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'School Life:' Teachers, Students and a Documentary Crew

"This relationship between teacher, student and film crew produced intimate footage with raw emotion that we feel is rarely found on film or television today."10/27/2017 2:30 PM Eastern
A scene from 'School Life,' courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
"John and Amanda Leyden have taught at Headfort School in Kells, Ireland, for so long than the headmaster, Dermot Dix, recognizes at one point that Ms. Leyden is using the same children's novel that she taught his class many years ago," write Ben Kenigsberg. "Neasa Ni Chianain and David Rane’s documentary School Life is a loving portrait, primarily, of the inspirational educator couple, who command the respect of their students and always seem to know what a particular child needs to hear.

"The movie captures a cross section of life at this progressive boarding school, which enrolls students ages 3 to 13 (although the movie focuses on the elementary schoolchildren). Among other activities, Ms. Leyden directs her students in Hamlet. Mr. Leyden, who teaches a range of subjects that include math and Latin, also leads rock band practice." To read the full article, click here.

The directors explain, "In our initial research, we watched many films about schools. What is unique about the experience in our film is the level of access we were given, behind the scenes, entering into a world where every parent would like to be a fly-on-the-wall.

A scene from 'School Life,' courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

"Part of reflecting the world of Headfort School is about capturing its aesthetics, the backdrop to this unusual institution. We didn't want the to be positioned as a voyeur, it was very much about being part of the circle, part of the community.

"Our film is the result of the relationship we have built while researching during our first year of the project at Headfort. Stemming from this relationship between teacher, student and film crew produced intimate footage with raw emotion that we feel is rarely found on film or television today.

"Our work is not staged, it's observational in style. The rapport with our characters meant they accepted our presence in their lives, especially the children who just went on with their everyday life at Headfort, and allowed us to capture those special moments, where the kids are just kids, playing in the forts and interacting in the dorms.



"Getting to that level of intimacy is a skill and it required a lot of time and trust. We could not possibly make a film about a boarding school that unpeels the many layers of this world without having invested so much time researching, understanding and planning how to film this very nuanced institution.

"Our documentary is an examination of a particular type of childhood and education, a childhood very different from what most parents in the 21st century deem as conventional, or even acceptable, and an education that sets Headfort apart from the norm.

"The school building and its grounds, to us acted as a character in the film. The environment in which the characters are living, shapes the overall experience of the world the film inhabits. When filming, we treated Headfort as a world within itself. Once the audience enters the world of Headfort, they never leave the school grounds. This was an aesthetic decision taken to try to reflect the dilemma and reluctance of most of the characters in the film, (teachers and students alike) to ever leave the school."

School Spirit: Neasa Ní Chianáin and David Rane's School Life Teaches Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

In School Life, Teachers Who Make All the Difference

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