Gisli Snaer: Head of Studies, London Film School

Gisli Snaer is the Head Of Studies at the London Film School (LFS). In addition to his academic work, Gisli is also a film director, perhaps best known for the multi-award winning children’s film Ikíngut. He is a graduate of La Fémis in Paris, France and was recently appointed to his role at LFS following a stint in Asia as head of the Puttnam School of Film, LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore.

Gisli is a member of the European Film Academy and the Directors Guild of Iceland.


What is your background in film academics? How did you come to be Head of Studies at LFS?

I worked in TV and Film across various roles for many years, have studied at the Sveriges Television (SVT) and the prestigious film school La Fémis in Paris. Over the years, I gradually gravitated towards making films, which is a universal medium. Invitations for lectures across the globe arose for various places and I was very fortunate to be invited to head The Puttnam School of Film at the LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore in 2010, under the patronage of the renowned film producer Lord David Puttnam, who engaged students through his insightful and inspiring seminars.

A long time was spent in Asia and I wanted to get back to Europe. The London Film School’s reputation is phenomenal and being a part of it appealed very much. As for how I ‘chose’ this profession: The inspiration of academia came from Lord Puttnam and his dedication to learning and educating filmmakers. My long-term commitment to plays, writing stories and the medium of film is very deep and has its roots in my childhood in Iceland; a country that is very much dedicated to the art of storytelling.

You are an established director in your own right, how does that help in your role as an academic?

Tremendously, because I’m trying to share my experience and guide students. All lecturers are professionals at the School and it’s about paying it forward. It’s also about engaging with young filmmakers which is, in itself, immensely rewarding. It encourages me to constantly develop my own craft.

LFS is known not to ask students to pre-specialize as a director or some other role as part of the MA in Filmmaking program. How is this a better approach?

Holistically, the curriculum at LFS successfully equips every talent with a film knowledge of the various roles coming together. Creating a film takes a team. You become a better Director when you understand the contribution from other departments. It’s not about wanting to be a Director but about wanting to understand how a film is made in its fullest sense through the collaborative process. Our graduates can make shorts as well as features upon graduation if they so choose. 

LFS bases its program around shorts, why is this a better approach to learning?

The short film platform is there to learn budget and time constraints. Shorts are also a recognised format on its own. It takes skill and craft to create a short film. Whilst features take longer to create and fund. However, feature length scripts are developed as part of our MA Screenwriting programme.

How does the influence of academic staff mix with a student’s own experience as well as collaborating with fellow students?

Filmmaking is a collaborative effort which is challenging to manage unless you continuously reside in an environment such as a film school. We see our students develop their ability to work together, engage and collaborate with many different departments and nationalities.

What makes for a good film school?

In short; terrific educators, and an environment where differences are accepted. A safe environment where you learn to fail whilst not being put off altogether, and continue. It’s important to embrace inclusion and diversity.

What do you say about the argument that film schools are a waste of time and money and filmmakers should just teach themselves by making films?

Film schools are a supporting milieu of continuous feedback and sharing experiences. Books and online information will provide you a certain amount of information, but never take you into the heart of the filmmaking experience. Film school allows you to safely trial and learn fast through continuous feedback from experienced practitioners who are working professionals. The right film school also cultivates a lifelong hunger for learning and wanting to do better.

Is film history or learning the language of film important for a student’s development?

It’s the foundation for informed practitioners and it’s pivotal to any filmmakers’ know-how. Understanding why it was done and when it was done – not just the how. History is also a love affair with culture of cinema which filmmakers celebrate. By working on a film, you simply join this culture.

What are some of the creative and technical trends you are seeing at LFS in 2016?

The core curriculum is one of LFS’ strengths and we are all committed to the art of storytelling. Everyone will want to play with the latest toys, but these aren’t what we focus on. We are looking at developing components outside of this core curriculum, to engage with new developments and current trends, such as VR, but these will only supplement what we do.

“You don’t cross the river to get the water; you search for a narrative that transcends boundaries, and carve out stories that are rooted in the human experience, and because of its simplicity and shared value is recognisable wherever you are” – Gisli Snaer

You taught at LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore, studied at La Fémis in France and now work in the UK, do you see any differences in those trends based on region?

No. None. There are procedures on-set that are different, but other than that there is no difference. The important part of any storyteller’s life is to be mindful of the stories you live with, for these are the stories you need to tell, and these will last you a lifetime. You don’t cross the river to get the water; you search for a narrative that transcends boundaries as limited as countries, and carve out stories that are rooted in the human experience, and because of its simplicity and shared value is recognisable wherever you are.

Can you name any students in particularly whose work is gaining attention either inside LFS of via the festival circuit?

The success list is very long; over 180 films are produced by LFS. A few highlights from this year:

  • LEIDI from Simon Mesa Soto who won the Palme d’Or in 2014 and the 2015 CILECT prize, one of his follow up shorts, MADRE screened at this year’s BFI LFF.
  • IN THE HILLS by recent graduate Hamid Ahmadi won the 2nd prize at the Cinéfondation, screened at Hamptons and Toronto.
  • STUTTERER won the 2016 Best Live Action Short Film Academy Award. This film is written, directed and edited by an LFS Screenwriting graduate
  • JAMIE, written, directed and produced by Christopher Manning is heading to Flickers and the London Short Film Festival after Twist in Seattle and Uppsala.
  • Four LFS shorts will screen at Aesthetica next month across three categories.
  • REVOLVE, A term two film by Hong Kong filmmaker Kaki Wong has been accepted at RIFF

Our students always screen at key festivals and this year’s Cannes Edition didn’t disappoint either, have a read!


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