Jennifer Granville from Leeds Beckett University shares her inspiring story about her involvement in the international CINAGE project. CINAGE offers exciting lifelong learning opportunities to older persons and promotes active ageing through teaching adults critical analysis of European cinema as well as filmmaking skills. Read how Jennifer got involved in this project, what obstacles she had to overcome, and most importantly, what she gained from this experience.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the work you do?
I work as a lecturer at the Northern Film School which is incorporated within the School of Film, Music and Performing Arts at Leeds Beckett University. One of the areas I was interested in was developing widening participation and lifelong learning. The reason for this was that we had one course within this school called Foundation Degree, but about 5-6 years ago the University stopped all foundation degrees.
It was very disappointing because it was a wonderful opportunity for non-traditional learners to come to the university and learn filmmaking, and very often a lot of our students came from that route. They tended to be older, to have more experience and that course had a very different dynamic. I wanted to try to find a way where we could use the expertise that we had in working with this sort of people.
How did you get started with your Grundtvig project?
I went to a meeting where they talked a lot about Grundtvig and about the different opportunities there might be to partner with people and develop courses for different learners. I put my name down on the list as willing to be a partner and the lead partner on the CINAGE project got in touch with me. The lead partner was a Portuguese organisation called Aid Learn who do a lot of this type of European projects. They were looking for a university who could provide them with expertise in research in health as well as expertise in filmmaking. Leeds Beckett University was ideal because we have a very large health school here as well as a film school.
We wrote the proposal together with Portugal, Italy and Slovenia and it was initially rejected but we didn’t give up, rewrote it and we got approved. I think the idea was quite appealing. To my knowledge there’s no other project that has done a similar thing with film.
How did collaborating with another organisation help?
Collaboration is always good – you’re always going to learn something from collaborating. You’re always going to approach things slightly differently once you’ve had discussions with people who bring a completely different experience. The beauty of this particular project is that Aid Learn in Portugal had quite a lot of experience in delivering that kind of projects – international projects are extremely complicated. In terms of cinema we wanted to make it truly European and not just something that we were doing in the UK.
Old age is not such a terrible thing
Also, the Third Age University of Slovenia brought an enormous amount of expertise in the field of andragogy. An interesting thing that we discovered was that most of the teaching we do is more by the students learning and finding out for themselves, which is probably quite different from how they usually teach in Eastern Europe.
Even though now we’re ready to deliver CINAGE independently, initially it was great to get a European perspective on it and to bring in that different expertise.
How do you want the project to expand?
We hope to deliver the course to older people next year as part of the University’s widening participation programme. For this purpose we’re partnering with Leeds City Council and we are using their network to pull in a wider demographic. However, through KA1 of Erasmus + we’re also planning to have a two-week ‘telescoped’ version of the course designed for European educators.
How did you stay in touch with your project partners?
All our planning and decision making was done collaboratively through robust discussions. We met mostly in person. We had a meeting in Italy and Portugal, two in Slovenia and our final meeting was in the UK. We also had a very good online environment called Wiggio which is an open source software. It was an excellent place for sharing and storing documents and sending instant messages and having discussions. That’s also where the external evaluator went to find our documents.
Who took part in the project? Is there anyone that stands out in your mind?
The average people that we had in this project were quite educated, stimulated and active and they came out the same way. But I do think that what we did learn from them is how we might approach this project better in the future. The formed an incredibly strong friendship and working group and that has gone on. We’ve already had a party at one of the participants’ house and there have been a lot of social benefits for the participants. A couple of the participants have also volunteered to help me with the dissemination of the results and that’s been really great for us.
One of the students who stood out was Liz Cashden, 86. She wrote and acted in Swimming Pool and she also directed Know Thyself, and she was just full of energy, so eager to collaborate and intelligent – a true inspiration for everyone.
What were the results?
One of the tangible results of this project has been the CINAGE pack and the Guide for Adult Educators, which we’re very proud of. We also organised a final conference as part of our approved proposal and we ran a film festival, which we’re planning to make into an annual event. We weren’t allowed to raise sponsorship for the festival this year, but next year we’re hoping get sponsorship and make it a much wider reaching festival. It is going to be a festival based on old age in the UK but we’re also going to run it as a symposium so our target groups are academics as well as film makers. Our films and trailers are also available on our YouTube channel.
What we did this year was a screening of all the 12 CINAGE films and then in the afternoon we had a competition. The criteria for the competition were that the films either had to be about age or aging, they had to feature an older actor, or be made by an older filmmaker – these were also the three categories. We got about 50 films sent in, we screened 30 of them and we had three prize-winners.
It was an incredibly moving experience
We hope that in future we’ll try to make it even bigger. The event was supported by the Leeds City Council and we’re hoping that next time will become a part of the Leeds International Film Festival. They already have a younger persons films festival so why not an older people films festival? In fact it would be great to use EPALE as a means of publicising our project and upcoming events.
What did it mean to you to be involved?
I was involved in the making of three of the films here in the UK and we also helped in the making of the subtitles of the other films, but when we saw all 12 of them on the big screen, it was quite a moving experience. It really felt like we’d done something quite special. I also find it amazing how so many different aspects of aging were addressed in quite a positive way. They weren’t all gloomy and grim by any means.
I’m 61 and what I got out of this experience was that old age is not such a terrible thing; and also you have plenty of time to do things that are personally fulfilling, that you wouldn’t normally have the time to focus on. Working at a film school I’m quite used to collaborating with people from different countries and cultures. What I did learn from my project partners was a lot about running a project, as all three of them were very experienced in that. Also, there’s so much that I learnt from the participants as well – all of them are such interesting individuals.
Another really great thing for me personally was the intergenerational aspect of things. When we made the films we used a lot of our students to support the older learners. Both groups were able to see how competent and good at their jobs the others were and how much they had to offer. That was an incredibly successful part of the project which I hadn’t even thought about. A lot of my students said to me afterwards that this was one of the best projects they had done since they’d been in film school – they absolutely loved it. On the UK side we had about 30 older learners and about 50 younger students altogether. We had a professional cinematographer and a director who was there as a support for the older students who were directing.
The two weeks of filming that we did were so very exciting and seeing all these people coming together as a crew will remain in me. If I had the chance, I would definitely like to do it again.
If you’re working with adult learners and you’d like to share your story with EPALE, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org