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Lights, camera, Cuba! Stories from my amazing film course experience

Do you know that feeling when you’re just about to embark on a new adventure that makes you jump out of your comfort zone? That’s exactly what my recent trip to Cuba was like.

One of the most prestigious film schools in the world, the International Film and TV School of Cuba (EICTV) aims to build a utopia for filmmakers to disconnect from fast-paced city life and focus on the mantra of ‘learning by doing’. Students are given filmmaking assignments that range from creatively challenging to deeply personal, and are encouraged to create short films they can then add to their portfolio, or even, expand into longer film projects.

 
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Last month, I took a flight to Havana to attend the school for a 2-week filmmaking course (Self-Referential Cinema - lead by international film producer and director, Basel Ramsis) where students were expected to write, film and edit a variety of short films in a similarly short time. Which sounds like fun (and it was!) but we were also given plenty of restrictions that challenged us and forced us to get out of our comfort zone. We were asked to base our films on personal experiences, but they still had to transcend audiences to connect universally so anyone could relate and understand the stories. Everything had to be shot on-site at the school, which made projects far more challenging.

On top of all this, the turnaround for each exercise was pretty quick too, so there just wasn’t time to have a creative block. By day two, I was already finding the whole experience incredibly demanding, so the course had definitely succeeded in getting me out of my comfort zone!

Luckily, although my resources were restricted by the nature of the course, in my fellow students and teacher I found friends I could lean on. These international students worked in the industry as editors, directors of photography (DOPs), producers, and more. With so many talented course mates, we had a wealth of experience to share. We supported one another and swapped insights, previous learnings and different working methods. This ‘resource’ proved invaluable, both professionally and personally as we grew to become good friends during our time together.

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As you can imagine, I also had the chance to network and learn from industry specialists and teachers. But this wasn’t your typical dinner and drinks kind of networking; teachers and students’ living quarters were placed in close proximity, which made for a unique ‘always there’ networking opportunity. You could even bump into well known industry figures in the school canteen! I remember spotting Stephen Bayly, film director, producer and former director of the National Film and TV School (NFTS) in London. My friend, who was his student, simply walked us over and introduced me. It was amazing to learn more about his work in Cuba teaching the Meisner technique, an approach that helps actors ‘get out of their head’ so they can react more instinctively to the surrounding environment.

I really feel that attending this course has helped me grow as a storyteller. To my great surprise, the restrictions forced a sense of discipline which I found exhilarating. Through the school’s vigorous exercises, I learned how to stay creative when time is running out, or when the vision for my film is ‘limited’ by lack of space or other resources. But I think perhaps the most exciting and rewarding lesson was learning the intrinsic value of trusting my inner voice; an honest film language to communicate emotions, which are what ultimately connect us as humans. For this one valuable lesson alone, I would strongly recommend getting out of your comfort zone. Exploring another place with different ways of working and creating was an amazing experience for me. In fact, my only regret is that I didn’t do it earlier!

 
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Cristina Ballesteros