The London Nautical School has for the past 4 years had the privilege of participating in an international film making programme run by the French film archive the Cinematheque Francaise.

This is a film learning programme like no other. Groups of students from all over Europe, South America and even Cuba engage in a year-long study of film making. Each year a specific element of film “vocabulary” is set by Alain Bergala the film critic who determines the curriculum for the programme, which forms the theoretical focus for the year’s work. The students then pursue a rigorous process of viewing clips of films that demonstrate the techniques in question, performing short filmed exercises to explore these techniques in practice, and reflecting on heir own and each others work.

As the year progresses, the clips and exercises become increasingly abstract and the students begin to develop their ideas for their final “film essai”. In this more developed film the students demonstrate their understanding of the theory and have an opportunity to tell their own stories. At the end of the year, these short films are presented in a festival. The students attend this screening and each defend their film against the detailed interrogation of their film-making peers.

What separates this programme from many media-technology based learning strategies is the strength of its embedded pedagogy. While film is the medium – and the boys are able to get their hands on and take charge of some impressive digital technology – the underpinning process is about considering an underlying theory. It accesses a stock of some of the best film (or, some of the most idiosyncratic) from the history of cinema. The boys collaborate with a teacher and a film-maker to create film with specific objectives and actively – and repeatedly – engage in a critical process:

Each session:

  • They are shown specific techniques that lead to the making of meaning in film.
  • They view examples of this technique in film and consider its use and effect
  • They classify these techniques and consider their broader purpose.
  • They then create film to demonstrate their knowledge.
  • They critique the films they make as well as those of others.
  • They reflect on their own knowledge and the quality of their work.

If this weren’t enough, intrinsic in the process is the development of a wide range of inter-personal skills. Inherently film making is a collaborative process and for a group of 15 boys, the demands of devising, scripting, developing, performing in, filming, editing, post-producing and presenting a short film ensure that they learn very quickly how to discuss, critique, and resolve their ideas. They have to devise roles and responsibilities for each other. They have to meet deadlines, overcome obstacles and become mutually reliant.

The boys work in collaboration with the British Film Institute and represent the United Kingdom at their presentation in Paris. This coalescence of a challenging theoretical foundation with a meaningful collaborative project that has a high-stake formal output creates a perfect context for learning.

This learning is demonstrated at the end of the process where the boys produce a physical product, representing the culmination of their efforts, and where they have to explain to the festival audience how their film essai demonstrates their knowledge of that year’s theoretical question.

A summary of the pedagogical principles of this process is:

  • A specific established theoretical basis
  • Development of explicit knowledge and technical proficiency in film making
  • Ongoing formalised critical analysis with a strong emphasis on focussed discussion
  • Extensive use of established film models (prior art)
  • Embedded new media strategies used to enable individual collaboration and reflection
  • Collaboration with film-making specialists
  • High-stakes final output

This year’s project centres on the film director’s use of mis en scene to communicate meaning. I will be blogging about our experiences in learning through making with a focus on regenerating my approach to classroom learning in line with above pedagogy.

Wish us luck!


This year’s Film Club final essai: