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Nurturing Creative Visionaries: Celebrating the Transformative Power of Student-Crafted Films at TASIS England
Ciaran McConville

Nurturing Creative Visionaries: Celebrating the Transformative Power of Student-Crafted Films at TASIS England

Twice a year, the TASIS England Theatre Department runs an event called "Homemade." It’s always brilliant because it’s formed of work created by the students, either for their courses or for the sheer love of it. 

Last year, we screened some of the films made by TASIS students, all of which were of startling quality. One piece was a deeply personal reflection about coming out, about the nervousness that precedes it, and the enormous feeling of relief and acceptance that can (hopefully) follow. 

The students had slaved over the film, learning for themselves that the hardest work often follows the filming. They had to develop visual effects techniques, knowledge of color-grading, and how to mix the sound. More than just the technical skills, in order to tell this story, they had to develop collaborative and organizational tools akin to those you might learn as an executive in a business.

As the end credits rolled at the screening, the audience’s appreciation of what had just been shared – a deeply personal and beautifully crafted story – became palpable, as many in the room were moved to tears.

Such is the power of film. I’m learning that afresh every year at TASIS. 

Of course, one of the reasons you become a teacher of high school students is because you recognize what they often don't: that their potential is vast right now, not just in the years ahead of them. Young people are very capable of surprising everyone, especially themselves!

We offer two film courses in the Upper School at TASIS. IB Film can be taken both as part of the International Baccalaureate Diploma, and sometimes as part of a bespoke "pick-n-mix" that only the geniuses behind TASIS scheduling could make possible. 

Ask any IB Film teacher and they will tell you it is a life-changing course. In the years that I’ve taught it at TASIS England, the graduating students, without fail, have reflected on the way it’s changed their approach to other subjects, the cross-curricular skills it’s given, and the enormous sense of fulfillment it’s offered. They have left for higher education and the world beyond with the kind of leadership and organizational skills that will stand them in great stead for success. They know how to assemble a team, how to plan a project, and how to ensure intentions are fulfilled. But more importantly, they recognize the value in their own voice, in the stories they believe should be told.

The IB Film course definitely throws some big challenges at the students right from the outset. It is 60% practical, and the production elements are almost overwhelming at the start, as students learn about collaborative planning and how to run a safe and creative shoot. But they galvanize. They begin to understand the power of this universally appreciated (and yet, to most, entirely invisible) language of filmmaking. 

As they analyze films from diverse cultures over the near century-and-a-half of cinema, they begin to see the unifying factors: the power of composition, color, symbols, and sound, the archetypal structures that underpin narrative, the recurring themes and genres that go back to storytelling as an oral tradition. 

It’s a lot to take in! 

Whether the students go on to film school or university, whether their interests are ultimately creative or commercial, I don’t think any of them graduate from the IB Film course without feeling like their perspective on both the world and themselves has been fundamentally changed.

The other program we run at TASIS England is the Introduction to Film class, which is open to all Upper School grade levels. It’s here that students learn their true value within a team. 

They often begin as a somewhat disparate group. Some are ninth graders, new to all the excitement of high school. Some are in their senior year, thinking about their final grades and what lies ahead. Some are strong essay writers, some nascent poets, some skilled technicians. Some students come to the class as knowledgeable cinephiles, others as self-confessed devotees of reality TV. Some are strong in mathematics and science and may wonder how they can apply those strengths in film studies. Others come like a glorious bowl of creative spaghetti, not really knowing where one thought ends and another begins. 

In their first weeks, they take the cameras out around campus and learn a few basic skills. Their filmmaking language develops rapidly as they learn about establishing shots and cutaways, the setup for a shot-reverse-shot, the rules around three-point lighting, and so on. But it’s really the moment that they begin to share their work (initially just with each other) that they understand the power of what they have as a team. 

By the end of the one-year course, they are checking out equipment ahead of class to get to their shooting location; they’re meeting up outside school and finding new ways to plan and organize themselves. 

I think those students who sign up wondering what the arts can bring to them as an individual graduate with the understanding that the creation of art – especially film and theatre – requires an incredibly wide range of skills, application, and collaboration. As we might have said back when I was a school pupil, “Film studies is not a doss subject!”

The students make good use of our equipment: the DSLRs, sound recorders, and lighting. Some of them come with a love of technology (and always want to talk about gimbals, for some reason), while others work hard to overcome their fear of it. Ultimately, I hope, they finish studying film at TASIS with the understanding that it’s about people. 

That was never clearer than at the "Homemade" event last year, when people stayed in the theatre long after the lights went up to talk about what they had seen.