30  November  2017

Film guru Mamoun Hassan visits European Film College

Last week, European Film College had a visit from film expert Mamoun Hassan, who did two master classes with our students. Mamoun Hassan is a screenwriter, producer, director, editor and critic, and he teaches master classes at film schools all over the world. After his sessions, two of our students met him for a talk about his view on filmmaking.

By Toby Jones and Eduardo Ecker, students at European Film College 2017-18

Last week, European Film College welcomed a great friend back to the school, Mamoun Hassan. As always when Mamoun visits, there was a focus on engaging the students in lively debate, particularly concerning his choices for the guest screenings - 'All Quiet on the Western Front' (1931) and 'The Battle of Algiers' (1966). When we sat down with Mamoun, our first question was why it is important to look at works of the past in order to inform our approach to the present. Despite the obvious political relevance concerning the content of armed struggle in both films, Mamoun’s focal point for discussion related to how the films are made as a thematic extension of content. Mamoun reflected:

‘Lindsey Anderson, who was my mentor, used to say “the way it is said is the thing said”.’

Talking about The Battle of Algiers, Mamoun remarked:

‘I wanted to present this film because, put simply, it is the greatest political film of our time. There are all sorts of other questions linked to it. But the main thing is the way it is made. It’s amazing. I’m interested in how filmmakers – and mostly its instinctive, but not necessarily – tell you what the meaning is through the way they make the film. The story and plot is one element only’.

Lived experience is vital
A further point was how this attention to form, to the expression of content through visual means, only matters if it is grounded in a perspective that is viable and well founded. Relaying a Chekhov story, Mamoun Hassan made the point that:

‘There are a great many opinions in this world and a good half of them are held by people who’ve never been in trouble. My point is if you’re going into the film industry you’ll have any number of people wanting to make films about politics and they’re talking about opinions. They’re not talking about what Gillo Pontecorvo is talking about: he was 24 when he was captain of resistance fighters in the mountains of Turin.’

For Mamoun, lived experience is a vital component of filmmaking and relates directly to how one forms opinions, and later, achieves perspective. This attention to perspective ensures that filmmakers have something fresh and individual to say and launches them into higher ground.

The tyranny of a three-act story
Mamoun Hassan also wanted to discuss and challenge the doctrine of the three-act structure:

‘Not for its own sake, but to free students from the tyranny of it. I believe that any idea that is institutionalised becomes dead. It becomes a burden; not something to help you, but exactly the opposite. They say this is what you must do - A, B, C. But how about cultures where they don’t have theatre? Why would they use a three-act structure? Shakespeare had five acts. What do you say about that? So, the whole question of what you use as structure is one I would like to pursue.’

Organic filmmaking
Mamoun clearly wanted to reiterate the importance of having opinions that not only challenge, but are grounded in rigorous observation and attention to detail. If there is a decision to not follow the three-act structure, then it has to be justified by the perspective of the filmmaker, and that perspective must then also be reflected in the form of the film:

'Everything has to be organic', Mamoun said as he related an anecdote about the great Indian filmmaker, Satyajit Ray:

'You don’t draw branches on to a tree but draw them growing out of the trunk.'
Mamoun Hassan