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Cinema experiments in the primary school

This interview was first published in italian on GNUvox (the blog of FSFE italian team). It’s two years old but I believe that it’s still fresh and interesting and it is worth publishing the english translation. I hope that some enthusiast educator will come across this page and get inspired by this nice story.

Hi Raffaella, recently I attended the FSCONS conference in Gotheborg, where I had the chance to come across a lot of video released with open content licenses: among the several CC shorts, I was impressed by your “Acqua”, a short movie entirely made by 7 years old children. Then I found out that you had coordinated the production of other short movies made by children. Can you tell us how these experiences inside the school happened to find their way and which was the purpose?

To be honest, everything happened by chance. In 2006 I started teaching Visual Arts, as a stopgap, to a 7 years old children class. I decided to propose an unusual and challenging activity in order to fight boredom and the banality of a kind of teaching I hadn’t really chose. That was for the children’s good, but especially for my own good. I thought I would have proposed to the class just experiments of pre-cinema.. but then, watching the first animated scene (just 30 pictures!), it was love at first strike: passion overwhelmed us. We shot a second scene, then a third and after some weeks of work, surprisingly, we had an animation with a beginning but especially with an end: that’s how our first work, “Il viaggio di Babbo Natale” [Santa Claus’ journey], was born.

“Acqua” [Water], our second work, was our chance to put into practice all the tricks learned from the errors of the first production. After a one year experience it was clear that this activity had a huge educational potential and deserved to be organised in a project. So we launched “Esperimenti di cinema” (Cinema Experiments).

Tell us a bit more about this educational potential. What happens to children when they have the chance to create together?

“Create together” is the final goal. In the beginning the aim is to let each child express himself, create a cosy environment for the shyest children and help the vivacious ones to restrain themselves. Using expensive and fragile tools encourages to learn a responsible behaviour. Doing the hard work required by the production of an animation helps developing patience and sense of collaboration. From the sharing inside a small team (for example, during the shooting step) to the sharing in the entire class (while writing the script, preparing the materials to be shot…), from the individual idea or drawing to the collective work of art, children learn to consolidate their personal identity and feel themselves as an essential part of a small community. Of course, these goals are the same of other educational activities available at school (for example, the acting experience). But there are specific potentials in the multimedia production: the work can be split in small modules, which can be concluded and stored. Children have the chance to be the observers of themselves, to see again the result of their own efforts each time they wish so, and therefore feel again the satisfaction and enjoy it, and ultimately understand that it worths coping with the efforts of work, respect and sharing.

Children made from scratch all the components assembled in the video (drawings, pictures, sound effects, music,..). Did they work on the video editing too? What about their attitude towards computers and GNU/Linux?

The project started up without any resource. The only available PC (capable of editing video) was my Edubuntu Desktop with Cinelerra. The shooting made at school with the camera was transferred to computer and edited by me at home. Now and then I showed the children the progress of their work and I modified it according to their feedback and suggestions.

Ubuntu has become a magic word for these children, a word more related to an enjoying activity and to a global network of friends rather than just to a computer. As if having Ubuntu was like having a powerful magic wand.

Now we have a Edubuntu laptop with Stopmotion, which we use as framegrabber. Children were immediately able to understand the intuitive interface of this application. In fact they can edit each scene, removing the incorrect frames and choosing the better frame rate. The final editing of the scenes is still my duty.

Upon children’s request, many families installed Ubuntu on the computers at home. Right in these days, thanks to an enlightened principal, my school is renovating the computer lab, and all the machines were installed in dual boot with WindowsXP/So.Di.Linux. So pretty soon the children will have the chance to experiment completely digital animations (2D) and play with the video editing.

Are you working on a new short movie? What’s up?

Of course, we are right in the middle of a new production (who can stop us?!?). We are working on three new decoupage animations, one for each class. They will feature a very ambitious soundtrack (as usual, produced and recorded by the class), a very unusual topic, artistic illustrations created exploring the technical possibilities of watercolours and collage in representing the trees. We hope we’ll go through them within a couple of months.

I know you are an active member of the Cinelerra community. Joining this community..what did/does it mean for you?

As a hobby and because of my job, I’m mostly interested in advanced video-editing: in my computer the operating system is just an accessory of Cinelerra. As when someone offers you an opensource software you feel the desire of seeing what’s behind the application, so when I heard about this open community I wanted to see and meet the people behind that.

Being a member of the Cinelerra community, to me, is a very rewarding way of tele-volunteering. I have the chance to learn the skills of other people and get a deeper knowledge of tricks and potentials of free software video-editing, I’m in touch with brilliant and amusing minds, I contribute to the improvement of the application I use.

Let’s talk about Lumiera: which features and differences compared with Cinelerra?

Lumiera is not a fork of Cinelerra. It is actually a total rewriting of Cinelerra. The goal of the project is to write a code well structured, easy to maintain and implement. Lumiera aims to be a very advanced but still user-friendly and developer-friendly NLE. The development model is very open too: in fact the GIT version control system enables a distributed collaboration.

Users accustomed to Cinelerra will find the same principles but they will be able to manage more than one timeline at the same time (nesting), easily organise imported video and audio resources. In a word, finally they will be able to manage complex projects.

There will be also many differences. Among them, a careful attention to the license (not a minor detail). Lumiera will be Free Software without any doubts and will therefore have the credentials to be included in all the distributions dedicated to multimedia, such as Ubuntu Studio and 64 Studio.

What about the status of Lumiera? Do the team of developers need some new contributors?

Lumiera is not ready to be used. It was decided to give priority to the internal engine, in order to create a well structured and stable ground, and then build on top of that the part of the application used by the editor.

Every contribution – of any kind – to the community efforts is welcome. The open and distributed development model allows to accept also occasional contributions. There is work for everyone, and for every level of experience. For examples, the young developers can improve some scripts or write the source code documentation, someone else can take care of the web infrastructure. This kind of contributions is important because it lets the expert developers focus on more difficult tasks.

Please don’t ask me “When will Lumiera be ready?” because I don’t have exciting answers for you. And if any of you is impatient and can’t wait… well, join the crew and help us!

Raffaella’s personal website

“Esperimenti di cinema” blog