At a time when the boundaries between cinema, video, and television are being blurred, it’s interesting to note that the line between film theory and film practise is ever present. There have always been theorists that also make films but despite technological advances this number isn’t growing.
A wide range of British Universities offer practical filmmaking as a course but they separate it from film studies. Many students who are interested in film find it hard to choose between the courses and certainly don’t appreciate the wide divide in the middle. The equipment needed to produce short films is now readily available to students in the form of their smartphones, and yet, film studies courses still don’t incorporate many (if any) creative modules.
Dr Eylem Atakav, Senior Lecturer in Film and Television Studies at the University of East Anglia, recently directed A Documentary Film on Child Marriages: Growing Up Married (2016). Julia Wagner, writing for the Huffington Post, said that Dr Atakav “credits making this film with immeasurably strengthening her understanding of the medium, which she’s taught for ten years: doing something helps you to understand it better.”
Dr Atakav went further to say that she wants more films to be made in the academic arena – to benefit not only the students but the institutions too. She said: “encouraging scholarly activity that turns theory into practice helps institutions to engage with the public and policy makers more efficiently and in a way that has impact on society and culture particularly in the context of Arts and Humanities.” Wagner also pointed out Dr Joshua Oppenheimer as another filmmaker rising out of academia. Oppenheimer is the director of heavy hitters The Act of Killing (2012) and The Look of Silence (2014) and is a Reader at the University of Westminster.
One of the responsibilities of university is preparing students for real jobs. Popular complaints about film studies, and the humanities in general, is that there aren’t many practical applications of the topics being learnt. Many say that these subjects are just preparing students for further study and jobs in academia – in a kind of unproductive circle. These students stand to greatly benefit from the practical use of filmmaking and editing technologies either to broaden their learning or to get a few student films onto their C.V.s
At the opposite end, students graduating from practical filmmaking courses and heading towards the industry need to know about cinema history. At a time when the classical methods of producing and disseminating films are being turned on their heads by the likes of Twitter, Snapchat, and Netflix, students deserve to have the knowledge of where we came from so they can start to understand where humanity is heading.
The amount of video content being consumed by the public is at an all time high. The meteoric rise in popularity of online video essays mean that film theory is just as relevant today. (see Every Frame a Painting for a shining example.) The historic split between theory and practice deserves to be made whole. In the coming turbulent years, hopefully educators in academia and industry will learn to see what the others have to offer.