Vincent Lowy and Raïssa Lahcine • Director and director of International Relations, École nationale supérieure Louis-Lumière
“We don’t train directors, producers or editors, but we educate sound engineers and DoPs as well as other related technical roles”
- Our conversation focused on the main opportunities offered to prospective students by the prestigious French film school
We chatted to Vincent Lowy and Raïssa Lahcine – respectively, director and director of International Relations at the École nationale supérieure Louis-Lumière – to discuss the main learning opportunities it offers to prospective students. The Saint-Denis-based institution is part of both GEECT (European Grouping of Film and Television Schools) and CILECT (International Association of Film and Television Schools).
Cineuropa: Could you please introduce your school’s main mission? What can it offer to international students?
Vincent Lowy: We’ve got a lot to offer, but we have a very specific identity and organisation because we’re not a film school stricto sensu. Only about half of the training we provide revolves around film, and we focus on technical skills. We don’t train directors, producers or editors, but we educate sound engineers and DoPs as well as other related technical roles such as gaffers and grips. This institution was founded almost 100 years ago as a school for camera operators and still photographers. At the time, there was no sound, and proper sound training courses only started after World War II. Now, for the last 20 years, we’ve been under the authority of the Ministry of Higher Education and Research. So, we are a public school. We offer three-year master’s degrees, and we provide many of the technicians working in the French film industry.
Raïssa Lahcine: Specifically, we deliver three degrees – one for sound engineers, one for DoPs, and the third for still photographers and visual artists.
Do you teach everything in French?
RL: We teach fully in French, but last summer, we organised the first summer programme, held only in English and open to international students. It’s a very specific sound-related programme, and it focuses on writing and creating sound-based documentaries. This initiative is set to take place again next summer. We also offer some training modules that can be taken abroad, and these are in English but are mostly aimed at professionals.
What is the study balance like between theory and practice?
RL: We mainly focus on developing technical skills. We don’t educate art theorists, but we instruct high-level technicians. For the sound engineering degree programme, in particular, we combine scientific knowledge and technical training, so that students can be ready to take one of the three different specialisations available. Some will work in sound for film, some in the music industry, and others in the field of audiovisual arts. The photography master’s degree, meanwhile, aims to provide them with all of the skills they need to be efficient professionals. Some of them will work for big photo studios, some might become documentarians or photojournalists, others could make adverts, and so on... We strive to give them the tools they need to jump into the “real world”. Some of them even end up becoming film directors, but obviously this is not the focus of the education we provide. All in all, our activities are at the crossroads between technique, sciences and art.
Let’s assume I’m a student wishing to apply to your school. What should I do next?
RL: First, you must be very fluent in French. Then you need to join a big public competition, which is highly selective. For example, for the master’s degree in cinematography, we received 500 applications, but only 16 students were admitted. We’re a very small school, and we now teach about 150 students. Every year, we accept only 16 students for each master’s degree. The selection process has changed a bit owing to the pandemic, so part of it now takes place digitally. The first part of the process requires students to prepare an application (including a cover letter, a CV, a film analysis, some visual exercises and, for the master’s degree in sound, a questionnaire focusing on said specialisation), and that is taken virtually. The second part takes place on site, and you’ll finally meet a jury who will decide upon your admission. The interview includes general and technical questions, and you can bring along your portfolio. Once you’ve gone through the whole process and if your performance is deemed satisfactory, you’re admitted. Since we’re supervised by the Ministry of Higher Education and Research, the induction training is free.
VL: The school’s yearly fee is just a few hundred euros, which is a set administrative cost applied to any higher education institution in France.
RL: That’s also the reason why we don’t offer bursaries, since the school is free except for this yearly fee.
How did you adapt your teaching activities owing to the health emergency?
RL: Over the last two years, we have gone through various different changes. During the first wave of the pandemic, we taught online only, and faculties were shut down from March to August.
VL: Since September 2020, however, we have remained open. Obviously, if there are any cases, we do self-isolate and test ourselves, but we have managed not to have big clusters, and despite the recent surge, we’ve kept everything under control.
RL: Since we work in very small groups, it’s easy to teach without taking any risks. We’re lucky to have so much space but not so many students to fill it.
VL: We obviously need to keep on wearing masks and practising social distancing, but the risks are very limited.
What facilities do you offer?
RL: Our school covers around 7,000 m², and we own a wide range of hi-tech, state-of-the-art equipment. We have mixing and editing rooms, a library and dark rooms as well as vast storage and studio spaces. We have dedicated study spaces for each department. The library, in particular, helps students collect the material they require to write their own theses. Besides passing all of the classes, at the end of their master’s degree, all students must submit a dissertation that includes both artistic practice and theoretical research. Each year, some of them decide to take their studies further and take a PhD to continue their theoretical research.
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