Education

PROBLEM SOLVING IN WATERCOLOUR by Glenn Dixon

This artwork compliments a fascinating filmmaking assignment I am currently working on with La Trobe University. The series explores La Trobe Universities' partnership with ReMSTEP, a national initiative to drive major improvement in the quality of science and mathematics pre-service teacher education.

My principal challenge is to create visuals to compliment a one-minute voice over that will introduce each film. The voice-over references online curriculum resources, providing context to the story. As these resources are static text documents, they do not lend themselves to becoming powerful visual overlays let alone the opening shots of a film.

My solution was to commission Ray Eckermann (Small Mountains) to re-imagine my films as large watercolour artworks. I sent Ray the rough cuts and he represented the key narrative points in his beautiful illustration style. I was able to film close up shots of the physical posters and integrate them throughout the film. This offered tremendous creative flexibility in the edit and the films are more powerful as a result.

Ray's ability to encapsulate the key messages in my films provided me with a deeper awareness of what my films are communicating. There was an instance when Ray’s draft came in and it did not match my vision. It soon became clear that my rough cut was not communicating our intent clearly enough and we revised the film accordingly.

This creative solution has offered additional surprising benefits; As these films will be used in classroom contexts in addition to their training purposes, educators can print the posters off and display in the classroom while they run these activities with students. It's a lovely tangible experience that connects the film to the classroom.

We are completing post-production tasks with the first five films in the series with another to film to shoot in May. I look forward to sharing and discussing the finished films when we are ready to publish them.


Gallery above:  Original watercolour prints by Ray Eckermann.
Photograph below: Early sketches with my notes in red.

Exploring cinematic rhythm by Glenn Dixon

Surfcoast Secondary

While capturing footage for a short film commissioned by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD), I was on location at Surf Coast Secondary College. The opportunity arose for me to help facilitate a two day filmmaking workshop for a small group of enthusiastic students. The media teacher and I provided the participants with raw footage from my previous visit, which included interview footage (A-roll) and general vision of the school (B-roll). Students were invited to craft their own interpretations of the school’s story in the form of a two minute film. One of the major points of discussion I initiated as I floated between the groups revolved around creating rhythm and energy in the edit.

For me, filmmaking rhythm is more challenging to isolate and define than the concept of rhythm in music. Musical rhythm is precise, consistent and repetitious. Motion picture rhythm is dynamic and less confined to consistent intervals of time. If a musician wanders off beat, this has an immediate and jarring effect on an audience who are disconnected from the continuity of the piece and whose attention is diverted to the execution of the music. Films attribute their sense of rhythm to the cumulative effects of the cinematic elements. The amount of time it takes the audience to process the information within the frame and from the soundscape greatly influences the impression of rhythm. It could be concluded that the complexity and richness of the information in each shot alludes to the amount of screen time it requires. It is up to the film editor to evaluate each frame critically, considering its fluid relationship with the preceding visual and how it will influence the shots to come.

Cinematic rhythm is also created through the juxtaposition of visually diverse images. Running spacious wide shots into extreme close ups generates significantly more momentum than cutting between a series of similarly framed mid shots. In my experience, the greater the contrast in perspective, frame size, subject, lighting etc, the more energy will be created in the cut.

Many students chose to create a narrative bed using the A-roll interview material and overlay B-roll that supported the dialogue. Some early cuts included B-roll that ran for twenty seconds; we discussed the impact this has on an audience and I questioned them as to whether this was their intended effect. In most cases this lead to re-edits and more conscious decision making around the timing, pairing and order of visuals.

After the students had an opportunity to screen their work, we participated in a short exercise while watching my original DEECD cut. The students were encourage to clap each time they anticipated a cut in the film. It was very interesting from my point of view to get such feedback on my work. After all, my edit is not the way to make the film, it is simply a way. I may need to revisit a few of my own cuts as a direct result of the students’ feedback.

Special thanks to Andy Forssman and the workshop participants, Surf Coast Secondary College and DEECD for the opportunity. I hope we get to hang out again sometime soon!

Through the filmmakers lens by Glenn Dixon

“When I am travelling home to my country seventy six kilometres out of Alice Springs, I look out for the windmill my grandfather made because it gives me a signal of where the turnoff is. It’s a long dusty road and when we get to the main house our car is full of red sand.”

Inside the Alice Springs ABC radio studio, three year eleven students from Centralian Senior Secondary College are projecting narratives into the broadcast microphone. I can barely hold the camera steady as I observe them through my viewfinder. I am humbled and almost shaken to tears by the honesty and authenticity of their stories. I met these students barely a week prior. When we walked into the classroom the students were apprehensive. They barely uttered a single word of verbal communication. We would drop in on a daily basis in preparation for the filming, chatting with the students and encouraging them to play with our equipment. After a few days of helping with assignments and being visible in the space the barriers began to collapse. Documentary filmmaking is as much about relationships as it is about making pictures.

When an assignment transports the film maker into a place above and beyond the self, magical storytelling opportunities present themselves. In this climate of possibility we are inspired to create our best work. The results leave us feeling challenged, creatively fulfilled and fully self expressed. Subsequently our work is true to those we represent on film and resonates with the core values of those for whom we create the work.

See examples of work from Alice Springs and Katherine.

ON LOCATION: MacFarlane Primary School, Katherine. NT

Above: Interviewing Glenn Mitchell Wightman (Northern Territory Biodiversity Conservation Division) with my team of very enthusiastic helpers.

Below: Post shoot spear and boomerang lessons with Arnold Von Senden.

I have been privileged to travel across Australia, visiting a great diversity of schools and engaging with inspirational educators to document exemplary teaching practice. My involvement has spanned six states and territories, filming hundreds of hours of footage and crafting the material into short standalone films. These Illustrations of Practice are commissioned by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership and managed by Education Services Australia (ESA). They live in an online showcase, available for teachers to reflect on and spark conversations around learning. It has been an important exercise to reflect on my personal learning as a film maker throughout this project.

Inviting a film maker into the classroom is a courageous undertaking for an educator. This leap of faith ultimately exposes the teacher, their students and the school community to the scrutiny of a worldwide audience. Every inflection, pause and gesture in the teachers' delivery is propelled into the spotlight. Open to praise and equally vulnerable to critique. My colleague and friend, Dr Julie Hamston of the University of Melbourne, offered an insightful and lasting piece of advise in the early stages of our collaboration,

It is our job above all else to maintain the integrity of the individuals whose stories we tell.

Classrooms are unique and special places. They share a common foundation built upon trust. Each participant must feel safe in the shared journey for the learning to be effective. Filming an educator in practice, a pursuit that means the world to the individual leaves me with a tremendous amount of responsibility. A film-makers ability to omit, re-arrange and juxtapose teaching and learning moments fundamentally influences the communication between the subject on screen and the audience. Sometimes when editing shots together, I inadvertently trim a shot in a specific place to best fit the narrative flow without realising that I am now presenting the teaching moment out of context. The piece I removed was vital to keeping the integrity of the teacher's initial intent. It is a very difficult task to be true to the moment yet confine each one into a brief and logically structured film.

For each moment I captured, there were simultaneous moments playing out beyond the cameras field of vision. For every moment I recorded on film, something happened just before I triggered the record function and continued after the recording lapsed. I think of these outsider moments as impossible stories. Events beyond the scope of the screen. These impossible stories, although never seen by anyone else are a celebration of the untold interactions that occur each day within Australian schools. The reality of documentary storytelling is that we can never be truly objective in the ideal sense of the word. We can just do our very best to portray the events with compassion and sensitivity.

The intellectual input from Dr Julie Hamston, Joan Holt and team from ESA was invaluable. There was always an educational expert present on set to guide the discussions during the interviews. Joan and Julie have a wonderful way of translating what is happening in the classroom into a language that I could understand in order to best represent on screen. A producer from ESA would also travel with us on each shoot. Anne Rogan, Madeleine Daniel and Jane Weston were paramount to the smooth and fluid operation.

To many, the idea of being filmed is daunting to the point of unthinkable. To those who volunteered their time and opened their doors to a stranger yielding a camera, I applaud your tenacity and willingness to share. We met in unusual circumstances yet departed as friends. Both parties all the richer for the exchange. As a son of two teachers I thought I had a fairly good grasp of what the role of an educator was. After my experience I have many more questions than answers. Perhaps that is an intrinsic quality of a masterful educator, they inspire in us more questions than they care to provide the answers to.

The views expressed here are solely my own and do not necessarily reflect those of other parties involved in the project.

NEWSPAPER EXCERPT: The Mercury, Hobart. TAS

Filming Lansdowne Crescent Primary School students undertaking science investigations in the Knocklofty Reserve. See the Lansdowne Crescent Primary films.