NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

COVID-19 in a Film School

We are training artists-in-the-making, and unforeseen challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic might give birth to some wonderful opportunities, despite the pressure and the rush into semi-lockdown from the top. If we were going to make this work for us, it was up to us to come up with new ideas and turn them into opportunities.

By Professor Herman Van Eyken

The country is so wounded, bleeding, and hurt right now. The country needs to be healed. It’s not going to be healed from the top, politically. How are we going to heal? Art is the healing force. – Robert Redford

It’s been a huge shift adjusting to remote delivery, particularly given filmmaking practice is the antithesis of being socially distanced.

I sent the quote above on 31 March to staff and students in the Griffith Film School. We are training artists-in-the-making, and unforeseen challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic might give birth to some wonderful opportunities, despite the pressure and the rush into semi-lockdown from the top. If we were going to make this work for us, it was up to us to come up with new ideas and turn them into opportunities.

The challenges around going into semi-lockdown, as well as preparing to come back out of it, for a film school are many, as we mainly teach “hands on”. One of our program directors explains it well:

  • It’s hard to teach filmmaking practice remotely.

  • Due to varying hardware capability and operating systems, post-production has been difficult to teach.

  • The downstream effect means our technical office had to commence heavy technical support for our students.

  • Shifting to an online delivery across multiple platforms like Microsoft Teams and Black Board Collaborate has been a steep learning curve for all staff while trying to keep our students engaged in learning.

  • Maintaining student engagement in class time and in general has been difficult – many admitting they are struggling without the typical structures of attending on campus.

  • Creating meaningful assessment tasks to complete remotely has been viewed by some as a dilution of their education.

  • A lot of the teaching that simply can’t be facilitated such as equipment-heavy workshops, have been postponed and this back catalogue of teaching will still need to be delivered once we return to campus.

  • A lot of additional research needs to be conducted to devise new protocols once we can return to production.

  • Ensuring the students will follow the new protocols will be challenging, particularly as we need to monitor off campus.

On the whole it’s been a huge shift adjusting to remote delivery, particularly given filmmaking practice is the antithesis of being socially distanced.

Some of us seem to have travelled with an air of delight. One of our Discipline Heads quotes Kaufman and Gregoire (2015):

Art born of adversity is an almost universal theme in the lives of many of the world’s most eminent creative minds. For artists who have struggled with physical and mental illness, parental loss during childhood, social rejection, heartbreak, abandonment, abuse, and other forms of trauma, creativity often becomes an act of turning challenge into opportunity … Experiences of extreme adversity show us our own strength.

Her experience: “we all woke up one morning to find that overnight we had been advised that in a week most of our courses were to be online! In the following four days, teams of staff rose to the challenge. They mastered Blackboard Collaborate, tested Teams and Zoom all weekend and started the next week online with a brand-new course to boot! Even more impressive was that on that weekend, the Theory and the Practical team worked all weekend to make it happen. On Friday 27 March around 2.00 pm they found out for sure they would be delivering a month earlier than scheduled to enable the heavily hands on and face to face subject ‘Image and Sound’ to have time to go online. Monday 9.00 am they were ready to go! They have crash-coursed to master new skills; they have worked together to support each other so that students can have the best education that we can give them.”

“These ‘digital natives’ ain’t as home online as we’d imagined.Old crusty academics, who remember life before zeros and ones, appear to have been better at adjusting to online reality than those born digital.

We have also learnt that our students miss us. While for them it has been fun for a time doing cool things, they really like to talk to us and they really want to be with their peers as they learn the craft and theory of filmmaking. They have chosen to come to a university that delivers content face-to-face, and this is what they want.

During COVID-19, we have learnt that there are better ways to do what we do well. Perhaps the weekly lecture is forever put to bed as we have had time to create beautiful lectures online.

We have found new ways to interact as a staff. We have learnt it is better to just pick up the phone and talk, to discuss an idea, than spend countless emails back-and-forth to confirm a solution. We have learnt that as creative humans we can survive anything together and our work is richer and more innovative when the challenge is greater than we could ever have imagined.

Among the most unexpected observations is this one from another program director: “these ‘digital natives’ ain’t as home online as we’d imagined. Old crusty academics, who remember life before zeros and ones, appear to have been better at adjusting to online reality than those born digital … yet maybe it’s not the technical facility, nor the means of engagement, perhaps it’s the (lack of) structures around such engagement that many students have suffered from’’ … and maybe in an art school more than elsewhere, as art is always “hands on”.

Art is indeed a healing force, be it for digital natives, or not.

References

Kaufman, S. B. & Gregoire, C. (2015). Wired to Create: Unravelling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind. TarcherPerigee. New York

With thanks to all staff of Griffith Film School for their contributions.


Professor Herman Van Eyken is Chair of CILECT Asia Pacific Association (CAPA) and Director of the Griffith Film School, Griffith University.  With a background in script writing, producing and directing, he has directed more than 190 films and is a multiple award winner of international festivals such as Cannes, New York or Montreal. In 2005, he founded Singapore’s first film degree and headed the PUTTNAM School of Film at LASALLE College of the Arts. He curated the first Asia Pacific Symposium on Creative Post Production (2012) and the Inaugural Conference of the CILECT Asia Pacific Association (CAPA) (2014). He was appointed President of the Asia Pacific Animation Association in Beijing, China in 2014 and was the Congress Director of the CILECT Congress on Ethics and Aesthetics in 2016. His research interests lie in the area of film policies, cross cultural collaboration, curriculum design, internationalization of curricula and film training needs for professionals.

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