Last Updated: March 18, 2013By Tags: ,

Leave it to the people who invented cinema to make film education free.

Following in the ideological footsteps of Sciences Po’s Richard Descoings, Europacorp’s chairman Luc Besson has thrown open the doors of a new film school inaugurated this week.

As reported by A.F.P. (Agence France Presse) Besson announced the start of registration at the School for the City, which is located in a working-class suburb of Paris called Saint-Denis. The program will attract a diverse group of high school- and undergraduate-age students and will be unconditionally tuition-free. The inaugural class is slated for this September.

Looking at Besson’s excellent record managing Europacorp (France’s answer to Cinecitta studios), I would say he has a fair shot at propping up a revolutionary kind of film school, one in which students from disadvantaged backgrounds will be fast-tracked to directing and screenwriting careers and land awards. Will his school be competing with La Femis, France’s formidable M.V.P. film school, for applicants? A state organization, La Femis has been producing eminent filmmakers, its alumni regularly winning top honors at Cannes, Venice and Berlin. It’s also attracted students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds by increasing financial aid opportunities.

According to Besson, candidates will be evaluated in two stages, via an initial online application and an entrance evaluation.”The objective will be to evaluate candidates’ creativity and motivation,” Besson said. “This full-time curriculum will take place over a two-year period. It will be extremely practical in nature and versatile.” He added. “The aim is to put students on a career track.”

There will be two concentrations to choose from in addition to the core curriculum on offer: screenwriting (which includes an array of courses on screenwriting and storyboarding) and directing (camera and sound technology, directing actors and editing). “This new kind of school, open to all and taught by the industry’s most eminent crafstmen, will guarantee our students a competitive edge,” says Luc Besson.

This is encouraging news, both for would-be applicants to this school as well as for cinema in general. The prevalent thinking (at least in my own head) when I attend film festivals is that a Western filmmaker is bound to make superior cinema compared to someone from developing countries. Cliches and stereotypes are amplified in cinema. Clearly there are some notable exceptions but in general, filmmakers from developing countries either imitate or make mild, sophomoric attempts at filmmaking. Someone from Tchad or Kazakhstan hasn’t been provided with the tools necessary to make good cinema the way a director educated in England or the U.S. will. And by tools I don’t just mean a state-of-the-art editing studio like what you’d probably find at U.C.L.A.’s film school: I mean the exposure to a salient cinematic tradition, with its rich frame of reference and availability of content, that we are fortunate to enjoy.

The culprit for this huge gap isn’t a lack of education or will, but rather governments, usually too busy diverting U.N. aid or filling their coffers on the back of the people to support a film industry, let alone the arts in general. Sometimes, it’s just indifference on their part. But the combination of France’s flexible immigration policies and this new Besson school, modeled on the kind of affirmative action policies that Richard Descoings imposed on Sciences might help produce a new crop of vital Third-World filmmakers five or ten years from now. There’s a need for fresh blood in the current establishment; tomorrow’s filmmakers need to better reflect today’s world. This new free film school is a fundamental step in achieving this goal.

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Follow Ali Naderzad on Twitter: @SCREENCOMMENT Guay

School for the City (AFP.COM/Bertrand Guay)

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