Reality through a lens

A film-making initiative in a culturally diverse suburb of Glasgow has caught pupils' imagination, Mitchell Miller writes

Drumchapel High's Cineclub has a diverse clientele - from Drumchapel, Iraq, Turkey and Afghanistan. But as drama teacher and club leader Ray Howie discovered, teenage preoccupations prove fairly universal:

"Homework, parents, school - much the same wherever you come from."

But rather than sit and gripe, the pupils will cooperate to turn their experiences into a short drama or documentary film of no more than six minutes.

Lottery-funded Cineclubs are the latest development in the Glasgow Film Theatre's wide-ranging and well-respected education programme, that works hard to bring local schools into contact with the many facets of the moving image. One of its biggest successes is its Saturday film clubs, where a mixture of the latest Pixar extravaganza and quirky foreign language flicks, such as Belleville Rendez-Vous, are offered as free screenings.

Cineclubs meet after school for 38 weeks a year, mixing out-of-school care with the chance to use the latest in commercially available digital technology. Through screenings and hands-on experience, young people from four mainstream secondaries and two special schools aged 11 to 14 (11 to 16 in the special schools) gain a better understanding of the moving image and how it is used to depict - and make - reality.

"We're not trying to create a cynical audience, but a critical one," says Jennifer Armitage, education manager of the GFT. "Kids need to understand that what they see is not natural, but put together and shaped by someone else - and put forward their own alternatives." Through screening days at the GFT, club members learn the basics of interpreting and understanding what they see on the screen.

Glasgow City Council has backed the project with money from the New Opportunities Fund, and professional support and expertise also comes from G-MAC (the Glasgow Media Access Centre), an open access facility for young filmmakers which started in 1983 as the Glasgow Film and Video Workshop.

Ms Armitage says the pupils needed little encouragement to get involved.

"Most kids grow up with video cameras and computers, so they were very confident, but we want to teach them how to use them well." Each club is issued with a digital video camcorder, tripod, microphone, boom pole, headphones and kit bag. They also get access to the GFT's editing computers.

It was often the teachers that most needed to familiarise themselves with the tools of digital cinema. Having been a teacher of film studies, Ms Howie took the chance to improve her own knowledge through the Cineclub's built-in in-service training, covering camera, post-production and the blackest of all cinema arts, editing (one full day and three half days in the first year).

But it is also important to encourage pupils to relate what they do at Cineclub to their own lives. "We're trying to show that some of the best films come from things that you know," says Ms Armitage, "which is why our first screening will look at the First Light films (a UK project for 5- to 18-year-olds)."

This is something the Drumchapel High pupils are discovering as they plan their own masterpiece.

Editing, shooting, scripting and producing a short film covers a range of essential skills, and Cineclubs are just one of many similar projects around Scotland that have picked up on this.

Ms Armitage says: "There's a lot going on: the Screen School in South Lanarkshire; and in Argyll and Bute they have integrated moving image into modern languages teaching, where pupils get together and produce films in French or German."

The power of moving image education - whether as a subject in itself, as a means of teaching others or as a way of acquiring valuable interpersonal, social and problem-solving skills - makes you wonder why it is not used more widely or substantively recognised in the curriculum. The equipment has never been cheaper or easier to use.

Is it time, given the current curriculum review, to corral these various initiatives into a coherent national strategy that might see work like this valued - and even accredited? Scottish Screen has been at the forefront of promoting cine-literacy in Scotland and eyes are now on its new CEO to see what happens next.

But the Cineclubs will continue to run through to 2007, with six more places still available to Glasgow schools from 2005-06 on. Judging by the enthusiasm generated at Drumchapel, it is an opportunity not to be missed.

Ms Howie says: "Anything that builds the kids' confidence is great. There have already been very real knock-on benefits."

If your school is in the Glasgow City Council area and you would like to get involved in Cineclubs, or would like more information, contact Jennifer Armitage, tel 0141 332 6535

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