Wednesday, November 5, 2008

École de cinéma

Supriya Suri






If we look at Indian mythology, a lot of stories have dealt with guru-shishya (teacher-student) bond. And this bond was considered a very important part of the human life. Even the great Indian epic Ramayana where Ram spoke to Hanuman and in Mahabharata, Krishna to Arjun, share such importance in shaping an individual. The tradition might have focused on the spiritual enlightenment which is the best way for any human to learn provided we don't confine the meaning of the word 'Spiritual' in a very conventional way.

Today one can sense the tradition slowly eroding and that has been a loss to our parampara (tradition). The avenue to learn varieties of new things and the teaching might have increased beyond the prejudice of caste system yet the bond that we once shared, and the love with which a student learned and a teacher taught has been completely lost. Cinema, in specific, is more of my concern since being a cinephile and coming from film school, this is where I have experienced certain flaws as well. There might have been umpteen film schools promising internships, jobs, great studios, equipments, the latest technology but failing to keep up the quality of provides good teachers. There might be autodidacts but majority need a teacher to help guide an individual shortcomings in a right direction.

It is a matter of concern that we haven't produced any serious batch of great directors for years. On the contrary, while Paris might be the capital of art in the world and they must have spend years in preserving their art, culture and language, one can still expect to be on a search in the city to find someone to have simple discussion in cinema. Because unlike the popular belief that French Film schools speak of only art and students are only interested in art cinema is not the case; as a matter of fact it’s entirely the opposite. Unlike India, the French system does support plenty cultural activities including films, however, the misconception that in France there is only ‘ art ‘ cinema is not true. The students who studied with me and the number people I met loved mainstream cinema.


Culturally the current generation of French film students I meet or the crowd I came across were sick and tired of their art cinema, perhaps, it could be a vital sign why Frances holds less than 50% market share of its own films in the country where there is so much importance put on growth of French cinema. Though the common factor in both the Industry was that it’s difficult to break into the movies without a godfather or you began as an asst- director, and climb your way to making films, but the French has a system in place where first time directors could apply for fund support.


There maybe a substantial number of hours dedicated to film appreciation, cinema history, camera, lighting techniques and sound techniques but none in describing Cinema, as an art. When in a school cinema is separated with the word art, it is no doubt that the rules to shoot a film are delivered to the upcoming directors. I met a director from Kerala who has been involved in teaching films via his film clubs. When I enquired about his teaching methodology he replied, " To shoot a film is very easy, all you need to know is the long, medium, close-up shot, use high angle to make someone weak and low angle to create the opposite, entering a new place should be combined with establishing shot and various other set of obvious rules". This is exactly what we learn in most film institution as well. And it is where cinema has lost its essence in creating art, artist and understanding the power of cinema; power of cinema in terms of the various different art forms and elements that it comprises like sound, music, cinematography, lights, blocking of actors, acting etc. i.e. its 'mis en scene.' No wonder cinema has become synonymous with storytelling and mise-en- scenes become an alien terminology in most film schools, mass – communication colleges or film workshop that teach cinema here.


In order to understand why our cinema has not been very progressive and made an impact universally and why the same institutes which once contributed to some of the great directors have now deteriorated it’s the roots with which a student starts that has got lots to do with it. Picasso once said: 'In order, to bring out a stylistic revolution, one must know its traditions'. This is why ‘History of Cinema’ is a vital subject to explore, to understand the traditions in cinema. If there is a discovery, there has to be an evolution. And cinema has evolved a great way since it was discovered.

There have been worldwide movements, tendencies (German expressionism, French poetic realism, and Indian New wave) and a number of artists that have taken the art form a step forward and constantly redefined the art. It is important to understand what caused such movements, what was the need for such movements, how did it change the form, why this created an impact and others failed, why was there a need for such films and how some works were arts and some were not? What I found missing was to make students understand the importance and reasons to study the history to create certain sort of interest and help teach and understand the medium itself, since I believe, knowing history is important in understanding the form, art, life and humans. And the reason why I emphasize on knowing the 'why' to study history is because we Indians, the students, since school times have been involved in mugging up the text books without comprehending a single word and presenting verbatim in exams. Due to our habit of repetition the memory might retain 10 percent but rest has been long forgotten. The history was more like a subject where the teachers were busy finishing the syllabus booklet handed over to them and students in sleeping. It was a very passive education. The word 'patience' seems to be disappearing from many individuals, and thus from the teachers as well.

The media appreciation classes were a one way interaction, though we did get to see a number of foreign films, but the teachers just came, operated the system and there was no interaction in terms of understanding the film but there were only projections. A viewer who has always been seeing Bollywood and hardly having an understanding of good and bad, to suddenly see something that challenges the viewership and demands certain intelligence requires time and patience to adapt and get used to such kind of films. No wonder with the absence of discussions and no introduction to film by the end of the projection there was both student and teacher missing

The rules for shooting a film were also a way to learn camera and techniques in our school. What was appealing to eye or rather the artificial beauty that looks stunning were always the primary concern. We learnt the rule of third, 180 degree rule, the narrative structure, the Pov shot, etc. but never the metaphors or the depth that creates the image. We never quite understood what an image is and what it is capable of? We were learning how to shoot television serials but never cinema. Even the students including me never stood up when the hours of learning went silent, and when we were just handed over the notes and never had discussions. Then to even write stories and scripts we were always taught about the plot, the sequences and the climax that make up the story. The beginning, middle and end; in short, classical structure for camera and scripts. We only learnt how to establish a story through camera, which we, the students, start mistaking to be the only concerns in film making. It is the very same that we experience in films of India these days, the stories being understood.

In the French Film School I had joined the practical training course where we shot 11 films in around 9 months on a 16mm camera. Also since it was more of a practical year, I didn't think the language would be much of an issue. The school taught me two things throughout; learn French and the precise paper work. They were so particular about their language that I was almost embarrassed to think how we Indians have changed our mother tongue to English. The decay of Hindi in our culture became a very scary thought.

I found their course content a bit more interesting. They had 2 films being projected every month, at least 4 times, with every screening I saw fewer and fewer students and by the last screening I was alone watching 'In the mood for love'. We even had the freedom to get our own DVD and play it on big screen if the hall was free. Then we had regular lectures with the teacher on the films shown. There were always more people present for these lectures merely for two reasons: exams and attendance, and all were busy writing what was being said to simply avoid the viewing of the film. I made an effort to write about the film I saw and got it translated in French and tried to have an interactive session there with the teachers. Unfortunately, everything they read was just limited to their tick marks and her remarks to 'very right or good'. The want to say and learn slowly faded away with her and I preferred doing things my way. The discussions both at students and the teacher were missing. The fact that students don't take effort and the teachers don't even push them to think and ask is a bit disturbing. This remind of Godard who said 'Cinema is about discussions' and that people have stopped discussing and reasoning out with themselves.

The practical experience initially started of with great enthusiasm. I was keen on learning a lot of things. The equipments here were quite new for me starting from the clapper to the studio sets. A lot of times I was hardly given anything to do since everyone believed that without language understanding is zero, and my belief lay in the fact that 'Cinema' itself is a language it does not requires any other form to communicate. But a communication gap did develop even when you do have interpreters, somewhere something did go missing. Yet, I believe one day like Andrei Tarkovsky, I will be able to work with who I like without the communication barriers, using only cinema to talk.

I saw less effort from teachers as well as students. I had no knowledge absolutely as to where lights would be, how to hold a clapper, or how to place the camera on a machine, neither was I ever taught. My task was usually handed over to another Indian. The only time I had the chance to show I could understand everything was when I was the director.

It's something I precisely realized when one is leading and guiding the whole team ' language' though remains a barrier, but the ' ideas' can be put across. The work that was passed over to other people and the paper scripts that I could never understand in all 10 films were a challenge for me and to make them understand my script, without communicating through each others language was a challenge but I managed to convey things, but I wonder if my intention was understood. All the students had the opportunity to screen their films and they discussed their projects with the students and the teachers. And I found it very interesting to learn from student mistakes and how each individual used their space, time and camera. It taught me a great deal. Once in blue moon the discussion would become interesting but we would hear other people saying 'shut up it is not Cannes.'

The internship was a part of the Film school, it was obligatory and at the end we had to give an intern report to what we learnn. Since my shoot was at the end I saw every one being busy with internship and I was left alone for my project. Cinema is all about a group effort and I do agree internship is important as well but during the shoot or rehearsal time, finding your group missing was a great challenge. The only time I saw my group was when we had attendance on the shoot day. Besides there was paper work to do by the assistant director and since my film was shot in Hindi, a similar challenge was faced by everyone to what I faced for 8 months. In India we are hardly taught any professional paper work and even to shoot our own films it was just with a script. And obviously I was more comfortable to that but the pressure I had and the anger with which the teachers spoke for the papers was a bit too much. But I don't blame them since I had to oblige the school rules.

We had lots of hours dedicated in understanding the Pre- production paper work. The exact equipments we would require, the shooting day plan, the crew members etc. They really prepared and gave the students all that was required for an assistant director to do in the French Film industry before they entered. Then we also had the entire year being visited by some of the guest lectures to speak on a lot of subjects. The French did produce well educated assistant engineers of cinema who knew their papers, jobs quite well.

In both the schools discussions lacked. In France we did have the basic platform to exchange thoughts and ideas, but hardly anyone encouraged it and in India both the platform and the encouragement was missing. Both in India and France students cared about exams and attendance. The classical structure to shoot and write scripts was given but beyond that a student must push himself to learn. There is a need for the students to understand at least a few directors, their styles, contents and their concerns. A need to understand an Image beyond what is appealing to an eye as Duchamp quite rightly said: “Art is not mainly retinal, the mind is expressed there too." A need to focus on different elements of cinema, the power that each element hold in forming an art work and understanding how cinema is a hub where all other art can be combined is important, and to understand the extent and the depth that an image can create over the audiences beyond the basic rules of compositions .

The whole learning and teaching system could really be beautiful and really shape up the future of the society provided there's some coordination at both ends. Where a teacher is ready to impart honestly and students inquisitive about learning and students can only grow when the leader/ teacher understand their duties: their duties towards their profession and subsequently their students. Moreover, responsibility to produce artist than engineers in cinema should be taken over. Looking back, both forms of education in some way or the other had their share of pros and cons whether in India or in Paris. But the biggest factor is that it made realize that cinema is about survival if want to do any thing ‘different not just for the heck of it, but for the passion, faith and believe, and to achieve all that one has to keep striving and pushing with: Patience, Patience, and more Patience.




Supriya Suri is cinephile and a graduate of Mass Communication and holds a Diploma in Filmmaking. She was awarded a French Government Art Scholarship in 2007, she also received the Cite Universitaire Grant 2008 for a short film. Currently she is working on the pre-production of a British film as a Producer.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Supriya

Well-written ma'm. I have always believed and insisted, firmly so, that any article should have an element of personal involvement and the advantage of experience. I'd prefer an anecdotal work much more than a commentary any day of the week.

Regarding your article, and your reminiscences about your stay in France, I am afraid it introduces to us a dangerous possibility, which while ridiculous at first glance, is not as impossible as film lovers like us would like to think : Cinema is a dying art.

And I emphasise on the word 'art', since Cinema as a mass entertainment tool will exist for years to come. Whether we still term it as cinema is indeed, upto us.

What could be the reasons for the impending demise? I would like to paraphrase one essential sentence from your article which reads, "Throughout cinematic history, film artists have sought to redefine the medium."

I believe that film lovers today are more or less satisfied with the achievements of the generations before us in this redefinement, and are so engrossed in our romantic and often blind worship of these achievements and their heroes, that we forget the need for a redefinition. A new template.

Obviously, it is essential that we examine the possibility of such a redefinition. Is it even possible? Or have we taken the medium for granted for a little too long?

As Godard said, "The phase has passed when cinema could have been socially important." Or the British avante-gardist Peter Greenaway, who puts it as precisely as it can be put, "Cinema is dead."

These statements, though grim, may very well be true if the art is not taken forward, and too often, refuge is taken in our appreciation of what existed.

Love should after all, harbour creation, and not just reminiscence.

Anuj

Yayavar said...

Hi Supriya,it was very nice article about cinema in India and France.I am not a great student of cinema but enjoys artistic films.Lack of understanding of art is major problem in our youth generation.Anything different experiment becomes good and stunning here.We have a rigorous educational system that emphasis more on following footstep of others rather than learning your own potential.Cinema is just a medium to express yourself,not complete reality.Its just a projected reality.We are now in process of knowing western and eastern film making without knowing ours.It needs a little more time before people cab re discover their roots.Identity crisis of Indian filmmaker will force him to look into mirror.It is just not about Hindi,it is about changing time and culture.I hope more people like you come from artistic cinema to mainstream for this revival.