Manuel José Damásio and Lyndsay Duthie • Chair of the GEECT board and member of the GEECT board
“Schools must quickly come up with tools to supervise students and assure their safety”
- We spoke to Professor Manuel José Damásio and Professor Lyndsay Duthie, from the European Grouping of Film and Television Schools, to discuss how COVID-19 is affecting Europe’s film-education system
We had the chance to interview Professor Manuel José Damásio, chair of the GEECT (European Grouping of Film and Television Schools) board, member of the CILECT (International Association of Film and Television Schools) executive council and head of the Film and Media Arts Department at the Universidade Lusófona de Humanidades e Tecnologias (Portugal), and Professor Lyndsay Duthie, member of the GEECT board and head of the School for Film, Media and Performing Arts at the University for the Creative Arts (UK). Our conversation revolved around the future of Europe’s film-education system and the challenges posed by the pandemic as well as the possible strategies that schools may implement to pursue their didactic mission in these difficult times.
Cineuropa: What are the major challenges that Europe’s film-education system will be facing in the future?
Lyndsay Duthie: As film educators, we have migrated with speed and fluency to a new, online teaching environment. Industry professionals have been generous with their time, and staff have been quick to interpret existing briefs and assignments to fit in with “what is possible”, allowing for social distancing. In the short term, we are doing okay, but the longer term poses more problems, as film is such a collaborative process, relying on large teams on location. While our students are able to adapt to shooting shorts on iPhones or other portable devices as a temporary solution, they still need the physical environment in order to develop their skills, using high-tech, professional-standard equipment. As we do not know when this pandemic will end, there is much uncertainty, and keeping students engaged in the longer term in a “flipped classroom” environment will be tough.
Manuel José Damásio: The main challenges are indeed in the long term. Our hands-on approach does not work in a purely virtual learning environment. Besides teaching and mentoring, the main challenges will be in terms of evaluations. Almost all – if not all – of the evaluations performed by schools imply a component of production exercises. Currently, these types of evaluations are impossible and may be very difficult to implement next year, too.
Engagement with the community – another key component of our education – is also affected by the pandemic, since from now on – and no one knows for how long – it will be harder for students to involve actors and external crew in their productions. Finally, we should not forget about funding. As film schools are part of the cultural and educational sectors, they will also suffer from potential cuts caused by the downturn that may hit Europe.
How are CILECT and GEECT responding to the crisis and supporting Europe’s film education system?
MJD: As associations that represent the top international film schools, GEECT and CILECT are actively communicating with their members to share experiences and document the approaches taken by the different schools. In this context, we are organising a dedicated virtual conference in October. We are also planning the publication of a special issue of the International Journal of Film and Media Arts which will investigate these issues further. The conference will serve as an opportunity to collect best practices and share the results of the ongoing research projects [find out more about the initiative here].
What tools are teachers using to pursue didactic activities and keep in touch with their students?
MJD: The close relation between teachers and students has proven to be a core asset when facing the lockdown. Most schools have been able to implement mentoring and tutoring models through collaborative platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, as well as other tools such as as iFrame for editing exercises.
Do you think the same shooting regulations that some countries are putting in place will be feasible for student crews? Will schools be able to guarantee students’ safety during filming exercises?
LD: As the UK begins to look at easing the lockdown, which will be a gradual process, we will be looking at film-industry best practice, also to get an idea of any lessons we can learn. Call sheets will need revising, and new protocols will be developed, in line with the advice from each country’s government. International film shoots will become much more complex, with a trend towards shooting domestically anticipated.
MJD: Production exercises are the core of film education, and they cannot stop. Schools must quickly come up with tools to supervise students and assure their safety. In Portugal, our schools have already implemented shooting regulations in collaboration with the Portuguese Film Commission, and the presence of a “head of security and hygiene” will be compulsory from now on.
How are you organising the re-opening process?
LD: In the UK, we are scenario-planning for staggered start dates for undergraduate, postgraduates and international students. Large lectures are unlikely to be possible for a while, so there will be more webinar content with smaller group workshops to underpin this.
MJD: We will maintain large classes fully online and reinforce small group mentoring. Productions will be redesigned on all levels, from logistics to content, in order to adhere to the regulations in place.
In what ways will the emergency change the film education system?
LD: I think education across all subjects will change. We have all adapted to the technology quickly and seen how it can be really effective – for example, giving us access to some high-profile industry names who would not necessarily have been able to attend physical lectures. However, film is a team-based subject, and physical contact is vital to really understand how to develop the “magic” that is created in a studio – and that is hard to learn virtually.
MJD: The main changes will affect schools’ operations. I envision virtual meetings becoming the norm, alongside virtual coaching or master classes, thus reinforcing blended learning. However, the core of film education will not change. Another area that will be deeply transformed is our students’ and staff’s predisposition to work collaboratively in virtual environments, for instance while co-editing a film. This is a well-established industry practice that film schools will happily embrace.
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