A film for all seasons
For a primary school class to make a 40-minute film, initially involving some two hours of footage, is a pretty formidable - not to say gargantuan - task. But when all the indoor set material and scenery they've made is accidentally thrown out just prior to filming, you'd probably expect a class of 10-year-olds to throw up their hands in despair or at least to give in quietly.
But when this happened to the pupils in the P56 composite class at Parson's Green Primary in Edinburgh, their response was "Well, let's just film outside then." And so they did.
Parson's Green does, admittedly, have a singular advantage here. Perched on the eastern slopes of Arthur's Seat, the pupils were able to cross into Holyrood Park to "recce" locations and to film, using woodland, a cave mouth and the ruins of St Anthony's Chapel, all of which added atmosphere and mood to their film adaptation of Winterbringers, a children's novel by Edinburgh author and teacher Gill Arbuthnott.
"The whole enterprise tested their commitment to the full," says their class teacher, Raffaella Arcidiaco.
"From November to January, they worked on the script, on the adaptation. Then, after the `set back', they filmed in March and we began editing in May. It was a long process but they kept faith throughout," she says.
It is nothing if not ironic that the pupils' set materials were accidentally jettisoned during Scotland's big freeze last winter, as the story of the novel and film concerns mysterious forces that upset the balance of the seasons so catastrophically that Scotland is in danger of being locked into an everlasting winter.
And, as the intrepid heroes of the story defeat the Winterbringers to welcome back the summer, so the intrepid pupils of Parson's Green stuck firmly to their guns to see their film made. It was more than fitting, then, that headteacher Willie French was able to welcome pupils and families to the school for the film's premiere on a balmy June evening.
The project, he said, represented "almost a whole year of sharing" and was a prime example of Curriculum for Excellence in action.
"This is a perfect example of CfE inter-disciplinary learning where the pupils not only broke down barriers but also leapt over many obstacles to achieve what they did."
The process began with the pupils reading the novel, then writing the script in pairs, and learning and rehearsing their lines, often in their own time.
The children also took control of every camera shot, with some direction from Miss Arcidiaco, and even composed and produced the soundtrack using "Garage Band" software.
They rebuilt some of the lost set for indoor shots, sourced costumes and acted out a range of characters from grandparents and parents to "witches", "ice creatures", young people and even an amazingly fast dog with a bark to match.
"The idea was ambitious and I thought maybe 10-year-olds wouldn't bring it off, but they came together to make it work," says Miss Arcidiaco. "There was no jealousy apparent, no begrudging pupils with `lead' parts and it boosted both their team work and their self-confidence."
Miss Arcidiaco gives an example of one girl who wouldn't speak in public but then put herself forward for a main part, brought it off admirably, and now has no hesitation talking in front of others.
Patience is not a virtue one associates with young people, but both patience and resilience came to the fore in the making of Winterbringers.
"Sometimes we had to re-shoot a scene several times, because of the light not being right or whatever, and they were fine with this. They were remarkably professional about it, in fact.
"At other points, we were simply running out of time and they had to get into character quickly, with no last-minute rehearsals, and they were fine with that too," she says.
For Miss Arcidiaco, the project was not simply about CfE indicators and outcomes. "I think the project demonstrates that learning is not all books and jotters. I often use drama and role play in class and this is an extension of that approach. I think it's important for children to learn what's actually involved in making a film," she says.
"We all go to the cinema, but we don't necessarily stop to think about how a film is put together, about the huge team work involved. On top of that, they've been totally immersed in a long-term project that they have not only sustained but also brought to a successful conclusion."
GILL ARBUTHNOTT ON SEEING HER FILM MADE
"Every author dreams of seeing their story made into a film and not many of us are lucky enough to watch that dream come true.
"The Parson's Green pupils have shown amazing determination, sustained focus and creativity throughout the making of the film with superb results.
"I also had the pleasure of coming to the school to read from the book with the children, answer their questions and discuss their ideas as well as their own writing.
"When JK Rowling walked down the red carpet this summer for the latest Harry Potter film, she could not have been more pleased than I am with this film.
It may not be a Hollywood blockbuster but, with all the extra filming the pupils did in Holyrood Park, I think we can safely say it's a brilliant Holyrood indie!"