21 July 2021: The NFTS is proud to be renowned for providing industry standard, real-world training to our students. To make sure this continues, our courses are constantly being developed and improved to stay in line with a rapidly changing industry.
The NFTS Film Studies, Programming and Curation MA (nfts.co.uk/film-studies-programming-and-curation) is just one example of how we are doing this. As the way films are programmed, curated and reviewed evolves, so does the course, meaning the student experience accurately reflects current practice, providing an exciting insight into what their future careers will entail.
In this blog piece, we talk to two current NFTS Film Curation students, Sophie Determan and Anita Wolska, to find out about their recently completed project on video essays, a newer genre form which has gained in popularity in recent times.
Can you tell us what the purpose of the video essay project is?
Sophie: To teach students about the up-and-coming world of video essay scholarship. With the popularity of online video platforms and streaming services, traditional written film scholarship is opening up to include moving-image criticism. Teaching students how to make video essays opens up a new avenue to present creativity and research.
Anita: For me, it was an opportunity to engage in the different ways I can reflect, theorise and raise questions around the works that interest me in a way that might be more appropriate or accessible. As I don’t come from a heavily theoretical background and English is my second language, I find the proposition of video essays very compelling.
What did you choose to base your essay on?
Sophie: My area of interest is genre-based cinema, so I’ve always been fascinated by how tropes are reused and remixed to communicate story. I based my video essay on the phenomenon of diegetic villain music, which is the trope of villains deliberately picking certain songs to score their actions ‒ like Patrick Bateman playing Hip to be Square on the stereo while hacking a victim in American Psycho or Alex DeLarge’s obsession with Beethoven in A Clockwork Orange.
Music is frequently used by villains as a tool to intimidate their victims, to demonstrate their control of the space, or just to underscore their psycological instability to the audience. I ended up referencing different variations of this trope in over 40 pieces of media, paying attention to what type of song is being played and how it affects the scene. It’s a neat bit of storytelling that can pack extra depth and pizazz into a character.
Anita: My video essay explores the paradoxical nature of silence and how it can be used as a form of resistance that questions power structures, history and meaning in everyday life; it also questions how this relates to ideas of archiving and memory. My point of entry was a film I watched during the Essay Film Festival this year by Nuria Giménez Lorang titled My Mexican Bretzel. It is a silent archive film about a woman called Vivian Barrett that stuck with me. For a long time I didn’t know why, until I started working on a project with my mum (who is also a part of my video essay) and instinctively decided for my own project to be silent.
It took me back to My Mexican Bretzel and other films such as, I Swam in a Sea Last Week by Nesrine Khodr or Centauress by Deniz Sismek. Acknowledging the vast history of silence in women’s film practice, especially in experimental film, I started thinking more critically about silence, how is it used and what it might mean culturally and politically? And I hope my video essay explores some of those questions.
What did you find the most valuable about this project?
Sophie: I’ve never used Adobe Premiere Pro before, so it was very useful to learn the basic ins and outs of this software. This was my first attempt at a video essay and it required me to think in an entirely new dimension than in regular written essays. I discovered that ‘less is more’ and kept having to pare back my voice-over because over-explaining the scenes actually inhibited my points. Instead, I had to focus on building an argument through editing ‒ placing related scenes next to each other to establish patterns and trends. I think in turn this has made me a more perceptive viewer and I look forward to making more video essays in the future.
Anita: I had watched some video essays in the past but never really worked with it myself or searched for different ways it could be done. We were lucky to have Leigh Singer as a tutor on this project, who is very knowledgeable in this area and very passionate. He introduced me to a wide range of video essays that vary in style and form and their potential for critical analysis. It was very reassuring, especially when I decided on a more personal angle for my video essay, using some home-archive footage of my mum and making it silent. The level of creative input and personal connection it offers made me want to explore it even more and incorporate it into my critical practice.
How do you think your training on the course will affect your future career?
Sophie: I have learned many useful skills on this course that I didn’t know as an undergrad. In addition to this video essay project, I’ve probably learned the most from the BFI placement we did earlier this year. I completed a placement in the BFI online editing department, which taught me the BFI’s style guide and publication needs and helped me form useful connections with people in the industry. I’ve since had the BFI commission me for four of my articles. I hope to find employment with them when I graduate.
Anita: In terms of practical aspects of the work like selecting films, negotiating rights/materials with distributors, scheduling etc., the training is helping enormously because this is what we are workshopping day-in-day-out, especially in preparation for our grad project. After graduation, we’ll already have an advantage when entering the exhibition sector because we understand how these operational aspects function and we will be able to adapt fairly quickly. The other side of programming and curation is its ethics. The discussions we have on the course help me interrogate my own curatorial practice and ask questions around inclusivity and care that don’t get asked often enough. It provides space where we can brainstorm potential solutions that I find are crucial if we want to work towards a more equitable exhibition sector.
How have you found studying at the NFTS in general?
Sophie: Well if I could’ve gazed into a crystal ball, I wouldn’t have picked 2020-2021 as the time to start an overseas Masters program, but I still consider the NFTS to be the best education decision I’ve ever made. I’ve seen more movies and met more people and learned about more festivals and partnerships and collectives than I ever have in my life. The NFTS has made me far more confident in the value of my skills and abilities and I can’t wait to employ them in the future.
Anita: Very inspiring. Having an opportunity to exchange ideas, engage in urgent discussions and being pushed to challenge our own views and interrogate our practice is always valuable and surely a desirable environment to be around.
Sophie and Anita’s video essays will be available to view on the NFTS Vimeo channel from September, along with those from other students on the course.
The NFTS Film Studies, Programming and Curation MA is run in partnership with the British Film Institute (BFI) and is delivered by film professionals in exhibition, distribution, festivals, archives and film criticism, alongside academics and filmmakers.
Don’t miss your opportunity to gain this incredible training alongside attending, curating and contributing to film festivals, seasons, pop up screenings and other events.
Visit nfts.co.uk/film-studies-programming-and-curation to find out more and apply today to start January 2022!