When I first embarked on my film education research, I knew only two things:
- I wanted a powerful international experience.
- I wanted to become a better film maker with a more realized mode of expression.
I first wanted to resolve my location focus. I did some serious soul-searching to come up with a basic criteria list for my educational environment.
The first requirement was international diversity and intellectual tolerance. Other than culture-shocking away layers of stagnating conventions and societal conditions, I wanted an environment that would foster the development of a more pluralistic philosophy.
My location of study also had to be host to a vibrant local arts, music and film scene. As a practicing musician and filmmaker, continued activity is critical. It is very important for this scene to be thriving and innovative. My personal taste was also a significant factor.
Thirdly, I wanted a stark change from my current cultural situation. I wanted to experience a culture with a more forward thinking philosophy that tolerated a variety of lifestyles choices and encouraged free thought.
After consulting friends and colleagues who had international experience or knew others with international experiences, I was able to narrow my list down to 5 cities:
- Amsterdam, Netherlands
- London, United Kingdom
- Hamburg, Germany
- Berlin, Germany
- Barcelona, Spain
My next step was to seek advice on the message boards of study abroad and networking websites like Tribe.net and Expatica.com. I basically posted my criteria, listed my 5 choices and asked if anyone had any direct experiences to share. The response was great and I received some very useful information. I even got some suggestions for other cities that I had never thought of. Overall, the feeling was that Amsterdam would suit my needs the most...at least for the short term. Hamburg and Berlin both tied for a close second.
I then began a search for schools that offered reputable film programs, had an internationally diverse student population and offered programs in my native language (English). I checked out numerous online college directories (ArtSchools.com and this website are great sources) that had comprehensive search features and good information about their listed schools. I searched for schools in Amsterdam, Hamburg and Berlin that offered film studies and film production.
The University of Amsterdam (Universiteit van Amsterdam) seemed to be the best school for its diversity and classical style of education. Their film studies program is based more in theory and analysis than in practice and technical instruction. A classical, academic program seemed ideal for me considering that I have been in practical practice of the filmmaking craft since I earned my electronic media BFA in 1997. I was already familiar the tools and methods. I now wanted to open my mind to ideas, inspiration and a further developed knowledge base of the art form and the philosophies that guide it. The MA program in Film Studies is unlike any other that I had read about. Great emphasis is placed on diversity, intellectual tolerance and open dialogue. This was to be my first choice.
For the next couple of months, I immersed myself in the application process to the Film Studies program. The process proved to be very involved and time consuming. I had to write two essays; one stating my motivation for attending the program and another to provide a sample of academic writing. I had to obtain two letters of recommendation from professors I haven't spoken with in over six years. The administrative hoops I had to jump through in order to get copies of my transcript and degree certificate were hassles unto themselves. The process of getting the application fee paid in Euros was also an adventure. All the while I was attempting to maintain informative correspondence with the school's very busy admissions office. I also decided to apply to an undergraduate program (Media and Communications) in another department of the school as a backup.
I finished both application files with two weeks to spare. I then actually took a couple of days off of work and booked a flight to Amsterdam. This was to avoid any delivery errors on the part of the postal services and it gave me a chance to see the city and school first hand. The trip proved to be a very necessary cultural vibe test. In the end, there were no major disappointments - at least none that changed my course.
After safely handing in my applications and enjoying a brief taste of the environment, I have become quite a bit more confident in my chosen path. I will find out in mid-May if my efforts have paid off.
I have selected yet another backup school that has fewer admission requirements and provides a greater likelihood of enrollment. The SAE Institute of the Netherlands offers a Digital Film Production program. Because of its more technical nature, it will be used as a last resort when my first two options do not work out. It is always good to be aware of all possibilities, hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
Remember, there are people who have been at the same point that you are now in their film education journey. The only way to benefit from these hands-on experiences is to get out there and talk to people.