A Q&A with Sandra Hebron

"Our course is unique. It provides unparalleled preparation for entering a competitive field, along with exposure to the broadest range of historical and contemporary cinema from around the world".  

Applications are open until 7th July 2019 for the NFTS Film Studies, Programming and Curation MA, which is delivered in partnership with the BFI, so we caught up with course leader and the School’s Head of Screen Arts, Sandra Hebron to find out who should apply and why. Sandra has worked in film exhibition for over 25 years, running a three screen independent cinema and contributing to a range of festivals and events. She previously held the position of Artistic Director of the BFI London Film Festival and is currently a programme consultant to the first Pingyao International Film Festival. 

Stephen Frears being interviewed by Sandra at a recent NFTS masterclass

Tell us a little about your background? "I first went to the cinema aged 3, and I remember it vividly, though my early interest in film was nurtured by British television, where I developed a love of Hollywood melodrama and British Social Realism. But film was one of many interests, and I came into it by accident rather than design. I had the good fortune to study in Sheffield in the 1980s, when the city had both a wonderfully programmed independent cinema, The Anvil, and a thriving independent production scene. Having dabbled in filmmaking, I realised I was much more interested in watching films than making them, and The Anvil had no shortage of world cinema and historical treasures to help me broaden my horizons. The programmer there, the late Dave Godin, was a truly inspirational cineaste, and I was hugely influenced by his enthusiasm and eclecticism. When an opportunity arose to work at Manchester’s Cornerhouse (the precursor to Home), I jumped right in and immediately knew I’d found my dream job."

Sandra with Jude Law at the BFI London Film Festival

What was the best thing about being the Artistic Director of the BFI London Film Festival?"The chance to introduce audiences to films and filmmakers that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. Being a festival director is a hugely privileged position, as you get to share your passions."

And what were the biggest challenges? "Balancing the budget."

What sets the NFTS Film Studies, Programming and Curation MA apart from the many Film Studies degrees that are available? "The fact that the focus is firmly on curating and programming, with students progressing from workshops and exercises to live projects during the course of their studies. The film studies component of the course is always in the service of this; it is in effect applied film studies. We approach it from the perspective of what is the essential and useful knowledge that students need in order to pursue a career in film exhibition. More than half of the course hours are given over to talks from and visits from people currently working either as film programmers or in related areas such as distribution and exhibition, which is pretty unique. And the course’s academic tutors, such as Dr. Jonathan Romney, Professor Maria Delgado and Dr. So Meyer are also themselves involved in a range of curatorial work."

NFTS second year Film Studies, Programming and Curation students

What kind of careers can successful applicants hope to do when they graduate? "The course covers all areas of curating, so students will be well prepared to take up programming roles across a whole host of platforms such as cinemas and other venues; festivals; broadcasters; online… basically anywhere films are screened. We look at curating beyond conventional spaces, so students could equally work in event cinema or gallery film programming. Because we take a very holistic approach to studying the life cycle of films, some current students are also interested in working in acquisitions roles in sales agents or distribution companies. We help students develop their critical writing skills too, in fact our current second years have already had reviews published by Cineuropa, and we’re about to start a workshop on video essay reviews. So although it would be hard for anyone to make a living as a full time critic these days, these are important skills for anyone trying to get a curating career off the ground."

Why are you partnering with the BFI on the course, and how will the students benefit? "We encourage our students to engage with cinema in all its forms, so the BFI is a natural fit. The BFI is not only central to film culture in the UK (and beyond), but through its activities such as BFI Southbank, BFI Festivals, Sight & Sound and BFIplayer it is directly involved in bringing films to audiences, which is very much the focus of our course. There are two main direct benefits: all students have a placement at the BFI, and all students attend the BFI London Film Festival for its duration."

Who should apply and why? "Who: anyone who is considering a career in film exhibition or related areas, and who wants to develop their own curatorial voice. We want students who are passionate about film, and though some film knowledge is required, this doesn’t need to be from formal study. We are interested in aptitude and potential. Why: because our course is unique. It provides unparalleled preparation for entering a competitive field, along with exposure to the broadest range of historical and contemporary cinema from around the world."

Applications are open for the NFTS Film Studies, Curation and Programming MA until 7th July 2019 and the two-year course starts in January 2020 – more information and to apply at www.nfts.co.uk/filmstudies