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Lights, camera, action!

Pupils as young as three are learning the intricacies of film-making in a pilot project in Angus.

Some of us start young. This is especially true in the movies. A teenage Sofia Coppola (director of Lost in Translation) starred in her dad's Godfather trilogy. Thanks to her role in ET, Drew Barrymore reached international stardom at the tender age of five.

But in Angus, pupils as young as three are operating cameras, making movie props and editing their own footage. This has not escaped the notice of their parents.

Harriet Radcliffe, married to a film-maker, was surprised and delighted to hear her four-year-old daughter wax lyrical on film technique. "We were talking about films, and suddenly she started coming out with terms such as close-up and long shot we couldn't believe it."

Along with other children from Lethnot and Stracathro nurseries, and Maisondieu Primary, this precocious pre-school cineaste took part in the Early Years Moving Image Education pilot. The project is aimed at three to seven year olds and led by Mairi Flood, a Maisondieu early years teacher on secondment with Scottish Screen, which has sponsored the pilot.

"The project began out of a desire to promote media literacy as part of wider literacy," she says. "But since we started, we've found there's a very rich cross-curricular element about play, contextualised learning and problem solving."

At an age more readily associated with the sandpit than the director's chair, the P1s, P2s and pre-school pupils have been analysing excerpts from Deal or No Deal and Pirates of the Caribbean. They have been asking far-reaching questions such as: "What kind of person would become a pirate?" or "What would happen if those pirates kidnapped their favourite TV characters?"

As "film detectives", the children explored these themes with the help of the "3 Cs"and the "3 Ss" character, colour and camera; story, setting and sound. This helped them grasp concepts such as plot and genre and to begin exploring the processes involved in making a film.

Using liberal amounts of paint and paste, children took the idea of the film set and created their favourite film or TV character's bedroom. This is typical of the "wedge" approach used in the projects: the sets were tools for introducing them to camera shots, sound and lighting, which in turn involved them in activities requiring teamwork and problem-solving.

The pilot has been warmly received by parents such as Ms Radcliffe. "The children got so much out of it," she says. "It really seems to have whetted their appetite to learn, and take part. It has also helped her confidence, especially in starting primary school after the summer."

Having brought nursery and primary teachers together, the pilot convinced Ms Flood of the importance of the early years strand in A Curriculum for Excellence and of the value of moving image education as "a vehicle for creating continuity between nursery and primary school". She notes that of the 66 learning outcomes mentioned in the 3-5 curriculum document, at least 58 were covered by the pilot.

And she is keen to spread the word. "It has given me the impetus to share ideas and learn from others it has been fun thinking, 'How can we do this?' But the important thing is for the learning to be child-led my main role is to facilitate and capture their ideas."

Having learned so much about film and television, it would have seemed anti climactic if the pupils hadn't committed something of their own to tape. Wolves of the big bad variety feature in Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs (by Lethnot and Stacathro nurseries), while pirates and TV stars are put through their paces in P1, and the Four Puppets, Maisondieu Primary School News, and the intriguingly titled Parrot Beware (all Maisondieu Primary).

The films were premiered at the Angus Digital Media Centre in June and display ample amounts of creativity, ingenuity and imagination. But as Ms Flood explains, they also show the children's social and personal development: "Children who would usually sit on the sidelines found their voice, children who were scared to write, wrote more than ever before. The project has been a real journey for everyone."


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