Universities team with local film fests

Collaboration offers hands-on training programs

In recent years, a training program of some kind lags just behind a competition and a market as one of the cornerstones of any self-respecting sprocket opera. But with many of the bigger fests (Berlin, Pusan, Cannes, etc.) establishing extensive on-site talent campuses — becoming, in effect, short-term film schools in their own right — a number of others are taking a different route: collaborating with established universities to offer structured education and training programs.

It’s not hard to understand why. Public coin is typically drawn from many pockets — some cultural, others vocational — and conditions attached to the latter often oblige fests to fulfill an educational brief. Behind most fest toppers’ lofty talk of educating new generations of cineastes is the reality that certain gestures must be made, and certain deliverables met, if their funding is to continue.

For a few fests, the collaboration is a natural one: the prestigious Camerimage Festival in Lodz, Poland (which focuses exclusively on cinematographers), grew out of that town’s film school, one of the most respected in the world. But most are newer initiatives. Last March, Spain’s General Society of Authors and Publishers (SGAE) offered visiting filmmakers an intensive three-day course at the Guadalajara fest, while in December, the Intl. Film Festival of India in Goa, India, collaborated with Rotterdam’s venerable Binger Institute to work with screenwriters.

Other programs are more interdisciplinary: Last April saw Gotham’s Stern School of Business, based at NYU, team with the city’s Tribeca Film Institute to offer a course called “Convergence & Cinema at the Tribeca Film Festival,” which aimed to give 25 undergrad business students “a deeper understanding of the impact multimedia and new distribution channels will have on filmmaking.”

For film students, the appeal of festivals is clear: a chance to rub elbows with industry pros and screen their own work. But there can also be a reciprocal element. At the conclusion of the Stern-Tribeca venture, for example, the students were expected to advise the fest’s management on various opportunities within their own organization, drawn from their observations and experiences over the preceding week.

Veteran producers’ rep-turned-academic John Pierson now sees fests as an extended practical workshop for students in his producing course at the U. of Texas at Austin, conducting classes at both South by Southwest and the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2005. The aim: to find a Stateside distrib for the Filipino-U.S. independent thriller “Cavite.” Pierson’s students collaborated with the filmmakers on everything from suggested re-edits for the U.S. market to devising publicity materials and an interview schedule. Two years later, Pierson and his students returned to SXSW, this time turning their attention to the documentary “Manufacturing Dissent.”

Faculty with Florida State U.’s Torchlight Program brought five distribution-focused student interns along to Toronto last year to scout for a project they might “acquire.”

The students tracked films going into the festival in advance, using the trip to screen promising films and meet with filmmakers, before striking a deal with Peace Arch to handle Florida-area and online marketing for the film “JCVD.”

“It’s a way to let (students) know the bar’s just been raised,” FSU film dean Frank Patterson says of the program. “You can no longer sit in a class and be willing to take a B because you don’t want to do an assignment. You’re going to lose your internship if you don’t get that call back.”

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