Cinema students from Northern Virginia Community College had a unique opportunity to study film in Pisek, Czech Republic this summer, and they’ve got proof—hours of film featuring some of The Czech Republic’s top actors and an excitement one can only achieve by actually going abroad to study and experience the world firsthand!
Twenty-two NOVA students traveled with Film Production faculty Bryan Brown, Chris Stallings and Josef “Pepi” Lustig to participate in a summer study abroad program with the Czech Republic’s Film Academy of Miroslav Ondricek, also known as FAMO. This opportunity to study in another country is one that is not readily available to the average community college student in the U.S.
“This was amazing for our students,” Stallings said. “They are still digesting what they learned. Four of them had never been on an airplane before, much less to another country!”
Initial introductions between the two schools were made in Spring 2017 by NOVA Adjunct Professor Josef Lustig (AN), which resulted in a site visit by five NOVA faculty and staff to FAMO. Lustig has extensive connections to the film industry in the country, and, once the initial discussions happened, it was evident to educators on both sides that this would be an excellent opportunity both for NOVA’s film and cinema students and the Czech students and faculty with whom they would interact.
The program is unique to community colleges in general, and to most other film programs in the United States. It is directly tied to NOVA’s new Associate in Fine Arts in Cinema, and the summer program met the requirements for two NOVA courses required for that degree. The program had several goals:
- Students gain access to industry professionals through FAMO;
- Students collaborate with Czech film students while working on intensive projects;
- Students work with professional actors for their projects and
- Students have access to materials and set experience in one of Europe’s major film studios.
Besides the formal academic benefit, there is also the life-changing effect of studying in a different culture and country, an opportunity not always available to community college students.
During the four-week program, students had direct access to working professionals at the highest levels (think the Czech equivalent of Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese). They would collaborate with Czech film students, working together on intensive film production projects. The Czech Republic asks their professional actors and actresses to “give back” once they have achieved success. Therefore, students had the opportunity to work with actors of the caliber of Anthony Hopkins and Meryl Streep; and these Czech actors are featured in the students’ portfolio work produced during the program. Students had access to state-of-the-art equipment and materials, as well as the opportunity to experience Barrandov Studios, one of Europe’s major film studios, located in Prague. This level of access is nearly impossible for students to achieve in the U.S., even in some of the most prestigious film schools.
In addition, students experienced valuable cross-cultural settings by working on mixed Czech-U.S. production teams.
“I learned that, on bigger crews, there will be lots of different personalities that all have to mesh with one another,” said NOVA Student Eugene Rose. “Getting everyone on the same page and trusting each other can make or break a film.”
Overcoming creative and cultural differences seemed to be a recurring theme. Tyra McKinzie is in her first year of the program. She expects to graduate with her AFA in Cinema in 2020, move on to complete a four-year degree and then explore careers in editing, directing and screenwriting. For her, the benefits included both the historical lessons she learned as well as the intercultural and interpersonal ones.
“I thoroughly enjoyed learning how great an impact Czech cinema had on film as well as getting to learn from Prof. “Pepi” Lustig and getting firsthand knowledge and training on filming, lighting and color-grading techniques from top Czech Cinematographer Marek Jicha was outstanding,” student McKinzie said. The trip also “reinforced the importance of respecting other cultures, teaching styles and creative differences; especially when there is a language barrier at play.”
“It’s important to remember the students are getting real-world industry experience here,” said Dr. Bryan Brown. “When you are working with filmmakers, here or anywhere, you have to butt heads with the producer. You have to butt heads with the director. And you have to work it out.”
In addition to the importance of inter-personal relationships and learning to work together as a team, there are many ways the workplace can differ across different cultures.
“Czech students just get it done,” Prof. Stallings said. “U.S. students want to stand back and look from every angle, to analyze situations, to make everyone feel good. Czech students just get it done. And conversely, the U.S. students helped slow down the Czech students.”
Students also learned how to overcome language barriers, Brown said.
“At one point, a Czech actor finished delivering his lines, and the U.S. students triumphantly yelled, ‘Cut! That’s a wrap!’ The Czech students stepped in and said, ‘Wait! He didn’t say anything even close to what was in the script!’”
These are lessons rarely learned by way of lecture in a classroom. They are opportunities occasionally available to students fortunate enough to land an internship in their field of study. But, fold in the international, multi-cultural components, and it is impossible to quantify the value of the experience for community college students who, at other two-year schools, can only dream of such an opportunity.
“Both sides in a study abroad program, both the sending country and the receiving country, get mutual benefit in an amazing way,” said Syedur Rahman, NOVA’s associate vice president of International Education and Sponsored Programs. “That mutual benefit sets the ground rules for the next program, and the next and the next. It is so important to remember that ‘slowing each other down’ does not actually mean ‘slowing down.’ It means moving together.”
The Czech Film program is a new model of study abroad for NOVA and will be a regular offering as part of the AFA degree. Any AFA student from NOVA will have the opportunity to apply to the program which is planned to run again in summer 2019. For further details contact Stacey Bustillos, Associate Director, Office of International Education and Sponsored Programs (firstname.lastname@example.org).