​​“Film is a Method of Viewing the World” – FAMU opens a new programme: Film Education for Primary and Secondary Schools

The Film and TV School of the Faculty of Performing Arts offers a new subject beginning this October: teaching film and audiovisual media. Its graduates are expected to learn how to teach about film. Film education in primary and secondary schools can show children and young adults how they can create as well as how they can understand the real world – and thus themselves – through cinematic art.  

“The point is for primary and secondary school students to learn that film can work as a way to reflect on the world around them, so that they can take a stand. To make them understand that film doesn’t just have to be high-cost feature blockbusters,” explains teacher and programme coordinator Jiří Forejt.

The new programme is intended for film programme graduates who want to complete their pedagogic minimum at FAMU. In the future, the offer could expand with a lifelong learning course for current teachers and people interested in film education. 

In addition to film education and broadening primary and secondary school students’ horizons, Jiří Forejt is also responsible for teaching new skills and offering new outlooks in the university of the third age at FAMU. “Film teaching methods are universal – they are the same for primary and secondary schools and for the university of the third age. This applies to film enthusiasm too – it’s the same across decades.”

Film teaching has been booming for the past 10 to 15 years only. Is there a reason why?
I believe one of the reasons is that the master educational programmes (or ‘RVP’) for primary and secondary education were revised thoroughly 13 years ago. That’s when Dr Markéta Pastorová from the National Pedagogical Institute along with FAMU Professor Rudolf Adler succeeded to include film and audiovisual education in the RVP as a complementary programme. From then on, schools can include workshops on this topic in their schedules. However, although students love cinema, its position is still not equal to art or music. This is why the current revisions aim to ensure that, as well as art and music, theatrical, dramatic, motion, dance, film, and audiovisual education are on the same level.

Is there a catch in expanding the educational programmes you have named?
One of the problems is certainly that we don’t have enough qualified teachers in primary and secondary schools. Dramatic education has an edge, though, because the Department of Drama in Education has been active at DAMU since the 1990s. Film education, by contrast, has never had any such tertiary background, until now. There was no school for teachers to learn how to teach film and audiovisual education, and there was not much debate about the potential of cinematic education in teaching practice. 

You took interest in film teaching during your master’s programme at FAMU, then you wrote a dissertation thesis on the topic, and eventually, many years later, you convinced the Faculty to launch a full educational programme.
That’s right. The process took maybe seven years. A crucial impetus came three years ago with the arrival of Andrea Slováková as the Dean of FAMU. That’s when we started preparing everything we needed for accreditation. It wasn’t easy, but we did it, and this autumn there will be a two-round admission procedure that should select 12 students who will take up the two-year programme in October. It’s open to film programme graduates, but in the future, we would like to offer a lifelong learning course for current teachers. 

What is the essence of film education?
Eva Machková, the godmother of dramatic education, has a motto that says that dramatic education uses theatrical methods for educational purposes. The same applies to film and audiovisual education, and in fact to any education. To us, it’s not about teaching film history or the filmmaking process systematically – what we want is for the various aspects of cinematic language, film history, and maybe scriptwriting to be reflected in education in the form of exercises, assignments and projects. 

What is the main benefit of this type of education? What can primary and secondary school students learn from it?
It’s primarily the willingness to dig deeper into what art is and how things can be expressed. You can come to the realisation that not everything in life has to be approached in an exact way. Emphasis is placed on emotion, so it can make you more empathetic and tolerant. You could say it offers the opportunity for personal development. Relating to the world through art opens the possibility that film will become your way of viewing the world we live in. The benefit is that, since film education is not all about careers, it can be approached in a much more liberal way in classes. Last but not least, another benefit is in raising cultured viewers. 

What does a ‘cultured viewer’ mean to you?
Alain Bergala, French filmmaker and film education lecturer and pioneer, says that if you don’t encounter film in primary school, you may never encounter it for the rest of your life. That’s not to say children and young people today don’t encounter film; not at all. The point is to make them realise that film can also have an artistic form; the same artistic form that we intrinsically acknowledge in literature, theatre or music. With film, there is still a lot of bias in the sense that it’s merely entertainment and a way to procrastinate, or kill free time. When you teach film education, you confront students with the art side of cinema. To do that, you need to choose the right film, prepare them for it, introduce the film, and be able to analyse it afterwards. This process is intended to ensure that film has the desired initiation impact. With that said, the point isn’t to watch a film every week. 

So, what else does the course contain, apart from viewing and analysing films?
I’ll give you an example I that appeals to me. Students in a certain school filmed an interview with a witness in their hometown whose family evaded the Nazi deportations during World War II. In the end, they made a ten-minute animated film about it, which took a lot of work. They had to do research on the topic, film the interview, record the soundtrack, and do the voice-overs. It shows how this form of experience education can combine many different creative competences.

The most important thing to me, though, is, as I have mentioned, that it can teach students to use cinematic creation as a potential way to reflect on the world around them, to take a stand. It can make them see that films don’t just have to be high-cost feature blockbusters and that they can use the digital devices they all have in their pockets to create film and audiovisual works. They actually do that, but they do so following trends they copy in social media. Film education can allow them to find their own ways of how to work with this medium and use it to communicate with the world, to clarify their thoughts… 

It’s obvious that it must be, or actually is, an attractive medium for young people.
It is, yet also, everyone feels that they know about cinema and understand it just because they watch films. What we’re after is getting to know film and its effects more in-depth. If you see the right film at the right time in the right environment, you can experience a truly profound internal catharsis. Sometimes, schools worry that they’d need sophisticated equipment, but everybody has a smart phone in their pocket now, and that’s more than enough. Also, some teachers worry that students will master digital technologies better than them, which will make them uncomfortable because they’ll no longer be ‘Mr Know All’. I think this offers a great opportunity for inviting students, who are naturally good at something, to actively participate in the educational process, with everybody learning from each other. After all, that’s what modern education should be… 

You mean students teaching their teachers?
There’s this idea that students are not just blank slates, which is what they were deemed to be earlier, and that learning is a two-way process. It’s often not the case in practice, though. But new subjects lend themselves to being taught differently. It’s not expected that a film education teacher will stand in front of the blackboard for an hour, explaining film history… Here, the interactive nature is obvious from the very beginning. 

Will you teach film education to your FAMU students in such an interactive way?
We have didactical workshops scheduled for every semester, during which students will consult each other on their projects and make their initial teaching attempts. In the Field Didactics subject, we will make sure that they actually get to try different things. From the second semester, they will gain hands-on experience in the field, actually teaching in primary and secondary schools or in informal educational settings. 

Since last year, you have also been in charge of the university of the third age at FAMU. It offers people over 60 years of age lectures to attend throughout the academic year. What sort of people are interested in this type of study?
Interestingly, I’d guess about three out of four among them are amateur filmmakers and photographers. In addition to my Faculty job, I also work at the National Information and Consulting Centre for Culture where I organise a programme titled the Czech Visions. It presents amateur, student, and independent cinema and it has 70 years of tradition here. Through that, I know amateur filmmakers across generations, and when I started lecturing at the university of the third age last year, I was surprised by how many of them came. 

I assume their motivation to study at FAMU is mostly to improve their work?
That’s often the case, and FAMU is obviously attractive for them in this sense. They get to spend some time here, experience the atmosphere of the school, and meet filmmakers during lectures. They can also socialise here, meeting people with the same interests. 

Do they attend their own dedicated lectures as part of the university of the third age, or are their lectures combined with those intended for other, full-time students?
In the past, they would choose from regular lectures and hear them with everybody else. Now, we are preparing a series of lectures dedicated to them. Some of them disagree, though, because they feel excluded. So, we are working towards a compromise solution. 

What can a person learn in the university of the third age?
You attend film screenings with a teacher’s introduction as well as standard lectures. We try to make sure that the classes reflect the process through which student films are made in the FAMU environment. To that end, we took them to FAMUFest where they could meet the authors. Last year, they tried making one-shot reels using their smart phones. We watch quality films, motivate them to create, and offer them regular lectures. 

How often do they go to school?
They come for one day once in every two or three weeks. They don’t have to take admission exams; it’s open until the capacity for 20 people is depleted. And they can apply for three consecutive times, so they can attend for three years.  

Do you find teaching ‘third age’ students to be the same as teaching ‘regular’ students?
Sometimes you notice that the older students don’t lose their focus so easily, and their attendance discipline is often better. If the topic is relevant for them, they ask more questions and want to discuss. In terms of topic, you can really discuss anything with them. It’s not like you can only discuss films for the older generation with them. I think it’s beneficial for them to learn about various creative principles and, as we discussed earlier, film teaching methods and processes are universal – they’re the same for students in primary schools, secondary schools, and in the university of the third age. This applies to film enthusiasm too – it’s the same across decades. 

I also wonder how the university of the third age can benefit the Faculty?
Universities are financed from public sources and it’s mandatory for them to offer the university of the third age. FAMU is the focal point of cinema education here, and I believe that the more it opens towards various target groups to avoid acting as an elitist institution that fosters egocentrism in singular authors, the better.