Creative learning can change minds: Festival of Creative Learning and Magma Film Poetry Project

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Anyone Can Buy a Seat at the Cinema © Maggie Clark 2018, CC BY-SA

Alongside CoDI, another recent Festival of Creative Learning event that has taken to the stage is a Magma poetry and filmmaking collaboration. In this post, Jennifer Williams explains how ECA students worked with poets to produce short films, which were screened in London and Edinburgh….

In the Adam House Theatre, the lights go down as filmmaker Simon Ray accepts the microphone. The audience is hushed. The first words Simon speaks go something along the lines of… ‘I never really liked film poems.’

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Credit: Jennifer Williams

As the Projects & Engagement Coordinator at the Institute for Academic Development, I look after the Festival of Creative Learning and other projects that encourage creativity, collaboration and innovation and new ways of learning and making space to experiment within the University. In August 2017, Stav Poleg, poet and co-editor at Magma Poetry, asked if there was a way to connect filmmaking students with Magma poets to make film poems. This presented a remarkable opportunity to give our students the chance to collaborate with professional poets and share their work with a global audience.

This project was a multi-faceted collaboration. The first level of partnership was between us, (colleagues within the University of Edinburgh and the Festival) and Magma Poetry, one of the UK’s leading poetry magazines. Within that organisational partnership, we initiated creative collaborations between postgraduate film students at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) and students from the Edinburgh Media Production Society (EMPS), and poets selected by Magma. With my colleague Lucy Kendra (Open Media Project) and with Stav, I managed the project as well as facilitating, presenting and promoting, and – as a poet myself with a special interest in collaboration – shared my personal knowledge and experience.

Magma received over 400 poetry submissions for this project. Their editors honed this selection down to 15 poems. We offered these to our ECA students, and they each selected a poem. Lucy Kendra and I then chose one additional poem from the 15, ‘Ode to Summer’ by Carrie Etter, which we offered to EMPS. We liked the idea that, with the ECA students, we could see how four individual poets and filmmakers would collaborate, and with the EMPS members, we could see how four filmmakers would respond to one individual poem.

Ode for Summer_Nicole Lai
Film Still from ‘Ode to Summer’ © Nicole Lai, Tiffany Garnham and Laura Pennycook, 2018

You can watch the resulting collaborations by ECA here, and by EMPS & Carrie Etter here.

I was delighted that the films exhibit a range of engagement that film can have with poetry in their various styles, from moving documentary to abstract, in which the essence of the film remains but the poem itself has been reinterpreted and translated into light and sound. I love that film poetry can accommodate these myriad realisations, and that there is something in it for everyone’s taste.

Film Still from ‘The Wanderers’ © Ted Fisher, 2018

We held two screenings, one at the Cinema Museum in London to coincide with the launch of Magma 71: The Film Issue, and one at the Adam House Theatre in Edinburgh. Both were extraordinary events in which we were able to share the project with audiences, hear from the poets and filmmakers, and demonstrate how the original poems were leaping off points for the film poems.

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Credit: Jennifer Williams

As Simon continues to speak, he explains that it was his love of poetry that made him suspicious of film poems… he worried that a film could not improve on the power that poetry already carries in its ability to sculpt time, sound and image. However as we talked about film poems and showed examples during a workshop early on in the project, he became more interested in the possibilities of this form. He speaks of how his mind has changed, and that he now believes in the creative possibilities that this type of collaboration has to offer. He and the other filmmakers agree that film poetry is something they will continue to explore in their work. As music rises and light begins to flicker over the screen, I think about the true meaning of creative learning and it seems to me that it is this.

This project was realised via the Festival of Creative Learning Pop-up project stream, which encourages experimentation via creative projects and events outside of the curated Festival week in February. Staff and students from across the University are welcome to apply to run Festival Pop-ups at any time of the academic year, and to contact us for more information.

Jennifer Williams

Jennifer Williams is a Projects & Engagement Coordinator in IAD and coordinates the Festival of Creative Learning, alongside a variety of projects that promote innovative, collaborative and creative learning at the University of Edinburgh (e.g., the Near Future Teaching project). Her background is in writing, art, collaboration, creative learning and project management. She holds a BA degree from Wellesley College in English Literature with a Studio Art minor, and an MLitt in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow. Her key recent posts have included Programme Manager at the Scottish Poetry Library and Literature Officer at the Traverse Theatre.

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