I recently graduated from film school with a Bachelor of Arts in Audiovisual Media at Tallinn University Baltic Film and Media School.
I want to look back at my experience at film school.
But also look forward towards my academic and artistic aspirations. Perhaps it’s helpful for other students and prospective filmmakers.
I was 20 when entering college. In Estonia university scholarships are state-sponsored, paying 100% of your tuition fee but no living costs. Tallinn University offered me 2 scholarship. My choices were BA in Anthropology, a course open for the first year at the newly opened wing of the university, spearheaded by an Argentine professor Lorenzo Cañás Bottos. And BA in Audiovisual media at the Baltic Film and Media School, taught in English (opened in 2006, the year before) and led by the Estonian filmmaker and media executive Hagi Šein.
My connection to anthropology had been studying one semester at the Salta National University in Argentina as a YFU exchange student; while I was technically in high school, I was allowed to attend classes as I showed lots of enthusiasm to the subject, and loved studying the local indigenous cultures and languages. But back here in Estonia I was not really that enthusiastic about studying Estonians..
My connection to film had been writing and taking lots of photographs. Since I was a kid I’d written short stories and people had always complimented me on my writing and my photographs. My understanding was that this was exactly filmmaking was about – writing with images. So I chose film.
While I completed a number of projects in school, now after a three-year course, I feel pretty much back to square one. I don’t know what I want yet.
Werner Herzog, an influential german director has spoken out against film schools. And so have other notable people in film, saying that what you really need isn’t school but life experience, and experience on the set.
There’s even a movement called NoFilmSchool, that aims to give you all the resources you need to make a film without an actual school; plus great pools of free information on forums, Quora, and many blogs to name only a few. Also, if you’re getting an MFA not out of interest in self-development, taste for culture, and passion for the arts, but to get a job - an art degree is probably not going to be much of help.
But as Erika Dreifus has said, figuring out one’s own goals, strengths, and weaknesses is something to do before applying anyway, and one should try to find a match between one’s individual experience and ambitions with a given program and its offerings.
“what seems wonderful (or terrible) to one person is likely to look very different to someone else (again) depending on the past academic, professional, and personal experiences each person brings to the table and what his or her goals or expectations may be.”
I feel most at home in the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries (and speak the languages). So on a gut level, the best place to continue for me would probably be Brazil. But to make an informed choice and also out of plain curiosity, I’m researching all the programs out there to see what’s actually available.
Education is expensive and I’m pretty much unable to pay even low tuition fees and thus need a full scholarship. This is most difficult for an international student to attain in the US, and perhaps easiest right here in Europe. I’m listing the application fees (it’s actually expensive to send in your application) and approximate tuition fees per year (where available, and rounded off to the closest hundred).
My Preferences. 1) Taught in Portuguese or Spanish or English in a city with a big Latin and African community 2) Easy access to students outside the film world, studying vastly different tracks cross-pollination and for inspiration 3) Big city.
The Torino Piemonte Film Commision in Italy has a long list of film education worldwide, more than covered here and including education from professional diploma courses to undergrad to graduate education. There are also a number of programs available in documentary filmmaking, as listed by The Independent magazine.
So I decided to take on this challenge analytically and help out myself and other future MFA students. The following is a list curated by yours truly with a choice of master’s programs in film directing and producing around the world, both in fiction and non-fiction (documentary) cinema, with the most concise but helpful comments I could find somewhere or ask for over social media, available here
Please feel free to add more resources and links in the comments. Also, if you’re a film student, fill out this survey about your experience. This is a work in progress.
There are many film schools to choose from. But its worth to remember, in the end, it’s not about the school. It’s about you, the people you meet, and the things you do together. Thanks for reading.