Grade 8 students from Willowdale Christian School (WCS) learned about the art of film making from experts in the field this winter, thanks to a trip to Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) located in downtown Toronto.
The February visit allowed students to take part in the festival’s Film in a Day workshop—an experience that had members of the class making movies of their own and learning from seasoned professionals in the industry.
“They [the workshop leaders] had a lot of experience and knowledge that they could share with the class,” said Paula Wells, Grade 8 teacher at WCS. “Each student was allowed to choose a role within the filming process, whether that be camera operator or boom mike operator,” she explained.
“They got practical experience using professional equipment to create the film. Anything and everything related to film making they got to try, which was kind of fun.”
The workshop started with members of the class reading scripts and then writing their own in small groups. After that, they got to bring the one they liked best to life. Although the winning script centered around four villains plotting to take over the world, students did have to work within a few parameters. The movie was to be filmed in the workshop space, and they could use no more than the simple props provided—a table, a chair and four volunteer actors from the class.
In a few weeks TIFF workshops leaders will professionally edit the movie, and send it along to the students for viewing.
“It shows students that movies are kind of little captured moments that are pieced together later in the editing process,” said Wells, “and that the timeline of the actual filming can be different from the timeline of the actual product.”
This is the second time that Wells has taken her class to TIFF. Last year, she and her students participated in a stop motion animation workshop. Both visits have been worthwhile ways for her to take advantage of the school’s proximity to a major urban centre.
“It’s an opportunity that is so close to us here in the city—you might as well use the resources at hand and learn from high ranking professionals in their industries,” she noted.
Going forward, students will use what they learned at the workshop to make other movies in class—Wells hopes that in making movies and studying their parts, her students will be “more discerning and wise in how they look at products of the media.” Fostering this kind of “media literacy” is important to her as a teacher, she said, especially in an age where videos are “such a big part of our culture”. For students to use the keen critical eye they develop in class—while they peruse Youtube videos or watch Summer blockbusters, is key.
This year, Wells has found a few avenues to integrate the study of film into different spheres of learning—like the class’s exploration of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, for example.
“I have some students where you ask them to write about something and it’s torture, but when you ask them to respond in a dramatic way, or through film, they’re totally engaged and interested and on top of it. I don’t have to push or proud … it’s great for them to have those opportunities.”
She said that the class recently found inspiration from a video that uses an animated series of drawings to narrate Shakespeare’s Macbeth—to which Wells said “there’s no reason you guys can’t film this type of a thing, too”.
When Wells presents her class with these kind of playful assignments, she strives to walk alongside the preteens, instead of standing in their way.
“I’m just trying to guide them through the process without putting too much of myself in it,” she noted. Although there are times when she needs to “reign them in”, she said her favourite part of teaching is watching her students “take ownership of their work and come up with amazing products”.