Film as experience and inspiration

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Discovering point of view

In my latest trainers training workshop (two and a half days in Kassel, Germany, March 2016) the participants, experienced theater pedagogues themselves, were aiming to get inspired and implement our practice with their drama youth groups in schools. The theme of the workshop was proposed to me and was quite special: “Film as cultural experience and as an inspiration point for youth productions especially in theater with the aim to combine video and drama”. I will give here a short account of my concerns and some solutions I proposed. A more developed description will be presented in the YouthDocs manual in July 2016, an Erasmus plus project that dealt with video and drama in teenage productions.

Obviously there is no given methodology to face this so I was challenged to look back both at my familiar set of tools and reconsider qualities of film and theater that would help build upon. Thus, my planning involved specifying certain common issues: characters, theme, story-line, setting and the fact that what we produce, even when we are talking about documentary film or verbatim theater, is a transformation of reality into something else. This representation and transformation requires the use and manipulation of the basic elements of these languages. Thus in terms of form I wanted to indicate how useful is a focus on the close up and soundscapes. Why? Because these elements may condense narrative, point of view and atmosphere.

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A new way of using a tablet as a camera: on earth level

I was also searching for a more theoretical concept which would underpin the above. I found this in the notions of “engagement” and “alienation”, as both film and theater have done in the 20th century (e.g. through the ideas of Brecht and Godard). This was a “bridge” that helped me connect content and form with history: how the cultural experience of film has developed and affected audiences, in relation to “masters” of the medium and drama itself. Selected extracts from “The man with the movie camera” by Vertov and “A bout de souffle” by Godard, offered a series of visual incentives to show how elliptical narrative may develop and how differently movement and human presence can be portrayed.

Furthermore I felt that I had to help participants become aware of how “young” film is as an art form and how quickly it evolved in its short life: I wonder if we could ever compare 2000 years of drama to less than 200 years of still and moving image?

Finally as film is definitely both a complex art form and experience, exemplary clips should present this multiplicity. I wanted to propose that each one of the elements within the whole of a film could provide inspiration for drama scenes. I once again found interest in destructuring this medium in its essential parts. Through small extracts, I aimed to offer incentives about how human creation around media has developed:

From photography to moving images.
From very short clips to full-length movies.
From B&W to color.
From static camera with slow funny walking of the 1900 to speedy editing.
From silent movies to sound design.
From cinemas to mobile device watching.

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Visual close ups take a different meaning in relation to a real pose

However theoretical aims and intentions, when they become part of a training, need to be embodied in practical processes and outcomes with and through the group. So I also aimed to gradually build a common language in relation to my perception of images. Meaning, how images and the tools of cinema are conceived in the broader spectrum of film and media literacy. At the same time this particular workshop had to keep a strong connection to the way drama approaches communication and help participants reflect on drama through (the accuracy of) media. This means that we would use the force of feelings, action, body which they were familiar with towards the language of images and the way they create meanings.

I think that the special characteristic about this workshop for me was not only its intensity or richness but that a mutual exchange was happening unconsciously. Some of my techniques and learning modules became a field for propositions, instinctively and quickly happening due to the theater pedagogue mentality and attitude. Open mindedness, quick reactions and experience flourished in a creative dialogue. I believe this is exactly what is missing from the training field.

Sound design for six years’ old

M L showing a film exctact to the class

An animation extract, the basis of the whole workshop

Anatolia College in Thessaloniki invited me this autumn to work with their 5 and 6 year olds as well as with the teenagers involved in video productions for their I.B. course. The starting point had been last year’s teacher training in media literacy and the effort done by the school’s theater pedagogue to use and introduce media in everyday classroom.

For the young ones, I proposed to run our workshop about understanding how a film is composed by both images and sounds and how children can create their own sound score. The aim of the workshop covers some particular characteristics of the film language (how image and sound work together in a narrative), technical aspects (how sound recording is done) as well as collaborative, expressive and organizational aspects (sound recording requires silence, respect, working in turns, appreciation/ evaluation of the “actor’s” voice), all necessary to paedagogy and art.

This workshop was based on a short module made some years ago by my colleague Menis Theodoridis about the variety of sounds and how expressive whispering can be for children. However, the need to involve a whole classroom and to develop a wider relation to understanding sound and image, gradually lead me to a more constructed process which would develop upon a story line, so young participants could engage with.

An animation excerpt seemed to be a good start, to show character and non verbal development of a story. It also gave me the chance to display that a film needs not only images but also sounds to become a whole enjoyable experience. The narrative quality of sounds, was an important goal too, so I tried to find ways to show it to very young people. Respecting their natural need for movement and imitation I addressed theater. Using your body can be liberating with all humans but especially with nursery children! In a short time they are ready, to reproduce their own versions of the sound effects of the film, as they have well kept them in their body memory.

TTs kids mikes are simple and superb

TTS kids’ mikes are simple and superb

Finally, the kids become foley artists and sound recordists with the excellent TTS kids’ mikes. And there we go, making the sounds one by one, keeping the timeline of the film as a structure. The sequence of events becomes the backbone of our recording enhancing once again the understanding of the story.

preschoolsound3Finally, as mumtimodality is not just a theory but a practice, we share the class with a comfortable drawing session, where kids select and draw their three favorite sounds from the whole extract. Our prepared sheets of paper with a frame design, become their very first storyboards! I shouldn’t forget to mention that this last idea about drawing sounds, was originally introduced by a young nursery teacher who was being trained with us in Karpos.

A fairy tale invention

I started reading again about the development of photography in its’ early years. Not so much for historical purposes but to decipher analogies with today’s popular access and extreme fashion of digital still images.

I felt that the assumption that images of those last years are the new popular hobby and habit that we need to research upon, was just a one sided reading of the story. Obviously its extreme use by both amateur adults and children (which is my topic) is not coincidental, but neither is it unique. There have been several similar cycles of intense or occasional commercial burst related to the still image in the past. This tool, this technique, this way of expression, has offered several times in history amusement, entertainment, artistic expression and communication. Obviously the process was different and the access too. But it seems that each time, history supports its analogies. For example , from the 1860’s through the early decades of the 20th century, tens of millions of stereographs were manufactured and sold.

Stereographs: where reality met fiction

Stereographs: where reality met fiction

The predecessor of 3D was an extremely popular item and experience. Both for kids and adults (M. Heifemann, (ed) Photography changes everything, Smithsonian Institution, 2012) Lets not forget that Europe and North America, where mostly this would be happening, had only 400 million people inhabitants together. Companies were mass producing stereographs and shrewdly marketing them as both educational aids and home entertainment. Reminds you something?

The question is what could we learn from these life cycles of the image? What was the understanding of reality and representation? What was the relationship of children during those times with the act of visioning through a frame? Lets have a look at one of the few known children photographers of the beginning of the 20th c.: Jean Henri Lartigue (1894-1986) . A young bourgeois, of course, who offers us though a very young at heart point of view. Here is what he himself wrote:

My cousin, by Lartigue

My cousin, by Lartigue

“as a spectator I enjoy myself. But suddenly this morning an idea began to dance around in my head, a fairy tale invention thanks to which I will never again be bored or sad: I open my eyes, shut them, open them again, then open them wide and hey presto! I capture the image, everything: the colors! the right size! And what I keep is moving, smelling living life. This morning I took a lot of pictures with my eye-trap.”

This attitude sounds very familiar to me, reminding a few six year old kids I worked with at a park project 4 years ago. Our underlying theme were the 5 senses and we used small digital cameras (Karamella Nursery, Athens, 2011). It was still a period that kids wouldn’ t have access to smart phones but some would be allowed to hold their parents’ Cybershot or other small digital cameras. A day in a big park with their classmates and the encouragement to observe and take pictures of what they like most triggered the photographer inside them in a very passionate way. As if the tiny digital frame became a new way of seeing the park itself and the life inside it. A particular boy was very passionate about looking at things and clicking in a way that reminds both Lartigue and the way children treat sweats. I believe the question can be about the observation skills that children may develop and the connections they can make about the world around them through photography.

JH. Lartigue's photo of his room

In my room my collection of racing cars, 1905

Visions of a space through mobile apps

Collage with caption "TIME"

Time

One of the interesting things I see about certain apps on mobile devices is that they can become an introductory or concluding space for media literacy and expression. The central role of still pictures in many apps which use images and the possibility to manipulate, organise and add elements of text or other symbols, may very well lead to narrative structures and conscious choices as long as there is room for dialogue between content and form.

What we are interested is a process of choosing a point of view for our work, no matter how “small”, “short” or “ephemeral” the result may be. Apps’ possibility to function relatively quickly and directly from shooting to “editing” minimize the maturing process from idea to (audio)visual text . This offers aspects of entertainment, appropriation and a feeling of solving a riddle which engages audiences and – especially young- users. Of course this same speed, usually neglects deeper thinking and possibilities for synthesis. Could we thus grasp the graphic and expressive qualities of such creativity, even though it may be evanescent and evaporating in the mobile device environment, and turn it towards further narratives and critical thinking?

Signs in close ups

Signs and arrows showing the way

Here are some examples of such a pilot project with “Photo Collage” and “Pic Collage” during an adult workshop that I offered at the Media Meets Literacy conference in Warsaw (22/23 May 2015). In relation to media education work such apps lend themselves to pluralism and possibilities for both group work and solitary expressions which are important to both young and old. In addition I find particular documentary qualities in “playing” with these apps, as “point and shooting” with our mobile phone cameras has become almost a trivial habit for almost anyone. The challenge is to turn an often meaningless gesture of “clicking” -which however is charming enough to happen in millions everyday all over our planet- to a thoughtful choice.

The participants here, worked in pairs or three and were asked to reflect on their impressions from the venue of the conference. We had a short discussion which, in a normal workshop would follow a more detailed brainstorming session. The important documentary element was to guide participants to switch point of view on the space they have already been all morning without thinking about a specific interpretation. The should come back with a collage version of their vision of the space. Pictures could serve a way of thinking or rather a way of LOOKING.

Female details

Female details

Collage with a focus on windows

Window idea

Humans and patterns

Humans and patterns

Although we lost some time in technicalities which are still inherent with such uses (who has what device, which platform, free and payed versions, adapters, transferring materials etc) the feedback about the process was that it was both absorbing and entertaining and the results have a visual quality one can built both meanings and feelings. It is worth remembering that our initial inspiring question was the space itself and our vision of it , a purely documentaristic or street photography question. The interesting thing is how the interactivity of the app affects form and leads us to new scenarios. Imagine that we almost didn’ t have the time to touch upon the layer of adding text and captions, leading us thus to a more complete narrative. In addition we would like to have more time to compare how the same space inspired different approaches, and to discuss the narratives that occurred.

Software as toys

lego-wheelchairWhile until recently we were in a universe of playing systems like wooden blocks, Legos , Playmobil or Fisher Prize constructions, today we usually find ourselves in front of a framed, 2 dimensional screen environment which includes numerous other worlds, smaller systems of manipulation and 3 dimensional possibilities. Viewing size changes, affecting experience, varying from a Sony PSV, or Nintendo small screen to tablets, computers or big TV screens which connect to various sources like Internet or Sony Play station network. However, content is king from what we learn from young users and size little affects. Eye contact to the screen and mouse or touch screen interaction is a crucial engagement.

Few children take full advantage of Lego flexibility anyway, as they similarly do not take full advantage of computer possibilities. The Playmobil worlds are endless and kids tend to recreate more versions disregarding setting and costumes. Possibly, this unbeatable attraction of the games, could be treated in multiple ways, informed by the long, destructive, regenerating relationship of children to toys. So, within this turbulent waves of games and software, we could point out applications which seem to have inherent qualities for developing image sensitivity, critical thinking, literacy and storytelling. In relation to the young ones’ visual culture it is a good opportunity to recognise what certain apps and software, can be used for developing these visual multi- literacies and young people’s ability to make cognitive connections. This is one of my new projects and I shall be presenting soon such apps.

 

Giving shape and form to ideas.

Disregarding the overall pessimism, the end of the year brings some positive feelings. One of which is about giving shape to ideas. About giving form to a project with a collage technique.
It’s  been more than a year that I felt the need to share the theoretical and methodological discussions on media literacy I have been having with my good colleague Menis Theodoridis. Every now and then we would sit, enjoy a coffee and design a workshop or share thoughts about some project or curriculum aspect. And there were other professionals I’ve met during recent years, from various related fields, that we rarely had the chance to put in practice our ideas. More so, there was no chance to take the time to evaluate our thoughts.

An imaginative and open minded thought: already recognizing media literacy in 1925

An imaginative and open minded thought: already recognizing media literacy in 1925

So, something had to happen with these rich but fleeting and often incomplete opportunities. My belief that media learning is cross disciplinary, should always balance lecturing with hands on experience and that teaching is an artform itself, was also seeking a space to express its self.

Shape in shape: the person as part of the artwork

Shape in shape: the person as part of the artwork

Some serendipitous encounters gave me the decisiveness and shape I needed: first, a discussion with Mark Reid (Head of BFI Education) on Harvard’s Project Zero. (Funnily enough this useful chat was done while leaving La Ciotat, in France, a city indeed related to the birth of cinema). Then the clarity brought by a great new colleague, Nina Trifonopoulou, who saw that a recurring event was needed, if we were to meet the training requests from educators and other adults.

The fruit of these thoughts became the “Sunday coffee time with image and sound”. Here are the ingredients of this coffee blend:

More than a mug of cofee

More than a mug of coffee

The afternoon coffee, almost a ritual in Greece, gave us the warmth and cosiness we wanted for the event.

A 3-hour session every second Sunday of the month gave us a specific time capsule within which our ideas should fit. (And in any case there should be a limit to voluntary work!)
A space for cultural workshops, rented affordably from a friend working in animation, gave us an interesting space in the heart of Athens.

The financial crisis gave us the belief that it should be as cheap as possible to make it easy to join, either once or every time.

The stress of  city life led us to plan independent meetings, with no obligation to follow the series.

Our workshop experience with challenging groups led us to take a flexible, developing structure around key themes. Although events are self-contained, this approach is fruitful for series participants, and create meaningful connections for us as designers.

My impulsive personality allows for experimentation with both old and new participants. Using my  preparation, I can think aloud and bring new elements in modules I have already been working on.

A strong belief in the value of other people’s perspectives led us to invite insights from informed professionals from different fields who had become “media curious”. A ritual of “secret guests” was inaugurated already from the second workshop with enriching results. A strong disposition to discuss among us, participants and “secret guests” alike, promotes a pluralistic way of learning for all.

Finally, Theodora Malliarou, a young but systematic colleague, records proceedings and offers an external viewpoint while Nina keeps an eye on the flow of the content in each session.

Raising questions about watching films

Raising questions about watching films

The themes so far?
1. How to watch a student film and 2. Collective brainstorming techniques
Next themes to follow:
Psychology meets media over a still frame, Young children’s digital micro-worlds,

The results?
The very first time, in November, we had few but dedicated participants who ALL returned for our second meeting in December. The number actually doubled: 22 people left the room excited, and more experienced than when they arrived.

Small groups work on small ideas and present them to the whole team.

Small groups work on small ideas and present them to the whole team.

group storytellng

Collective storytelling based on personal memories

The future?
We will be making a report of the highlights and the structure of the meetings for further reference. The aim is to create a small Think Tank among media professionals, educators, and others who are interested in using media when interacting with groups of other people.
Blue sky thinking?
To strengthen the structure, make it sustainable and develop international meetings.

The "Violence 3ptych" from the "Collective brainstorming" session

The “Violence 3ptych” from the “Collective brainstorming” session

Being resourceful with short storytelling

Being resourceful with short storytelling

Documentary both reveals and hides stories

‘Documentaries always hide great stories’: this was the phrase that Mark Reid, Head of Education at the British Film Institute kept in his mind from my presentation in the Film Literacy day in La Ciotat, south of France a month ago. He added: “we usually think that documentaries tell stories, but you interestingly showed how many the hide…”.

A Melies studio photo decorated the programme.

A Melies studio photo decorated the programme.

In my presentation I deliberately deconstructed a short length documentary I did 3 years ago about a traveler child in the suburbs of Athens. The “truth” which was guiding me through my research and shooting period, was completely challenged and subverted a year after the film had finished. I had chosen the young girl as a character because she wanted to get out of the ghetto and had a wish to continue school. This girl, never made it: she gradually dropped out following the majority of her community. As it proved, two “directors” were not enough to help her not quit. Firstly, the school director, a unique teacher well known for her systematic efforts to bring and keep Roma kids in the school and second, me, a  film director who cared enough not only during shooting but also after. Truth as always, is bigger than documentaries.

The sister of my protagonist learning life in a muddy road.

The sister of my protagonist learning life in a muddy road.

The educational aspect

In a film literacy context, the presentation developed to show how the film itself gives us several chances to read it as a space for communication, information exchange, language development and form creation . Meaning that documentary can be very useful from a media education point of view, something rare, as, usually, fiction films are used for this purpose.

 

Young professionals become Documentarists

Learning interviewing among the olive trees

Learning interviewing among the olive trees

participants lookig at rushes

Viewing rushes and selecting materials

The environmental association APARE invited me to guide a 4 day intensive documentary workshop for young professionals of the environmental and social sciences sector during their research for the Cote Blue area near Marseillles. It was a great team which advanced their knowledge and consciousness on what a documentary might be. MA students and young professionals from 4 countries added with their questions and initiatives to drafting a script about their area of investigation. The team worked from idea to research and from planning to shooting. The most interesting part was editing where working in small teams they managed to both learn and develop rough cuts, alternatives and challenge their initial research.

An international team from 4 countries:

An international team from 4 countries: UK, France, Italy, Greece

A short making of of the workshop

 

Film literacy for librarians

On the occasion of the publishing of my subtitled interview on the media language workshop for librarians I also post a few words and photos.

Interview for the Future Library workshop

The Future Library program gave me the chance to work with 100 people who are surrounded by books, who work in a space full of words, jumping out of pages. Who currently search for new ideas and paths to approach their visitors (and their books). Our photo-stories, built from images and story lines proved a great tool, handy and accessible for short and longer term methodology, for younger and older, for digital and paperback!

participants taking photographs

Creating characters and perspective

An imaginative team played with figures and sarcasm

Participants looking at each others work and photostories

Always important to share and comment

 

 

 

A colored object was the starting point for our stories each time, following the overall theme of colors in books and literature. In 2,5 hours the tams had to grasp the idea of creating a story with images and words and produce it!

 

Young intruders in a 150 year old library

The National Library, Panepistimiou Av., Athens (1860)

All Athenians and tourists have seen that. How many have been inside?

I walk past the grand and beautiful building once a week, like most of us. I have so often used its pavement as a meeting point and I have been in marches going past it. Hunger strikes by Palestinians used to start nearby in the 80’s, conscientious objectors delivered information, then the Iraqis, the Afghans and so on. The National Library, lifted on its impressive marble staircases, work of a German architect, following his neoclassical dream in Athens of the 1900’s, was uncertain about herself. Her administrators had forgotten her and so did we. Things changed recently and I was fond of getting back in using it. Thanks to the Future Library programme I offered a workshop there. I particularly enjoyed two things: first, to turn the library rules upside down: unaccompanied children allowed, taking photographs, sitting on the floor, using crayons and scissors…Second, to experiment with the contrasts between old, stiff but wise space and young, flexible but ignorant age.

Groups of children making their photostories on the floor of the National Library.

For the final synthesis we found it best to work on the floor, while parents and readers were using the desks!

Maria Leonida guiding a group on their shooting.

Choosing the right picture.

4 children Shooting their story among the oldest books!

A new story among old books.