Getting the next generation of filmmakers fit for the future

After 18 years, Simone Stewens is retiring as director of the ifs

For 18 years, Simone Stewens has been the director of the ifs internationale filmschule köln. On April 30th, she will resign from her position at the ifs to devote herself to new projects.
Since 2002, Simone Stewens has headed the ifs. She has successfully built up and expanded the ifs from a mere professional training institution to one of the most renowned German professional training institutions for young film and media professionals – since 2016 together with co-director Rainer Weiland.

Petra Müller, chairwoman of the ifs shareholders’ meeting and managing director of the Film- und Medienstiftung NRW, says: “18 years is almost a lifetime achievement. In this time, Simone Stewens has developed the ifs into one of the leading film schools in Germany. With great commitment to young filmmakers, she has sharpened the school’s profile, successfully led it into the digital age and firmly anchored the ifs in the new media campus. As chairwoman of the shareholders’ meeting, but also personally, I would like to thank her from the bottom of my heart and wish her all the best for the future.”

Before Simone Stewens took over the management of the ifs, she had been head of the film editorial department at Bayerischer Rundfunk. Then as now, as a cinephile, she has been attracted by the task of transferring a fundamental understanding of the richness of film narration and the fascination of the medium into courses of study, and of conveying the aesthetic potential as well as the potential impact of the art form of film to the next generation, especially against the background of the digital transformation.

Already in 2003, a cooperation agreement with the Technical University of Cologne laid the foundation for academic film studies: In Germany, the first Bachelor’s program in film was accredited at the ifs in 2004, initially in the fields of screenwriting, film direction and creative production.

From the very beginning, the focus of film studies at the ifs has been on cinematic storytelling and creative teamwork. “Teamwork is what makes a film a film. A successful, conflict-free cooperation in a team is often taken for granted and yet it has to be learned. Every member of the team brings their own talents and skills to the creative process, and the interaction of all of them creates something new and unique, the sum of many creative ideas and technical skills,” Stewens explained at the time.

Interdisciplinarity, cooperation and synergies in a creative process still play an important role in the further development of the ifs profile today, in addition to impulses from politics, society and the dynamically changing media industry: These days, the Bachelor’s program Film offers seven main areas of study with profiles that reflect the digitalisation of the audiovisual media.

Films with a global approach have been produced in cooperation with international film schools, for example with Beit Berl College Tel Aviv, UCLA, Sam Spiegel School Jerusalem, Marubi Film Academy Tirana, Andrzej Wajda Master School of Film Directing and numerous other university partners in Europe, Asia and Australia.
Three international Master’s programs have been established and implemented in recent years, thus picking up on or even anticipating developments in the media industry.
One example is the international Master’s program Serial Storytelling, which is based on the principle of the writers’ room, anticipating the international series boom and its effects on the German series landscape. Since 2013, the course has been attracting students from all over the world to Cologne. They are in great demand in the industry after graduation.
Current trends of digital transformation in the audiovisual media are also taken up by the other Master’s programs of the ifs: the MA Digital Narratives and the MA 3D Animation for Film & Games, which is run in cooperation with the Cologne Game Lab of the Technical University of Cologne. Simone Stewens and Rainer Weiland have planned two further Master’s Programs in the field of film narration in social contexts and entertainment.

The social significance of audiovisual media is also reflected in two other focal points of Simone Stewens’ work at the ifs: Equal opportunities and diversity as well as sustainability. The commitment of the ifs to “Gemeinsam für Gender-Gerechtigkeit” (Together for Gender Equality), an initiative of German film schools, as well as the significant support of the mentoring program”Into the Wild” for young female filmmakers and, last but not least, the sustainability concept of the ifs for climate and resource protection are just a few examples.
Simone Stewens sums up: “The years at the ifs have been both inspiring and challenging. I wish my successor Nadja Radojevic all the best, much success and good luck with the complex task of continuously preparing the ifs for the future in the best possible way.”