What Film School

Ressurecting age-old questions from the grave

Are filmmakers made filmmakers by virtue of the degree they pursue or can anyone just say so? That anyone with a camera in this day and age can shoot a video would entail the latter. But beyond the material enabler of filmmaking, videos are made films by the keen eye on storytelling technique as aided by technical know-how. In true fashion of a liberal arts education, this should be what we’ve been going to school for.

Not a lot of our local colleges and universities offer a formal program in film and the audio-visual arts. Film education in the country is pioneered by our very own University of the Philippines Film Institute, which has easily become an esteemed standard over the years. The assurance of an academe-initiated program is that it’s a welcome environment not simply to employ but just as well, dissect and critique existing trends in the field. Inside classroom walls, students can test the waters, dip their toe in and decide to dive into depths they are only finding out to be there.

There is, of course, no one way of tapping into the reservoir of the film medium, especially if the professors are different and their objectives in teaching much more. Elsewhere, film is a track, a minor, where the norm is more likely to subdue filmmaking under a general BA communication program.

This step-down is less concerned with grooming you into the filmmaker you hope to be. They teach you to get hired in jobs that pay: not for you to weave your own stories, but to become a piece of the equipment for somebody else’s.

That somebody else is named Industry where the I is capital.

Other film schools initiated by no less than the most well-known and proficient filmmakers of our time offer pockets of short courses, apprenticeships or intensive month-long workshops that span a wide range of the key aspects of filmmaking. Turn left and there’s the Asia Pacific Film Institute; turn right, you have the educational arm of the MOWELFUND. Just last summer saw Reality Productions’ test run of the Reality Film Lab while the Cinemalaya Foundation just released word of mounting its own film institute this June.

Learning from practitioners teaches you what works. And that’s a nod to the economy of the craft in this dog-eat-dog industry. All this isn’t necessarily a flawed sense of curating a film curriculum. But wouldn’t we all like to believe that there is more to education than practical value?

This isn’t far from how education is generally regarded in the country, as if machinery that churns out labor power for export. There is an apparent absence of a genuinely Filipino backbone and a spirited learning environment to our educational system. Embedding culture and the arts with the same yields great implications, especially since the only considerable film industry we have is defined by very rigid geographical borders. Like many things, it’s a Manila-centric enterprise. It always has been and has hardly tried stretching its arms; few would argue otherwise.

It isn’t because there is no existing base of cineastes in any other part of the country but that they have nothing to start their engines. The young film community there is in Naga City (considering I can’t speak much for places I’m not from) thrives on a hand-in-hand-in-hand cooperation of the academe, the local government and the local Church. But because they often stop short of regarding film education as the end-all than just a means for other interests, it’s nipped in the bud. Other cities and provinces will have their own brew. But I guess if anything, half the battle is getting started.

Beyond the hurdle of beginning is the need for succession. Anyone willing to take the steps and leaps for film education has to have a stronger willingness to stay and nurse its growth in the community. Movements happen in waves. Where we are now is still a little too close to the shore.

It is 2015, about a decade since film schools began blooming and turning heads, it’s high time to fill the gaps where there are any. Film has always been collaborative in nature. Film education shouldn’t be any different. The opportunities around us can’t be made independent of one another.

So the question now is less about whether or not the craft is teachable, because whatever form it takes has its merits. But if we do continue to teach filmmaking to tens and hundreds of ambitious souls; and every single one of them sets a nest in the same place, what good would it do?

More filmmakers, practitioners and members of the academe have to start planting their feet in the provinces. Begin by coming home — because who else has a stake in the stories that could be told from there? Films can be made richer if there were a more diverse set of people making them. And more importantly, why not push it further — and make films for the people they are about; because film itself is an alternative form of education.

As we lay age-old questions to rest and pose new ones, let’s similarly do away with the myth that a filmmaker can only be born in Manila. Where there are stories, there can be films. All we need now are the people to make them.#

Telle thanks Kristian Cordero, Emman dela Cruz and Brian Sulicipan for the conversations that laid the groundwork and formed the insights for this piece.

What Film School originally published in UP Cineastes’ Studio’s SPLICE Magazine issue for 2015

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