Learning the techniques of film at school

The First Hymettus High School looks like your typical run-down school in the Greek capital. High iron fencing, damaged walls, and a modestly sized playground with basketball hoops for play are surrounded by apartment blocks and a supermarket, all fronting on a noisy avenue. But evidence of unusual activity within the asphalt-paved playground’s confines is clear. Set up around the playground are props resembling a neighborhood, complete with a local bakery, grocery store, cafe, and in the middle of it all, a bed as an unanticipated surrealistic touch. This is the location where 12 of the school’s senior high school students shot a seven-minute short film titled «Volta Sti Thalassa» (Ride to the Sea) as part of a state-sponsored filmmaking initiative for students. Now in its third year, the project culminates with screenings of films by participating students at a festival established as an outlet for the work of the young filmmakers, the Pame Cinema (Let’s Go to the Movies) festival. This year’s event will be held at four venues in Greece as well as at one in Germany. At the First Hymettus High School, students participating in the venture began with preliminary lessons, at a theoretical level, but stopped short of making any actual films. They studied specialized literature, distributed by the Ministry of Education, then saw two films, a learning process that provided them with fundamental knowledge of filmmaking as a medium of expression. The acquired theoretical knowledge, as well as further encouragement from one of their teachers, persuaded the students to decide to make their own film as an entry at this year’s festival. In line with the project’s provisions, which allow for some assistance from professional directors, the students at the First Hymettus High School were helped by film director Dora Masklavanou. For the high school students’ project, several scripts needed to be written and assessed before the film’s crew could decide which would be used. The winning bid tells the story of a student who dreams about the school environment spilling over into reality on a full-time basis. Thought and vision of the school environment is not erased from the mind once the school day has finished but instead becomes a perpetual microcosm. The film’s distressing concept seems to liken school with prison, but the participating students said they had a different idea in mind. «The way things have become, life at school is our entire life. The subjects, the tutoring (privately run frontistiria) that follows, the studying, and exams represent absolutely everything – as if nothing else exists beyond that. The film is a way of expressing our reality,» explained Vicky, one of the film’s crew members. In the film, the playground is depicted as a lively and happy place. «School isn’t prison. At school you see your friends, talk, and unload stress. The pressure lies elsewhere – in the tutoring sessions,» remarked another crew member, Stathis. Despite showing considerable interest in the filmmaking project, these students generally appeared not to have any strong interest in films. Judging from various comments, the group didn’t seem to have serious attendance at the cinemas – roughly a film a month, usually a blockbuster playing at a multiplex, seemed the typical filmgoing pattern. Most were able to recall a recent box-office hit, «Safe Sex,» when asked to name a Greek film that had caught their attention. Also, the majority seemed to agree that Akira Kurosawa’s «Seven Samurai,» required viewing for all, was outright «boring.» Though one of the crew’s quieter participants said he had been convinced to enroll in drama school. As for the Pame Cinema festival tomorrow, the entire bunch agreed that they cannot wait. Though no one can be certain of winning its top prize, one thing is definite: The usual practices will be skipped. There will be no burger-eating at the local fast-food outlet, SMS exchange on mobiles, or sipping on iced coffees in the company of friends. The entire crew will be at the capital’s Apollon Cinema, one of five cinemas to host the festival, backing their entry. The festival The Pame Cinema festival was established by the Thessaloniki Film Center with the support of the Culture and Education ministries. Over 200,000 primary and secondary school students from around the country have taken part to date. Secondary school students are given the opportunity to shoot their own short films with guidance from professional film directors. This year’s participants include 45 schools from Athens, 25 from the Cycladic Islands, 40 from Epirus in northwestern Greece, 30 from Thessaloniki, and, for the first time since its inception, students of the diaspora – five Greek schools in Munich, Germany. A total of 145 films will be screened at this year’s festival tomorrow. Screenings will take place at the Apollon Cinema in Athens, the Pavlos Zannas Cinema in Thessaloniki, the Cine Pallas on the island of Syros, Cine Beta in Ioannina, and the Rio Film Palast in Munich. Award ceremonies will follow at the Cine Kerameikos in Athens, Olympion in Thessaloniki, the Apollon Municipal Theater on Syros, the Municipal Cultural Center in Ioannina, and the Carl Orf venue in Munich. All five venues will be linked via satellite, and the award ceremonies will be televised live by state-run ET-1. Entrance will be free at all venues.