Five Years in Film Education – Neil Rolland
Today is my last day working at Screen Education Edinburgh.
It’s a very strange feeling.
There are several reasons why I’m leaving; career development, new challenges, life/work balance, but I will miss this place immensely.
When I look back at where I was in early 2012 and where I am now, the change is seismic. At SEE I was given the opportunity to grow, develop, take on new challenges and thrive. It has been the most challenging and rewarding work I’ve done in my career so far.
I was originally employed as a part time Engagement Officer who would do a little website and social media work and I leave today the Lead Film Tutor overseeing the strategy and delivery of educational programmes. I have produced hundreds of films, worked with thousands of young people and even been supported to run film festivals in Edinburgh and New York, make four short films of my own, run a monthly short film night, produce other people’s work and made a wee feature film myself.
It’s absolutely insane.
Before all this I was a creative procrastinator who was working in a non film related job talking about being a filmmaker but not actually doing anything about it.
I never took stock of the work we achieved at SEE while I was here. Indeed it wasn’t until I announced I was leaving on social media that the impact started to flood in. The appreciation and words of support have been overwhelming.
That I have been a small part of so many people’s lives – and they took the time to tell me that – is an incredible feeling. Truly humbling.
For me the work is, and always will be, about the young people.
Screen Education Edinburgh is a vital organisation that is providing real life chances for young people of all backgrounds through the medium of film.
The vision for this comes from the Creative Manager, Graham Fitzpatrick, who saw all we were going to achieve long before I came on board. Working with Graham has been like working with a mad genius; everything, and I mean everything, is in his head. His capacity for knowledge, understanding, creativity and vision is boundless – my job was to take that and make sense of it then deliver it in a way that would build all that we achieved over the past 5 years. It’s been an honour to see this through with Graham, alongside the rest of the team, especially the other film tutors.
To see SEE grow into everything it could be and more; a nationally respected and recognised centre of excellence for the delivery of film education, well that’s just… Wow.
Graham and I sat in flat 3 of the Screen Education Edinburgh building 4 and a half years ago and wrote up a film curriculum that has been the foundation of all the work we have done, and that will continue to be done, long after I leave. I remember being in that meeting thinking we were changing the world… and in a way we were.
The whole vision came from Graham’s understanding that education is the only way out of poverty and so we made it our mission to support young people from housing estates across Edinburgh (and later the whole South East and Highlands & Islands) into further and higher education… but not just youngsters from housing estates, young people from all walks of life. Because what else do you need to get out of poverty?
And we did it.
An example of this is that; in my first year of working at SEE, 3 of our students went into first year at Edinburgh Napier University’s Film Programme. This year it was 15 of our students. Countless others are now studying at RCS, Stirling, Queen Margaret, Glasgow, Dundee, Universities down South and hundreds have gone onto college. Young people have gone into training schemes, apprenticeships, worked at production companies and onto film sets.
It’s an incredible achievement and one that started in that meeting in flat 3.
What I’ve learned from my time at SEE is that anyone can do anything if they are taught in a way that motivates them and, crucially, they are treated with respect. Young people want to relate, they want to be inspired, they want to be encouraged, they want to be liked but most of all they want respect. Respect that they are human, respect that they are not stupid, respect that they have other crap going on in their lives. Young people thrive in an environment that is open, encouraging, engaging and dynamic. Treat a young person as an equal and it is amazing how the door to their imagination opens.
Young people get bored easily…. because the way they are being taught is boring.
Young people get distracted easily… because the way they are being taught is boring.
Young people cannae be bothered… because the people teaching them can’t be bothered.
Young people don’t care… because no one has ever cared about them.
Film is a great way to engage a young person. Everyone likes films. There is enough variety in the art form for you to be able to connect with a young person over at least one film… and you know what? If you can’t engage with a young person over a film then that’s not their fault it’s yours.
If they love Ride Along 2, go watch Ride Along 2 and then engage with them about it. If they like High School Musical, find a way to like it too. Put some effort into the young people as individuals and ultimately show them that you…
Because most people in their lives don’t care. That’s why the “hardest to reach” are hard to reach. They’ve given up on anyone actually giving two hoots about them. They’ve been let down too many times. Too many people said they would help and didn’t. Too many people said they cared and they didn’t.
Nurturing these kinds of young people takes time, patience, sacrifice, perseverance, hard work and it doesn’t always work out but when it does you have the immense pleasure of seeing a young person who was told by everyone around them that they were stupid and would never go to university enrolling on one of the best film courses in the country. You see a young person who never had any friends become a filmmaker, surrounded by people who will be friends for life. You watch a film in the cinema and see a young person you mentored in the credits, even though three years ago they were being chased down the street by the polis.
Film Education needs to be delivered in a way that understands that young people come from all backgrounds, that elitism is detrimental to development, that young people like Hollywood movies – that can then be used as a gateway to the wonderful world of cinema, that you need film literacy AND practical filmmaking to make a real difference. Film Education needs a holistic approach. It needs to start in schools at a young age and be developed both in and out of the classroom. It needs to be built into the cultural identity of the nation, not just something you find out about at college or because you have a relative who works in the industry. Film education must be available to all no matter who they are. It should be second nature, as available as maths & english.
Film Education is about developing young people to do so many things beyond film making and watching. It teaches them to; appreciate art, understand storytelling, collaborate with others, gain technical skills, be creative, understand how the world works in terms of media and video, time management, diplomacy, leadership, marketing, social media, negotiation, anthropology, public speaking…. the list could (literally) fill a book.
Film Education is not just about creating filmmakers or film audiences. It is about changing lives.
5 years in film education has shown me that to grow a healthy vibrant film industry you need to start with young people and education, building the foundations that will nourish the next generation and truly ingrain the art form into the cultural identity of Scotland. Add in film studios, regular production infrastructure, tax incentives, life-long skills development and Screen Academy Scotland then voila, you have a sustainable film industry.
To everyone at Screen Ed; the management, the staff, the council, the board, the partners, the funders, the parents, the cinemas, the filmmakers and especially the young people, I say a massive thank you, you changed my life and I’ll always be grateful for that.