Ours is not always to reason why
Give children space, don’t ask too many questions and their creative instincts will bloom, says film-maker Sam Firth
It is 9.39am on a bright and breezy day in June and the 10 minutes I will spend standing on a wooden platform, alone, in front of Loch Nevis are almost over.
My only companion is my Sony HVR-Z1 camera, fixed on a tripod a couple of feet in front of me. I have stood silently in the same place on this remote stretch of the west coast of Scotland for 10 minutes at precisely the same time each day for the past year. But today is different: after recording 61 hours of footage, I will have finished filming for my short film Stay the Same.
Since I started this project on 22 June last year, I have been bitten by midges, faced snow, hail and gale force winds and have repeatedly asked myself the same question: “Why am I doing this?” Plenty of people have told me they think I am bonkers. The locals have genuinely worried that it would drive me mad.
I have spent much of the year thinking the same, while exploring ideas of time, nature and mortality. I still do not have all the answers, although I have a very strong sense of the film I want to make; a piece that shows the passage of time through changes in weather, light, tides and seasons while capturing a short moment from each day of my life throughout the year.
The final film will be 20 minutes long at most and will attempt to express our profound desire to hang on to every moment. At the same time I hope it will convey the sadness we feel at the certain knowledge that nothing can hold back the clock.
I was inspired to make the film after a year in which I was confronted with my own mortality. I was diagnosed with a chronic (but thankfully curable) illness; then I was rushed to hospital with a haemorrhage after a routine surgical procedure. At the same time I hit my mid-thirties and felt, for the first time, that I was that little bit older than I wanted to be.
I moved from London to Knoydart, on Loch Nevis, six years ago. It is one of the most remote places in Britain and I came here partly to give myself the chance to make work. It is a place of extremes and I want to capture the relationship I have with the natural environment in this film.
Making the film has had a huge impact on my personal life as I have not been able to leave home for more than a day, but the project is far more about how it affects others. Hopefully the film will be shown at festivals around the world and I will almost certainly take it into schools as part of other work that I do.
Stay the Same is the third short film I have directed. In 2001, when I was doing my MA, I was asked to help out with a children’s film project and enjoyed it so much that I set up my own company. I now visit different schools and community groups and take children and young people through the entire film-making process. The children come up with the ideas for their film, decide on themes and locations, write the scripts, storyboard, use the camera, record sound, compose music, edit and then organise the premiere for their own short film in a process spanning about six weeks.
I love working on these projects. I learn more about the creative process each time and the importance of playing. Working with images means children do not get bogged down with having to write their ideas out.
It is great seeing children quickly gain confidence in their own creative thinking when they are given the right encouragement and space. I am always surprised and inspired by the strength of children’s ideas and how much ownership they have of their film.
I believe that everyone can be creative - that creativity is a not so much a talent as a frame of mind that can be achieved. It is about being completely open to free association and generating new ideas, allowing them to pop into your consciousness. It is very close to the state of mind of children when they play.
I have learned that it is really important not to ask anyone making creative work to justify what they are doing too quickly. If you question an idea before it is fully formulated it blocks the creative process. Children in particular quickly lose confidence in their ideas and start choosing more conventional, less original options just because they are easier to explain.
Brilliant ideas often seem crazy. But if you write them off too quickly you will never know which of the two they were.
I tend to bypass getting children to explain and just get them to make stuff. Of course we do research, we discuss ideas and themes, and watch related work as this all helps to give their ideas depth. But often you do not know what something is about, or what it means, until it is finished.
I learned this the hard way when my film came under attack last February. I had created a website and blog for my film project and started to collect responses to the ideas behind the film and the process I was going through. I wanted to know if other people were taking photos or filming the same thing every day and why they were doing it. Suddenly, the national press got wind of it, and my far-from-completed project was scrutinised as to whether it had any artistic merit.
I hope my film is moving and says something more profound than can be articulated in words. It is more experimental in its nature than any of my other films, so I do not yet know how well it will work. I am just grateful that the British Film Institute and Creative Scotland have trusted me enough to give me the space to find out. We should give the same space to the creative instincts of our children.
Sam Firth is hoping to finish Stay the Same by the end of this year. Her blog on the project is at staythesamefilm.com, where you can also find links to her other work, including the award-winning film I.D. Her last film project with children, Mallaig in its Own Way, was made with Mallaig Primary School through the First Light Movies pilot award scheme
Key stage 1: Make a biopic
Help pupils to tell the story of their life on screen in a mini project from MichaelCornwell.
Key stage 2: Animated self
Have pupils develop their creative ideas in a cut-out animation project shared by keithalex.
Key stage 3: Film away from film Take film out of the media classroom and use it to inspire science students with a guide from FilmsforLearning.
Key stage 4: Silence on screen
Give pupils an appreciation of cinema of the past in he4therlouise’s practical activity about melodrama and silent film.
Key stage 5: How to make a film
This BBC Class Clips video explaining the film-making process follows a group of students as they produce their first film.
Find all links and resources at www.tes.co.uk/resources041.