UCL film education journal - FINAL (JUST

Teaching Film Everywhere: Mark Reid (BFI) and Saskia van Roomen (London Film School) In Conversation

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Mark Reid (BFI) and Saskia van Roomen (London Film School) In Conversation     

 

In setting up this interview in February 2021, Mark Reid, Head of Film Education at the British Film Institute (BFI) wanted to talk to Saskia van Roomen about the range of her work, across formal and informal education, with children, students, film-makers, and parents and families, in practical, creative, terms as well as in the sheer unadulterated pleasure of watching films from all over the world.  Mark felt she was well placed to draw connections across different film pedagogies, approaches, and settings.

We share links to specific work in the text, but readers might also like to visit the London Film Schools outreach pages at: https://lfs.org.uk/outreach/projects and also her family film club website: https://www.smallworldcinema.com 

The Interview in Full

 

Mark Reid: Saskia can you tell us about yourself, your background and professional role, just to put your work into context. 

Saskia van Roomen: I’m originally from Holland, from a place called Hilversum which is near Amsterdam. I never went to the cinema as a child. We don’t have a class system in Holland but I’d say I come from a working-class or lower-middle class family. My parents never had money to send us to the cinema or the theatre. It wasn’t part of my growing up at all. I do remember a couple of films I watched in school which bowled me over. One was Kramer vs Kramer (Robert Benton, 1979) and one was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Milos Forman, 1975) I think I saw 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ in primary school, which is kind of mad.  

So, film wasn’t part of my growing up. Then by chance I fell into the film industry at large. I was a nanny when I was a student, living with the woman who was the Head of Film at the Dutch Ministry of Culture. I looked after her son in exchange for a room. She got me an internship at the European Script Fund, which at the time was part of the MEDIA Programme. That was putting money into development of single projects and slates for production companies across Europe. I worked there for six months and off that I wrote my thesis on the GATT negotiations linked to French and Belgian identity. It was all about whether film could be excluded from that. That was my entry to the film industry. Then I went back to Holland and, after my studies were finished, I came back to London and worked in different jobs. I worked in different production companies, funding agencies, the MEDIA programme, I produced two short films. It was all a bit random. Then I ended up at the London Film School. I took a break to have the children and that’s really where I restarted not just my love for film but started looking at children's films and was able to discover through their eyes. I used them to go on this journey of films for children and young people. I was lucky that I found [UK-based precursor to Into Film] Film Club. This was back in 2014. It had existed for a few years already. 

M: You mean Film Club which became Into Film? It started in 2006. 

S: When I found that I thought ‘what an amazing vehicle to use’. Quite selfishly I wanted to go on this journey and introduce my children to film. Doing it at the school was such a lovely place for it. I got free rein from the headteacher to do it, although they weren’t especially proactive, but they didn’t stop me. 

M: I wanted to start with your ‘formation’, of your ‘sensibility in film’, because for lots of us who work in film culture and film education, there are lots of accidents but there are also moments of awakening or igniting an interest in film as an art form. It's really interesting to hear that moment being when you became a parent and started looking at film with your children. I’m sure it happens to lots of people; we have these moments when we make a choice around what we’re doing. What I think characterises lots of us who work in this sector – we work here and love the art form. It's not just a job, it’s a bit like a vocation. I wondered if you could tell us a bit more about the – I think they’re called ‘side hustles in America. They're the things we do, the passion projects, that we do alongside our work, which are related to our work. You mentioned the film club. Becoming an Into Film Ambassador and and the community cinema family film stuff as well. How did that develop alongside your day job?

S: It’s funny really, it wasn’t my side hustle. The side hustle became my actual work. It was a perfect synergy. When I set up the film club at school, I was the Head of Workshops at LFS. I had a lot of experience creating workshops for professionals. I liked drawing on the experience of that, to bring it to children in schools. Using Into Film was a starting point. I made up my own things. I was inspired by Mark Cousins’ 8 1/2 film club, which he created with Tilda Swinton. It had a great website, although it’s pretty much now defunct. But it was a great resource to find films and broaden your mind to other types of films, not necessarily made for children, but that are really great for children. I started to do my research and use the children as little guinea pigs. I brought in all kinds of people. I brought in an editor who was at the Film School at the time. He did Frankenweenie (Tim Burton, 2012) and Shark’s Tale (Vicky Jenson, Bibo Bergeron, and Rob Letterman, 2004).  He came into the school to do an editing class with the children. I got in a friend of mine who worked in marketing and he did a session on making film posters. They did a whole session on posters and he chose the winner and made that into a professional film poster. I took them to the Apple store to go on classes that they do for kids there, they did something on film music and making soundtracks.  

Obviously Into Film had a lot of opportunities as well. We went to see an early cut of Get Santa (Christopher Smith, 2014), with the director and the producers and gave early feedback. It was all so enjoyable for me. I enjoyed watching the films with the children, having that peaceful time once a week. I used to make popcorn and we’d have drinks and just sit and watch films from all over the world. That was my one stipulation - that we wouldn’t watch generic, mainstream film. Some of my best moments were watching Secret of Kells (Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey, 2010) on a rainy afternoon. Everyone is watching it absolutely spellbound. I remember watching Whale Rider (Niki Caro, 2003) and the teacher next door started playing loud music and the kids were so outraged and insisted she turn it down. At a really emotional moment, these boys who were usually the most raucous kids in the class, were watching a Ghibli film whilst holding hands, the girls going ‘look at them.’ 

M: Maybe people will think that film clubs are just babysitting services where children sit in front of the screen while the teacher does something else. Yours sounds very practical, interactive, full of variety, very kinetic. I’m thinking about the Alicia Vega example [Note: see issue 3.2 of the Film Education Journal https://www.filmeducationjournal.com/  100 Children Waiting for a Train, trailer at: https://vimeo.com/251876199

S: Yes, totally. When I watched that film I thought ‘my God, this is what I’ve been doing all these years.’ It was absolutely the same. I really loved that film and I showed it to them. They were very bored but they did watch it. They did say afterwards ‘yeah, it was quite good.’ I think I was lucky with this group of children, but there’s always a different group. I think so many kids have gone through film club at that school now. I never tried to make it too ‘schooly’. Sometimes the problem with things like Into Film is that it becomes an extension of school. I did not want to do that because it’s not what I wanted either. I thought it needs to be a place where they discover stuff themselves. I also think it’s so important that you offer things and let them take from it what they want. Not being so massively prescriptive that they need to write something about it or say why it was good or why they enjoyed it. No, they just sit there and let it wash over them and the fact that they would react in the way they did just made me feel that it was enough. For a lot of people that was enough – some kids just standing up and getting so excited they would do a very quick dance and then sit down again. Or after watching Ponyo (Hayao Miyazaki, 2008), and then doing a big – how to do you call it – where they all hold each other's shoulders and waltz through the class. Just an instantaneous reaction to what they’ve seen and expressing it in a way. 

M: It’s a version of what education should be really, isn’t it? It’s not that film education should be this dull, prescriptive stuff and then we do the nice stuff outside of it.  

S: Exactly. For me this has been a massive journey because I'm not a teacher. I haven’t got any teacher training. And I'm not a filmmaker. I'm almost in the same position as the children. It's just I'm an adult and I can pretend I know what I'm doing. But in effect I was enjoying it at the same level as they were. That was my guiding principle – for us to enjoy it. I remember the headmistress coming into the class from time to time, to check what we were watching. She would say ‘please don’t sit on the tables, sit down, health and safety’ and walk off again. Then I’d say ‘okay, you can go back on the tables.’  

M: What about the family film club? How did that develop? 

S: That came a year later after the one in school. I’d heard of this quite English tradition, or so I thought, of the Saturday Film Club. It wasn’t something I’d experienced as a child but many people told me it’s where they got their formative film experiences. A friend of mine said: ‘there’s so many things available for regular kids.’ She has a son with Down’s Syndrome and she said ‘why don’t you do something for audiences of children that don’t normally take part in these kinds of activities.’ That was my initial brief, or outlook for the club. I contacted a local library with a massive hall upstairs with a projector. They gave me the space once a month on a Saturday. I just followed the same outlook as for the film club in the school...well, not the same because we had a lot more time. We would screen a film and think of a creative activity to do beforehand, something that would link to the film. I’ve always advertised to many local parent groups for children with special needs, schools for children with special needs, I promoted it quite widely, but it's had quite a mixed audience. This was quite nice because a lot of my friends who also had children of a similar age, we were all volunteers, we would all put it up together with our kids and they would all mingle. It was interesting from that point of view because it was like a community event. It was less overtly film education, it was more broadening their minds and having something to do on a Saturday with their friends. Because it was regular they could see each other, and it was a chance for siblings of children with special needs to mingle and feel like there was a safe space for them to hang out. Their parents would have a cup of tea and I’d make sure there was coffee and biscuits. 

M: Are the activities you do film-related? I’m quite puritanical about face-painting activities before you watch a film. I’d always prefer the practical stuff to engage with what the film’s about. Probably unfair, but I like seeing how the practical stuff relates to the art form. 

S: Yes, we would do that. We would look at the film were planning and then figure out a suitable activity. When we watched Kubo and the Two Strings (Travis Knight, 2016) we did an origami workshop for that. We watched Hugo (Martin Scorsese, 2011) and a colleague brought in a projector, an 8mm and a 16mm. We would unspool the films and look at them with magnifying glasses and colour in reels of film and project it on screen. We were sometimes very ambitious like that. It was lovely. Through the projector we watched little Snow White films and someone would hold the piece of paper to project it on. It was very tactile. I felt we needed to do things that were hands on. We did the same things as the woman in the slums of Santiago [Alicia Vega]. We did a lot of making your own thaumatropes and flip books. We didn’t want to be snobbish about it, so we did do a Halloween one, for example, and we did have face painting.  

I would also think about the fact that some people didn’t have the same facilities. So we would always have posters and images from the film that we were screening as a colouring in page. I would print out story boards for the children to fill in. What I loved about it is that you would see them come in, see the table full of resources, and just sit down and do it. There was no thinking, they would just get stuck in. 

M: it’s an instructive example of how education might work where children don’t have to be told or have things explained to them because they can see the point of the activity and they sit and engage with it because it’s transparent to them. 

S: Yes and often you need to tell the parents to stand up and give their seat to a child because they would also sit down and get stuck in. We'd make a stop motion animation with the creatures they made. Or we’d have a lightbox and they would cut out silhouette figures and we would already have it pre-printed and people could make up their own stories. They would do totally random stuff. But put all together we would then make a little film out of it and screen it at the end. I always felt people would walk in and be surprised. We watched Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus (1928) and got a circus performer in to do a circus workshop. We had people with wheelchairs. It was so festive and very relaxed - that’s why I continued it, I just enjoyed it myself. That was the main prescription I set myself. If I’m not enjoying it anymore, just stop. 

M: Let’s move on to Cinema Cent Ans De Jeunesse.  How did you come across it? What appealed to you? Your experience of following it for that year with the school film club? 

S: I went back to work at London Film School, this time in Outreach, which was quite a dormant department and I was free to pursue things that interested me. I really wanted to figure out a way of how to include my experience from film club and bring that into an outreach setting. A colleague introduced me to your project. When he told me about it, I instantly recognised it was the missing link between what I was doing and how to bring it into something more in terms of watching films. I’d always felt the children wanted to make films but it was difficult for me because I’m not a filmmaker. Having to do that hands-on guidance, I didn’t feel I could do that. And this programme of course gave me the tools for this – I was working at the Film School and I had Chi who was leading it all. It was the perfect combination. 

M: So the missing link was because it was about filmmaking? Or the missing link it because it looked at film in a particular way or was structured in a particular way?

S: I think what I really enjoyed is it was looking at world cinema, and the fact it was a bit of watching and then I really liked the exercises. It wasn’t on a theme that is very prescriptive e.g. ‘today we’re going to look at bullying’. The project gave you a lot of freedom to look at the theme and fill it in as you’re working on it. I think the way the children interpreted the exercises has been so varied, and looking at the differences in what all the schools did, it shows you that even though there is a theme it leaves you very free to experiment. I loved that, it chimed with the Film School sensibility. I could see that’s where we could add something. For me it was an experiment to see what could work and, in my view, it really has worked. It chimes with what the Film School teaches to adults. 

M: How did the children take to it, when you did The Situation [the theme for CCAJ in 2018/19], not just the exercises but also the watching, the engaging and the talking about this wider range of cinema. 

S: At the time they were very ready to be more active. I knew the children by then, a lot of them had been in film club for quite some time. They were very good at discussing the clips, that wasn’t particularly novel for them. The children instantly could recognise what we were talking about and could interact. I think what was interesting for them was to be able to then link it to something they had to do themselves. I think watching and then having the exercise where you put some of those elements in practice, that is what is so challenging for them. It really stretched them, in a good way. 

M: The stretch involved, the cognitive challenge, is quite unusual in a film education programme. They don’t often seek to push children’s imaginative resources and responses very far. 

S: I think that’s because at school they are so used to figuring out what the teacher wants them to reply. Everybody does the same thing because they’ve all been taught in the same way and taught how to regurgitate stuff. I think exposing them to something like this, concepts in film which are so difficult to describe to children. The [theme of] ‘situation’ was easy but the [theme of] ‘sensations’ really stretched their abilities for them to figure what we’re talking about and how to recognise it in film. It was so different and no one had done anything like it. In the feedback you could see they found it difficult to understand the concept but slowly, slowly they started to. Even though they thought they didn’t know what it was, in terms of what they produced you could see they grasped the concept and were able to make their own response to it. I think the film they created on both occasions was really accomplished.  [see Highfields Junior School’s film on the theme of ‘Situation’ here: https://vimeo.com/468906609

M: It’s interesting how you evidence what children have learnt in a medium that isn’t in language. If you’re asking them about literature, they write or talk about the book. If you ask them to demonstrate that they understand a film concept, they can only show it to you by representing it [in film] rather than by telling you. Like you said, if they can’t articulate it in language, they might feel they haven’t got it or understand it, until they show it in a piece of film. Then you look at it and think: ‘oh, you do understand how film represents a sensation because you’ve just shown me one.’ 

S: Yes, absolutely. That [‘sensation in cinema’] was a really difficult concept. Not only showing a sensation, but making a piece that will elicit a sensation in the viewer. I think lockdown really helped on that project. But quickly going back to the Situation, what was interesting for me was that they were more interested in doing the exercises than they were in doing the final film. That's something to keep in mind, they can explore by themselves and something they have more ownership over and enjoyed more. I've noticed this more in feedback from other groups as well that, when they do their final project and it’s much more structured and they haven’t got an overview in their own heads about what they are doing, they enjoy it less. 

M: Why do you think that is? 

S: I think children want to do things quickly. They don’t want to think a week, two weeks, or a month into the future when the piece might be finished and figure out all the different building blocks we put together to have a lovely end result. They want to have ownership of the thing they are creating themselves in the moment and then watch it quickly afterwards. In the exercises they did, for example, I remember saying to them ‘now we’re going to have this exercise, you’ve got half an hour, come up with an idea, here are some tools.’ All of a sudden they came up with the idea of using flashlights and music, figuring out how are we going to play the music whilst timing it, making the lights on the wall flash in time exactly. They loved doing that. It was so immediate. You go in and ‘5 more minutes’ and they say ‘ok, we’re just doing the editing!’ and then screening it. For them it was the biggest thrill.   

M: We should put a link in the article to the flashlight exercise, it really is extraordinary as a representation of what you’re talking about – children's autonomy, mastery and control. [see their film exercise here;  https://vimeo.com/389520479

S: The professionalism. They create it themselves. They don’t muck about. Or that one where they did that modern dance, that riff on what the exercise was [SEE ABOVE]. That’s what I love about working with children. They don’t sit back and go ‘ok let’s hear everyone’s thoughts.’ They literally dive in straight away and do it. 

M: The final film is much more like that process [see the final Sensation film here:  https://vimeo.com/468905342]  it has to be a group process, it has to be collaborative and planned. Also the only person who can hold the whole project in their head is the teacher or the filmmaker. So it’s not going to belong to the children. It belongs to them collectively, but individually they don’t know what the whole thing is and it’s not theirs. It's a really important insight I think, between doing something improvised, quickly, in which you have total control, and being part of a bigger collaboration. Which is probably a good discipline to have – you put aside your own ego and desire to support something which is bigger than yourself. You can see how it’s a good thing but also how children might find it hard and more challenging. 

S: Absolutely and by saying they enjoyed the immediate more I don’t mean that you shouldn’t make something bigger. I think that has a different learning curve and enjoyment for the children. They can learn something more about their particular role on that film. They’ve learned how to be a sound recordist and it’s something you can’t take away. They don’t realise it at the time but that is something you know as a teacher that you’re giving them. It will stick with them and, if they’re interested, they can take it further. The children who were the actors loved doing that part of it. My daughter was the producer, she has no idea really and it was maybe a bit boring because she did all the paperwork. But it’s understanding that everything you give to the project is just as valuable as being the star or the director. In our case we were very lucky with the boy who was the director. He really stuck with it, he wasn’t flustered by adults shouting over him. Very impressive to see children shine like that and reveal their hidden talents – it's really exciting. 

M: Shall we move on to Virtual Film Club and how the pandemic and lockdown shaped your thinking and changed your practice and the approaches you had. Thinking about that transition, that you made very quickly, part of it that strikes me is that you wanted to do more of that smaller exercise, that practical activity as a way of getting children to do things quickly and learn things quickly. Tell us what happened from lockdown and how you took things online. 

S: When lockdown started last year we were already halfway through our CCAJ project. We had already started in class with the children, delving into the sensations. That was very important because it was such a tricky concept. So we were lucky in a sense that we’d already done most of our exercises. When lockdown started we thought: ‘okay, we’ve done all these exercises. We need to come up with something else.’ Also, we didn’t want to leave them and say ‘sorry, it’s lockdown, we can’t do anything.’ We quickly created resources that we could use in an online setting. We went back to talking about film grammar, film elements we could offer them in bite sized pieces. We decided on a range of them. We did sessions on things like point of view, why we use them, what kind of response do you get from your audience when you use these shots. We would give them a little tuition with a Powerpoint and then we would give them a homework task for them to go off and do during the week. That was very, as you say, thinking back on their enjoyment of doing the exercises. Also what I’ve found is that you always have in a class setting either the children who are the most able or the most assertive. There are always children who sit back and let other children do the work for them or are just living in the background. But this gave us a chance to have everybody equal. You all see each other on the Zoom screen. Literally everyone is equal, you all have a little box for your head. You can't really hide in that sense. Everybody doing their homework, and sending it back, we would watch it by sharing our screen, watch each clip, let each filmmaker talk about what their thoughts were, and have people comment on them. It was a really enjoyable project but we did ask a lot from the children. We have adapted it afterwards because it was too long and at the end they were falling off their chair with boredom and hunger.  

M: How long were the sessions? 

S: They were meant to be an hour and a half but sometimes they would stretch to two hours. 

M: Wow. 

S: I know. But it’s because we were figuring out the technology and how it works. We had never used Zoom before, it was a totally new thing. It was an opportunity for the children to see each other, have a discussion, see their school mates. It wasn’t a school setting – there was no ‘correct answer’ - it really was a free flowing discussion surrounding film. They all took it very seriously and commented in a professional manner. They learned a lot from that aspect. Whatever you put on for children you’re never just teaching the topic. You're teaching so many other skills alongside it. 

M: How old were they? 

S: They were 8-11 years old. By that stage the parents were joining in. We often got comments back saying how they enjoyed it. We said to the children: ‘you’re not supposed to be in it. You're the director, the filmmaker the camera person.’ So they had to work with their siblings and their pets and their parents to make their films. It became quite an enjoyable thing to do as a family. It set the children up as the experts in their house. When they were watching a film they could recognise  ‘oh this is a frame within a frame.’ 

M: It’s another kind of ambition of all education really: to make a better connection between home and school and for children to get families involved in their learning. It seems that’s one of the benefits of lockdown, children are learning at home and doing things at home, and their families get involved because they are the natural resources that they use. Especially for something like film. 

S: Especially as they see you’re doing it through a school. It makes the parents feel that it’s part of their education. It's not just a fun thing to pass the time. They still have at the back of their minds that ‘it’s a learning opportunity for my child.’ They’re so used to the fact that you can't do the homework for your child, they have that mindset, which is good, because they don’t interfere. They take it seriously. I think it’s different if you do it as a fun club. Then the parents don’t take it as seriously. Doing it through school helps. 

M: Did you find the children learned anything different, or in a different way from when it was face-to-face? Were there any unanticipated benefits of outcomes? 

S: The nature of what we did meant they got their hands dirty a lot more. In class you have such limited time and a lot of pressures in terms of not being allowed to use the internet or having enough tablets to film on. Now it gave them all the chance to join in equally. I think that was really useful. But we did miss those sessions where they would spark off each other and create things together. Of having that experience of watching something together and holding hands or being moved or having a laugh with your friends. All these things that a cinema setting would give, those are the things we missed. But this was just something else and in a way it’s something to continue after lockdown. It offers something intensive. You do it as a short burst in addition to something you can do in a cinema or film club setting. 

M: Fast forward to now, to where you’ve taken Virtual Film Club and online learning and the things you’re doing now. Have they evolved again? 

S: Yes. After that first project that we did, it’s inspired me to think much bigger than just doing something in a classroom that nobody knows about, in a school in the suburbs. That was great for those 15 children that took part and it was a great experience. But I’ve realised we can bring this to a lot more children and can celebrate their successes much more widely with just a bit of effort. I submitted the film that we made to children’s film festivals across the world. We got an award. We've been screened in film festivals in America, in Ukraine, possibly Ireland. It's mind-blowing to the children. The idea you’ve made something and it’s being screened across the world. It brings it so much closer to home. For myself as well, I feel inspired by the possibilities that this new way of working gives us. We can make these connections and we can offer something that is MA film learning to young people. And to older people. I think what we’ve developed is something that can be applied to people in many different times of their lives. I’m keen to do something that’s intergenerational – maybe children and older people together could have a film club. Why not? There are so many opportunities now. This new way of working offers so many different ways of bringing people together. We can all lament the terribleness of the pandemic and the fact we can’t be together, but there are ways.  And while it’s all happening let’s try to figure out a positive way to do the same work. I'm really optimistic and hoping we can work with other age groups and schools across the UK. I'm now working with two groups of people in Ukraine.  

M: Fantastic. I wanted to ask about filmmakers and the contribution they make. What have they learned as a result of participating the workshops and following this approach? 

S: It’s a question I can ask them. Because I work for the London Film School I am interested in working with our filmmakers and our alumni. Lots of them are interested in working with teachers and children. I think whatever you do in life, if you have a spell of teaching it makes you better at whatever it is you’re doing. I think it is useful for anyone’s development to be a teacher even if it’s for a short time.  From working with my colleague Chi I realised it was a steep learning curve and, at times, a very nerve-wracking experience for him, teaching primary school children every week.  It’s been interesting to see the film-makers grow as teachers and great to be able to offer them that experience. 

M: I was going to ask what you’ve learned about film education in general but I think you’ve brought that out in what you’ve been saying.  

S: it’s difficult for me. I’m such a do-er. I kind of dive in with a gut feeling that it might work, and see if we can tweak it or abandon it. I’ve done quite a few sessions in real life with people, going to a community group, and doing filmmaking for a while. I find it quite limiting because you go in, you’re pressed for time, you leave. Yes, you’ve made a short film but you’ve only done that one part of the CCAJ project. They've missed out on the whole development part and I think that is so important. It’s a shame, almost, to go into a school where you just make a film. Here’s a topic, make a film. You miss the actual good bits, the real learning. So much of bringing film into classroom is concentrated on that bit. It's never the real experience and they get the boring bits of having to do one bit, one element. They miss the fun bits of looking at film, discussing it, trying bits out, experimenting. Those are most enjoyable and they take time. 

M: The notion of why we would want children to do this kind of work in these kinds of settings, and your role working for a Film School. This is almost a rhetorical question – are you working with children so they will eventually work in the film industry? What are the benefits? What are the reasons behind this project? Or behind workshops like this? Is it about preparing them for roles in the screen industries?  

S: It would be crazy to think you’re preparing everybody for the film industry. There's no way that is a possibility. First of all, I’ve read some research that says that children’s career aspirations don’t change much between the ages of 7 to 17 and are often based on gender stereotypes and socio-economic backgrounds2.  If you’re not introduced to a career possibility at primary school, you will never choose it as a sector to work in.  I think that children in primary school already, in the back of their mind, have an idea of what is a proper job and what isn’t. I think the earlier you can expose children to the cultural industries as a whole is beneficial. It definitely has that aspect to it. It doesn’t need to be film. It could be anything. I did a session with film critic Jonathan Romney with the children in Film Club, where they all wrote film reviews and he read them and gave feedback. They were all like: ‘That’s your job? Do you actually earn money doing that?’  I think in general it’s opening their minds to the creative industry. But apart from that it’s being exposed to culture, the whole exercise of analysing work, talking about it with your peers. That is so important. Those skills are not taught much in school. Doing it in a professional manner. If the children get the chance to do that it helps with their own personal development.  

I also think we are developing an audience for the film industry. From a Film School perspective it’s all about creating that appreciation of the art form in children and young people. That is also a really important part, that they have this life-long appreciation of film. What do you think? 

M: I was reading something earlier last year, somebody from the 1950s and 1960s who was asked what the purpose of education is. He said, it’s to transmit the experiences that are worthwhile, that every society thinks is worthwhile. Cinema offers so much in terms of worthwhile experiences and important and valuable cultural knowledge and experience. The more you see, and the broader the range you see, the more you understand. The more practically you can engage with it, the more you understand about how things are made and how things are communicated. I think we’re not very good - and it’s a global thing, a big shift, somebody called it ‘the business ontology in education’ - that education always seems to serve the economy and industry. We've lost the ability to imagine what else education could be about.  

S: It’s the same thing we discussed a while ago. Why is it important for children to read books? It's the same thing.  

M: Not to support the publishing industry. 

S: Yes. The same goes for film. To be able to unpick apart what life is about. The thing we were saying about children who have been read to all their lives and had exposure to lots of different stories, they already have this empathy for others because they’ve experienced it through books  they’ve read and they have this bank of stories in their heads. It’s the same for watching films. You find some children at Virtual Film club haven’t got that same level of imagery or possibilities in their heads as children who have grown up watching a varied array of films. It's very interesting to see the levels that children are at. I think it’s important for children to be exposed to a wider diet of films than what they’d otherwise get.  

Ideas for the classroom:

 

The BFI's Resources for Teachers offers a wealth of inspirational lesson plans to get you started: https://www.bfi.org.uk/resources-events-teachers/resources-teachers