We need to talk about film schools – return trip to Cannes for Lynne Ramsay

Fifteen years after her first Cannes appearance, winning the Jury Prize in 1996 for short Small Deaths, followed by the same award in 1998 for Gasman and two awards for her second feature Morvern Callar in 2002, Edinburgh Napier University and National Film and Television School alumna Lynne Ramsay will be back on the croisette with her third feature, her long-awaited and much-anticipated adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin.

It was at Napier (now home to Screen Academy Scotland) that Ramsay, studying photography, was introduced (by then Senior Lecturer in film Colin MacLeod, now retired) to the work of avant-garde filmmaker Maya Derren, a key influence on her decision to apply to the National Film and Television School to study cinematography.  In the early 1990s the NFTS along with the London Film Schoolwere pretty much the only place in which a talented Scot could aspire to study film making.  Many if not most of Scotland’s notable filmmakers have made the journey to Beaconsfield from Bill Forsyth and Mike Radford to Michael Caton-Jones, Gilles Mackinnon, Ian Sellar and Douglas MacKinnon.  (See Alistair Scott’s fascinating account of the influence of Scots on the NFTS and vice versa in ‘What’s the Point of Film School, or, What did Beaconsfield Studios ever do for the Scottish Film Industry?’ in Scottish Cinema Now).

Ramsay’s ‘conversion experience’ at Napier and subsequent encounters at the NFTS are an important reminder that the real value of film schools lies not primarily in access to technology (increasingly available elsewhere) or even skills (also increasingly acquirable by other means) but exposure to ideas, space to experiment and opportunities to find and work with collaborators.  At the NFTS she met cinematographer Alwin Kuchler and editor Lucia Zucchetti with whom over the next six years she made her three shorts, her debut feature Ratcatcher and then Morven Callar.

Despite the plethora of short courses, DIY manuals and (much to be encouraged) ‘just do it’ ethos of 21st century filmmaking, for at least some of tomorrow’s talents there remains something enduring and irreducible about the combination of structure and freedom, guidance and licence, individual and collective that makes three or four years as an undergraduate or one or two as a postgraduate, a simultaneously liberating and challenging experience.

My own experience over the past six years, leading Screen Academy Scotland, gradually expanding our range of post-graduate courses to give producers, screenwriters, directors, cinematographers (and from next year editors) more and more opportunities to find those creative ‘soulmates’ from an ever expanding list of countries, pushing their own and their collaborators’ creativity, is that film school is as useful and powerful a tool to accelerate talent as it ever was.  Thankfully our local talent now has a real choice of whether to head south for an excellent film education and, equally, talents from all over Europe are beating a path to Scotland to make connections.  Indeed we’ve taken that one step further with our ENGAGE programme  (now entering its fourth year), linking up with film schools across Europe (and from this year around the globe) to encourage graduates to partner up at an early stage of their careers to sow the seeds of future collaborations.

Meanwhile we wish Lynne the best of luck in Cannes and expect to see more of our alumni there in the near future.

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2 Responses to “We need to talk about film schools – return trip to Cannes for Lynne Ramsay”


  1. 1 Paul September 25, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    Just Googled Colin Macleod to see what had become of the old fraud. I’d like to add that studying film at Napier in the 90s was a dreadful, restrictive, poorly managed and dysfunctional experience for many of us. Resulting in the promised freedom of creating our own films being reduced to a lottery of who would make a film and who would be allocated a role devoid of any relevance to their interests, AFTER FOUR YEARS!

    Thankfully the late great Paul Willemen managed to inspire and salvage some of the experience, instilling a love of theory and academia into those of us who thought we were there for the practical stuff. Roberta McGrath was also brilliant and I hope she’s doing well wherever she is.

    Note that this only applies to the film-making part of the course, photography was well run apparently.

  2. 2 john March 23, 2015 at 11:30 pm

    Good old Colin Mcleod. I think he inspired many a Napier student


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