The conference proper was opened with a really inspiring speech from Julie Ward, MEP for North West England who spoke about the importance of learning from each other and what work she is doing within the European Union to make film education and creative thinking at the heart of learning. She went on to talk about citizenship and children’s rights being incredibly important to the education curriculum. The issue of how education and culture is an important tool to dealing with the refugee crisis was keenly felt by many of us and was one of the biggest topics of conversation in the introductory drinks the evening previously so it was reassuring to hear that someone on the Culture and Education Committee for the EU was putting this discussion on the agenda. We then had an eccentric keynote speech from Dutch filmmaker Boudewijn Koole who directed the award-winning film Kauwboy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2arjDF3hmo. He discussed how creative learning benefits the entire community by using the example of how in the ant community 92% are workers and the other 8% are wanderers and on the surface they do “nothing” but they are the creative thinkers who find food and take new approaches. He said that children are experts in new thinking, they are not jaded by “been there done that” approach so we need to respect their right to choose for themselves and create with us. We need to open them up to creative thinking rather than telling them what to think”.
From an exhibition perspective the most important part of the day came next, with a discussion on distribution models with Ed Fletcher from Soda Pictures, Matthieu Zeller from Octopolis, Anja Horckmans from Jekino and Reinhold Schoeffel from the German equivalent of the BFI (BJF). In the UK Soda is developing the Children’s Cinema Club, which is helping to distribute and help audiences engage with world cinema. It was really useful to hear about future trends and although the moderator seemed a little spooked by the VOD models of distribution it was heartening that the speakers themselves working in that side of the industry are taking a more measured approach. Matthieu from Octopolis recognised that we need to engage children with VOD platforms in some way as this is how they are consuming visual entertainment, but the communal experience is still very important so it can become a tool rather than something to be feared. Soda are trying out different distribution splits to encourage venues to take risks. BJF is looking at partnerships with theatrical and non-theatrical as well as producing study guides for films to improve the life of a film. It was all very encouraging and points to a joined-up, collaborative approach which made me very hopeful for future audience development work we can do here in Wales.
At this point the conference split into different groups. I went to a really wonderful talk on Young Jurors and Curators, with the example of the European Film Festival’s youth programme being the most inspirational. They have two levels of engagement for their audience, a younger programme strand and a 12+ programme which mentors and eventually gives control of the programme to the young people themselves. As Director Iris Verhoeven said, this is a risk but it reaps huge rewards of not only a more engaged audience but a larger one too. The young people chair Q&As, volunteer and curate the programme entirely themselves and it is incredibly successful. The second discussion I attended was a presentation from Claire Oliver on the amazing work Into Film is doing to look at how to reach young people in schools. It made me incredibly proud that so many people left the room talking about a UK initiative. However, as a venue the Eye Filmmuseum in Amsterdam gave an example of a really integrated approach to film education. They have developed a web series made with young people with a film-with-a-film plot about making a zombie movie for a film festival. The script references the history of horror films, information about which is found on their website and then screenings of the films can be found at the venue. At the end of the series the young people involved screen their film at an actual festival with the entire experience which in turn gives viewers an insight into the industry. The web series is promoted by young Youtube stars within The Netherlands who are encouraging the young people to look at filmmaking and using their voices in a different way. It is incredibly ambitious and successful and showed what can be done as an alternative but collaborative method to introducing young people to film culture. However, although my talk was enlightening a lot of fun was being had with the Mash Up Table which is a part-performative tool, part education tool using technology and QR codes to take an entirely different approach to editing. Along with a presentation on the Children’s Film First Databases which will make study guides for a selection of new films every year available in various languages, the conference had a lot of hope to offer film educators and those looking to engage young people in film.