Sandie Jamieson’s reflections

Sandie has generously shared her thoughts on the mid-term review meeting we had in Edinburgh last month..

The notes I took from the meeting were probably more practical than theoretical. Both my classes (P5 & P7) have found some of the concepts related to ‘place’ difficult to put into practice. Story is more important to the children than place. Although their stories are motivated by the specific places that are special to them, it is their stories that they want to communicate clearly rather than details of the location. So at the meeting I was keen to find out how others had managed the exercises.

The relief for me is that I am not alone. Even older groups seemed to err more towards communicating story or character than establishing place. So what did I learn from the discussion and from watching the photos and films from the different groups?

  • Define or delineate the space. It is useful to have a wide shot of the place as well as the detail shots so that we understand the space.
  • It’s important that the place is a real place and not imaginary.
  • The place is a character and it’s a main character. For this project, story is less important that understanding the space. “Stories are accidental through the exploration of place”.
  • One film from Paris was of a group of children playing in a public square. In the voice over the children talked about how the square had been under threat of development and that they had protested and saved it. The story wasn’t true but it felt true because the way the children told it. The place inspired the story. The only thing was, like almost all of the films we watched, the children themselves dominated the screen. It would have been better if we had seen more detail of the square that they were so passionate about in their story.
  • Michelle talked about ‘affordances’ i.e. particular characteristics that allow or restrict things happening.
  • One of Kate’s groups included a map in their film but for some reason this seemed to be dismissed as inappropriate. However I love maps, they can tell you so much about a place and can definitely define it (in terms of topography, vegetation, history, place names, location, habitation, structures, access etc) so I think they could be a useful device.
  • Where places were more clearly defined, the feel or impression of the film was more documentary than fiction. I wonder if perhaps including some documentary clips might help young people understand better how to define the space on camera?
  • The Lithuanian filmmaker/teacher had an interesting approach. She got the young people to explore the place with their bodies. They were blindfolded and spent time exploring the space with their senses – what did the space feel like, what could they hear or smell? They did this before using their eyes and taking photographs. This seemed to change their attitude to the shots they took and the duration of the shots. There was more time on screen for observation.

    NB I tried this with the P5 class yesterday. They went into the small area of woodland in the school ground and were allocated a tree each, spread out throughout the area. They have done a lot of mindfulness and yoga so are quite comfortable with the concept of having their eyes closed for a period of time and just focussing on the moment. Of course as luck would have it, the Beast from the East joined us and the dominant experience of the children was the snow on their faces rather than the space around them. The teacher is going to do some poetry with them based on their experience and hopefully if she can draw out the experience of being in the woods rather than just the sensory experience of the snow, we will have the basis for the woods as a character. However, I suspect that we may have to try this again once the snow has gone.

  • The Lithuanian group used a large mirror to reflect part of the space that would otherwise have been hidden from the camera (when pointing in one direction). They were filming in an abandoned house and the use of the mirror was stunning and unsettling.
  • In order to give the impression of the place in a different time, one group superimposed still images of past events that might have taken place in the area (including dinosaurs) on video shots of the place in the present.
  • Footprints or marks are evidence of things that have happened in the past.
  • Think about transitional places such as bridges that take us to the special place or barriers that prevent us entering. It’s important that if there is a barrier, we can see that what it is and how it does in fact prevent entry. In one of the Bulgarian films (I think) we saw two young people outside a church, they got to the door but didn’t go in. Instead they walked away. It would have been good to see if the door was actually locked or if the barrier was their own feelings or culture preventing them from entering. I think the young people might have been Romany in which case the reason for not entering the church might not have been as simple as the door being locked.
  • In the Exercise 2 film from Belgium, a girl covered her eyes, the screen went black and we just heard the sounds of the place. It was very effective.
  • In different examples the filmmakers played around with the frame rate so time lapse and slow motion. What I liked about this was that it emphasised how the spaces remained the same while it was just the transient people who moved and changed.
  • The Finnish group produced a film about a young person getting on a bus and their journey on the bus. There was a discussion about whether or not the bus was ‘a place’. Obviously it is a place but was this bus a particular place, a unique place. Some thought it was, that it was a particular bus that the young person gets on everyday. Others disagreed because there was nothing to signify that this was a particular bus, a bus that was special to the young person. I think it was a useful discussion. In my mind, I think if we had seen the young person waiting for the bus and ignoring other buses going on the same route we might have some indication that s/he was looking for a particular vehicle. Or if there was some graffiti on the bus that s/he obviously identified with or had ownership of in some way then perhaps the audience would understand that the bus was unique. Although the filmmakers did show the bus in some detail, there was nothing that was different from any other bus.
  • There were several films shot in urban areas. Again there was nothing to identify that these were specific areas – different from the other areas/cities. One urban area looked just like another, even though they were in different countries.
  • It was said by someone that it’s difficult for young people to create a sense of history. I’m not sure that that is true. The P5 class do have a sense of their own history, in particular the things that they did in P1. There are places around the school where they have particular memories and stories to tell.
  • The Berlin group were asked to identify places that they liked and didn’t like. One place they chose was the Cathedral. It was familiar to all of them because of school and their community. In one version of the exercise, two boys played with a basketball in the main aisle and between the pews, while a girl sat still. It wasn’t clear if she was imagining this happening or if it was happening and she was trying to pretend it wasn’t. The effect of playing basketball in the space was disturbing and uncomfortable. I’m interested in knowing why the young people chose do this? Unspoken but obvious rules were being broken. It was sacrilegious and transgressed the space (in fact it was really a transgression, the church officials were very unhappy about it and they stopped it as soon as they became aware of it happening). The idea of transgressing a space is interesting because therein lies drama.
  • The Berlin group also used a skate park and were influenced by the Paranoid Park clips. There were some interesting shots from cameras mounted on skate boards and people that helped to reveal the space.
  • The Bulgaria group were almost all Romany children. They used a old film stills camera as a device to move from the present to the past (or at lease a different time). When one of the main characters held the camera’s viewfinder up to her eye, she saw young people in traditional Romany costume, the next time, they were beatboxing. It was an interesting way of revealing their old and contemporary culture (the latter obviously influenced by YouTube). However, there was no obvious relationship to place.
  • Avoid clichés. (I can’t remember what this was in relation to but it’s still a good thing to be reminded to be creative and original)
  • Remember that place reveals character. For example, in Exercise 1, the details of the special places from the children’s homes and what they chose to show and what they chose to keep hidden was very interesting and revealed a lot about their interests and backgrounds.
  • Don’t forget to identify the places. Take photographs. Feel & sense the place. Try to understand the place. Then develop the story with the place as one of the main characters.

Other things that occurred to me were:

  • how could we use archive footage from the Scotland on Screen archive or home movie clips or other personal footage or photographs to give a sense of history in a place?
  • Smell is often an important part of a place. How can that be communicated in an interesting, non-cliche way? One of the P5s suggested seeing the smell somehow, like a vapour …….
  • The most effective films about place were the ones that were slow paced. I guess it depends on the place but the slow pace gave us time to get to know the place, to scan the screen and pick out the details and to also listen to the sound.

Hide and go seek could be a device for revealing a large place and its ambient sound.

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