Karen Gold reports on some award-winning film-makers
Dyslexic ghosts, angry adolescents, mishaps in the gym and an animated Loch Ness monster all appear in a series of films created by students with autism, dyslexia, severe hearing impairment and emotional and behavioural difficulties.
The films, all of which will be shown publicly in the next few months, were scripted, filmed and edited by young people under the guidance of professional media trainers and film-maker mentors, backed by First Light, a National Lottery-funded scheme organised by the UK Film Council.
SOMETHING IN THE CELLAR
Cinema-goers in Uckfield, Sussex, for example, will in May be able to see a screening of Flashback, a horror spoof made by 10 pupils at Northease Manor school near Lewes, a specialist independent school for dyslexic children.
Northease Manor's Year 11 film-makers, led by professional director Simon Wilkinson, who is himself dyslexic, invented a ghost story involving rival gangs being turned into ghosts in the school's spooky cellar. This plot exploited the potential of Northease Manor's Tudor building to the full, says drama teacher Charlotte Hastings.
"We found that the way film-making breaks down into individual shots works very well for dyslexic students: it makes them aware of story structure and enables them to use their imagination freely," she says.
"All this group started off very interested in performance and the limelight, but as they made the film they recognised the importance of collaboration in putting something together - and they have come to really value that aspect of creativity."
Several of the group were so inspired they went on to write a novel about a dyspraxic ghost.
Scottish students with widely differing needs in four schools have been making films with backing from FPS Media, a Lanarkshire-based video production and training company that lends equipment and specialist professionals to schools. The latest FPS-led project is at mainstream Earnock high school, where the nine students in the department of deaf education, who are aged from 12 to 17, are working on a silent black-and-white slapstick movie.
Deaf students at Earnock already have media experience: they recently made a CD-Rom for Strathclyde police that trains recruits in working with young people. Their new film includes rather more mishaps, says Sylvia Gordon, who as the school's principal teacher of the deaf acts as British Sign Language interpreter while the students are working.
"They have story-boarded all kinds of trouble, starting with an incident in a gymnasium," she says. "Doing this enables them to see that there's a possible career in media: that deafness isn't going to bar them from further or higher education courses, or from being a camera operator, or directing or scriptwriting. There are lots of careers they hadn't considered.
"It also gives them prestige in the school, and team spirit. In other contexts our older deaf pupils often work with the younger ones, helping them. But when filming, they all start from the same place. The young ones see the older ones as role models, but they also work alongside them as equals."
Some of the youngest of this year's First Light film-makers are Year 6 pupils at Nylands special school in Swindon. Six boys at the 37-pupil primary for children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties have been creating a film about being angry, which is tied into the school's strong focus on emotional literacy this year.
Part documentary, with filmed scenes of classroom work on emotions, part improvised drama including recreations of scenes from Harry Potter films, the Nylands film is being created with the help of media tutor Keith Phillips and professional film-maker Tot Foster.
Tot suggested the boys paint large-scale backdrops with angry colours, and animated thermometers to match the emotional temperature rising and falling throughout the film.
Achieving that consciousness of emotional change originally sparked the idea of film-making, says the school's deputy head Ralph Lancaster-Gaye.
"The staff had wondered about using video to help the children focus on their behaviour, as a kind of instant feedback. We've used it successfully, not just for negative feelings: it can stimulate immediate surprise or delight when children see how they have reacted."
From there the film plan moved to analysing other people's filmed emotions.
"The children have looked at scenes from EastEnders with the sound off, interpreting emotions from faces and body language," says Keith Phillips.
"We've also looked at the emotional effect of positioning the camera: close-ups for strong emotion, for example; and experimented with wide-angled action shots of them moving at speed.
"It's the first time I've worked with children with these difficulties and the results are really good. It's a kind of sneak attack: they are learning IT and emotional literacy and analytical skills, but having fun, too."
Ralph Lancaster-Gaye believes the children have grown emotionally through making the film and have learned to control their responses to the actions of other people. "But making the film has also created social cohesion: these are very challenging children who have worked with excitement and joy and become a happier group," he says.
* First Light has funded 8,000 children to make 550 films, the best of which are shown annually in a London West End cinema. Applications of up to Pounds 4,000 for the next round of First Light awards must be with the UK Film Council by April 26. For details see www.firstlightmovies.com.