foreground, with Teagan and her friend, extreme right background.  Since that last shot inside, they’ve moved further apart.  And then, like a shot from Truffaut or Rohmer, Tegan glances once over her shoulder towards Imogen and then turns away.  It’s a gesture, within a shot, that speaks eloquently of regret, ambiguity, and doubt.  It’s an unhappy look.

I met the Headteacher of the school yesterday, and he told me that the children had shot two endings: the Hollywood, happy, reconciliation ending, and then this one.  They had chosen this shot as the end of their film, and he was so proud of them.

I mention this film not because every child creates work like this, but because so few do, and yet so many could, if the curriculum enabled them.  If you saw the film, I’m sure it would persuade you of this, and of my opening claim.  But for now, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

NB – you can now watch it, above!

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