Cutting students some slack

More lessons from the Cape May Film Festival

3 minute read
Will Cape May someday supplant Cannes?
Will Cape May someday supplant Cannes?

Cape May is a lovely beach community, and, like what seems to be almost every corner of the land stretching from the purple mountains to the shining sea, it hosts a film festival. As a veteran of a couple of festivals myself, I think any celebration of cinema is a joyous event and there is no such thing as a bad win. But not every competition is equal. The Bucks Fever Film Festival is not the Sundance Film Festival. Neither is the New Jersey Film Festival in Cape May.

Full disclosure: I am not familiar with thr Cape May film festival. I have no doubt it is produced with the same small town charm as the town itself. From the website, it is a lovely community event. It has some interesting guests and spotlights short films. But it is not the top of my list of festivals on which I’m willing to spend my hard-earned entry dollar. That doesn't mean that the films shown at it should be dismissed cavalierly.

In her article “Those who can, do; those who can’t, attend film schools,” Ms. Atkins proposes that film school is a waste because in this particular sampling, in her opinion, the films made by film students were inferior to those made by non-students. But to blanket all film programs a waste because of the student films shown at this particular festival is like saying that there should be no dance classes because the dancers in my niece’s recital weren’t as good as those in A Chorus Line, or that only self-taught artists in any field might be worthy. Her snide comments damn every art student who isn’t Picasso, every dance student who isn’t Gene Kelly, every music student who isn’t Yo-Yo Ma, and every theater student who isn’t Meryl Streep. Yet if you ask successful artists in every field who and what guided and supported them on their ladder to the artistic top, they might easily name their teachers and schools.

That’s the thing about art. It’s hard to create, and it’s subjective. And though many fine films are made by people who didn’t have the benefit of film school, Ms. Atkins should check the roster of alumni of the many film programs where teachers toil to help make students more articulate and informed craftspeople and artists.

The reality is that many, many students in any of the arts will not make their living solely off the fruits of their labor. And some produce work that doesn’t merit financial rewards. But it is also a reality that not all frustrated artists should teach. Teaching itself is an art. There are good teachers and bad ones in all sorts of schools. Every higher education program knows that the student who enters will not be the student who leaves. Every student has promise, but not all promises can be kept.

Praise the festival in Cape May! Maybe it will grow into the Cannes of the Jersey shore. Or maybe it will be content to add another cultural platform to the quaint community, and the audience will remain parents and friends of young artists just needing to put their work in front of viewers while secretly hoping to make their fantasies of fame and fortune a reality.

What we do know is that many artistic dreams will stay asleep without a good teacher’s critical eye and loving encouragement. The schools help build the wings, and festivals see if they can take flight.

What, When, Where

Cape May Film Festival. October 25-27, 2013 at Chalfonte Hotel, Cape May, N.J.

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