Film classes adapt to virtual format during COVID-19 pandemic

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Contributed by Thato Mwosa

This year, students in Thato Mwosa’s Visual Storytelling class produced silent films that were shot in a safe, socially distanced way. Students have continued to learn filmmaking techniques despite not being able to meet in person.

Last year the high school offered five filmmaking classes with free access to advanced equipment. This year, there is only one film class, and students need to film on their phones. However, teachers are still committed to teaching valuable skills.

During the summer, film teachers had to adjust their curriculum to accommodate remote learning, and Visual Storytelling was created as the only film class. Despite the obstacles that make filming at home harder, Visual Storytelling teacher Thato Mwosa, has worked to make the class as effective and fun as possible.

Although COVID-19 prevents easy access to professional filming equipment, students are still able to get good quality footage using their phones. This has made the transition to online class much smoother, according to Mwosa.

“I couldn’t tell the difference between phone footage and the camera footage. So the good thing is that they really embraced the idea of being able to use phones. And I had to teach them how to shoot in a way that makes it a little more professional,” Mwosa said.

Getting fellow students to participate in films is one aspect of the class which is much more difficult now, according to Lawrence Miller, a senior in Mwosa’s class. Mostly due to COVID-19, fewer people are comfortable meeting in person to act in a film.

“It’s harder to make a movie in the middle of a pandemic, especially the filming. That’s the tough part for me right now,” Miller said. “You need to get people to help you film and a lot of people don’t want to do that.”

When they are able to find actors, students generally want to shoot films with plots that take place in a world without COVID-19. Mwosa instead encourages them to adjust to the “new normal” through their films.

“One student had a bus in his script, a bus full of people. I don’t think that’s going to happen now. Are you really gonna get on a bus and film people?” Mwosa said. “You’re making it harder for yourself because you’re actually trying to reflect life in a film. But that life doesn’t exist anymore. We have to get rid of what we think is normal, because this is the new normal.”

Mwosa likes to give her students the freedom of choosing their own topic so they are able to express their creativity through independent work and projects. She encourages students to explore their personal interests through filmmaking.

“I always want them to tap into that passion. It’s very important. I don’t want students to come in and hear me telling them, this is what you’re doing. I let students address any topic that they want,” Mwosa said.

Independent work and the freedom to choose topics has worked well within the online learning system, Mwosa said.

Remote learning has forced students to work more self-reliantly, without the constant help of teachers. This can force students to engage their own creativity more, according to junior Sophie Spanjaard.

“We have to be more innovative. It kind of actually pushes your boundaries,” Spanjaard said. “ I have to do more trial and error myself without someone being there, watching me do it. I think it’ll give me more experience.”

Although Mwosa has been able to find positives in the new filmmaking class this year and is continuing to teach effectively, she still misses the face-to-face experience with her students.

“I’m happy with where we are,” Mwosa said. “Would I want to go back fully and really teach the way it was [before the pandemic]? Absolutely. There’s nothing like teaching shooting in person. There’s nothing like watching students’ films on a big screen in the theater.”