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.