From the blackboard to youtube: a hurdles race

Lately, the situation in the area of audiovisual creation and communication has radically changed, mainly with the incredibly wide distribution of digital recording media of moving pictures, but mostly with their impressive possibility of transport through fast internet immediately all through the planet.

For the first time so many people have the possibility to create audiovisual works, but also the possibility to “present” them to so many people, no matter how far they are, just a few seconds after the work’s completion.

And this landscape continues to change with blistering pace. Not long ago we were pondering over the relation between the blackboard and the white screen, or over cinema in the frames of school, and now we are talking about the youtube and other, more evolved means of audiovisual distribution, that are free of charge and in the disposal of everyone.

Therefore, the reality itself imposes a radical revision of what we have made, thought or planned until now about the audiovisual teaching. Even though all those who were working on it didn’t even have time to coordinate their efforts, with few exceptions.

Before I speak about this, I want to turn back in time to what I consider as the starting point of all our efforts: the work of Célestin Freinet (1896-1966). The discussion on the use of cinema in the educational process began in 1906-7 and soon started the use of cinematographic films with educational content as auxiliary tools. But in 1925, the pioneer French schoolteacher of Bar-sur-Loup, a small city of France, was the first to put the bases for a different and essential use of media.

The Freinet reforming movement focused in the use of new technologies in the education as tools of creation by students and teachers.

It began with the printery in school where the students wrote and printed their texts in small printing machines and sent them to children in faraway parts.

The Pathe company, with low cost cameras and film for the amateurs, opened new paths. The 9.5 mm cheap Pathe cinematographic machines (Pathe Baby) put image to this communication between children. This way, So, we have the first films shot in school as early as in 1927.

With the use of these means they minimized the distances that separated the children, and by distance we not only mean geographic distances but also social and cultural. Coming close to people, getting to know and understand the others are the bases for a real democratic society. This was the aim of Frenet, who was also an active member of the educators’ trade-union movement of the left, and he suffered a great persecution from the Catholic Church and the state for his actions.

We realise with distress that all these are still an objective in our era, when there are absolute communication possibilities (as we reported in the beginning) but also absolute individuation, the typical element of today’s supposedly civilised societies. This is a contradiction and a big challenge.

The activity of the people of the Olympia Film Festival takes place within this contradiction. I will talk about this activity next, because I think that we shouldn’t start from patterns formed in our minds but from our own actions, and from this actions we should draw conclusions.

11 years ago we put the bases for an essential approach on the question of the audiovisual education of young people in Greece, by creating the Olympia Film Festival for Children and Young People. We did not think of it as still another film festival, but as an effort of intervention in the Greek society with artistic and pedagogic objectives.

Working together with educators, we brought quality cinema at the door of schools. This action was a new opening in the art, in particular the seventh one, and in the same time it opened new paths for the knowledge of the world around us. The difficulties and the obstacles that we faced and continue to face put by government persons in charge of education and culture, posed the first big question:

  • The official state, even though it often speaks about the need of the audiovisual education in a modern educational system, is circumspect and often subversive towards anything that cannot be included in the sterile educational programmes, which are absolutely manageable by it.

Apart from the screening of films and the film analysis which followed, we developed the pedagogic dimension of our effort by creating and materialising programmes of cinema laboratories for students of first degree and secondary education. Those programmes are few, because the economic possibilities are limited. For reasons of budget we are using video, but the basis of education is cinema. Through this activity we clarified a second essential question:

  • The audiovisual education can be essential when the object itself, which is the cinematographic work, is not only an object of observation, analysis and critic, but also becomes a thing for us. And this is achieved through the action, e.g. the creation of audiovisual works by the children. The art of cinema, with its own language and aesthetic rules, constitutes the basis of the laboratories’ operation.

Three years after the start of the Olympia Festival we made another leap: we created the Camera Zizanio – European Meeting of Young Audiovisual creation. We called it a “meeting”, not a “festival”, in order to remove the concept of barren competition between the young creators. We promote the collective efforts, and not the immaculate artistic works. In any case, children are not professionals. Together with the films made by children from Europe, we brought to the Festival the children themselves, which created those films, and their educators. So, we organise at least ten cinema laboratories with multinational composition for the students but also for the educators. Children from Greece, with our own initiative, take part in cinematographic laboratories or Festivals abroad. Year after year, we have developed Camera Zizanio as a international laboratory of ideas and practices. This way, a third essential element was developed:

  • The common action of children of different nationalities with different religious, social, cultural roots in the level of artistic creation reveals the positive force that encompasses the diversity. And this is the essential answer to the nationalism, which is cultivated by centres of power all over the world and is the reason of sanguinary conflicts and wars.

In the cinema laboratories we are making an effort to incorporate creatively all the technological developments. The daily newspaper of the Festival (which circulates for 11 years and is composed exclusively by young people, with absolute freedom of expression) was enriched the last years with a “filmed” edition. It is not a television bulletin, but a small documentary. Digital cameras and low cost computers made this objective possible. The option of screening films and live programs via the internet, that we began in 2007, is not an imitation of a television station but it is used as tool of direct communication with the whole world. Thus:

  • The new means are demystified, become simple tools, are incorporated in the educational process and become tools used for the total effort of making new relations between people in the prospect of changing the world.

The parallel function of the Olympia Film Festival for Children and Young People with Camera Zizanio brought the young people close to the professionals of the cinema area. It gave the possibility to the filmmakers to meet their public (and to develop a dialogue with it) but also to the young people to learn by the professionals the secrets of their art. This way, another basic question of the audiovisual education came forth:

  • The “meeting” of professionals from the cinema area with the children, when it functions bidirectionally, becomes a powerful tool of learning. The art is not an impersonal artistic work but a work of alive people. The old meets the young on a creative dialogue. The new technology (object of adoration of young people) is brought out better as a means of creation and not as an end in itself. And the creation is brought out as the highest point of dialogue and reflection between people.

To all us, who were involved in this effort, it was clear that an essential, and with distinct social orientation audiovisual education is not only useful, but of absolute necessity, especially in our era, when the rapid technological progresses present the form as a dominant element and hide the content.

We should aslo note that the detection of the above matters was made through a strenuous procedure, because the materialisation of any programme has a financial cost. The finance sources were until now minimal. Many of the actions were materialised with the volunteering contribution of the professional filmmakers. The official state keeps a distance. This is not surprising, considering that only 0.65% of the national budget goes to the Ministry of Culture, while the military expenses come up to 10,5%!

We have the feeling that, by materialising such actions, we are into a partisan warfare. And while it is not aiming to the conquest of authority, it is surelly in essence a political fight. We need bold openings and immediate actions, with front line powers as wide as possible. And with this, we are way behind.

Nikos Theodosiou

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