Professor Will Higbee with Lauren Yue Pan at Berlinale

A University postgraduate programme that prepares students for the demands of the modern film industry is celebrating a double accolade achieved by members of its academic community.

Jezz Vernon, Senior Lecturer in Film, and Lauren Yue Pan, a graduate of Exeter’s MA International Film Business, both played key production roles on two of this year’s leading movies at the Berlinale.

Jezz, one of the course leaders of the MAIFB, saw the film he co-produced, Last Swim, screened for audiences and awarded the Crystal Bear prize by judges.

Meanwhile Lauren also travelled to the 74th edition of the Berlinale with the film Kong fang jian li de nv ren (Some Rain Must Fall), on which she undertook several production roles, and which was selected to play in the Encounters programme.

“This is fantastic recognition for both Jezz and Lauren,” said Will Higbee, Professor in Film Studies, and Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor for Business Engagement and Innovation in the Department of Communications, Drama and Film. “Berlinale is one of the world’s most prestigious film festivals, and to be selected for the programme is both a great honour and invaluable experience for them, professionally. It reflects also the world-class talent that we have within the MAIFB academic community.”

Lauren, 27, from Beijing, graduated from the University in 2020 and joined the production crew of Kong fang jian li de nv ren, a Chinese/Singaporean film directed by Qui Yang, early the following year. She took on multiple roles on the film including co-producer, line producer, and First Assistant Director for the shoot in China, and then as Post-Production Supervisor in France.

“It was a really demanding shoot, and some of the roles pushed me well beyond my comfort zone,” says Lauren. “But to see it playing in sold out screenings all week was a proud moment for all of us. It’s a strong, emotional film, and one that takes its time, so it has been interesting to see the response from critics and audiences as well.”

Lauren spent the festival introducing screenings with the team and coordinating the hosting of the film’s many investors. She has now returned to France, where she will continue to assist with its marketing and its submission to other festivals.

“My ultimate goal is to be an international film producer,” Lauren adds. “China is seeking to bring its films to the global stage, and I would like to help them do that. And my degree has certainly helped me because it enabled me to supplement the practical, film-making skills I already had, with some of the theoretical ones, in areas such as marketing, distribution, and planning.”

Students from the current cohort – and the BA Film and Television Studies degree – had the opportunity to attend Berlinale, accompanied by Professor Higbee and Mr Vernon – and for the latter, it was an even more memorable festival. Coming-of-age drama Last Swim, directed by Sasha Nathwani, and which he co-produced, was awarded the Crystal Bear by the youth jury.

Jezz became involved with the film at the development stage in 2020, working as a script editor, helping to raise funds, bringing on key collaborators, and advising on the production process.

“The film was made without the financial backing of the BFI, so it was real validation for it to be selected for the Berlinale,” he said. “For it to then go on to win a Crystal Bear was a special moment for the team. UK indie film has been struggling for many years, so to show that a lower budget film can still break out on the top tier festival stage is very satisfying.

“It was doubly wonderful to see Lauren’s film in selection at the same festival – and for our current students, appreciating alumni achievement at that level, and so soon after graduation, really brings their own ambitions within reach.”

The MA International Film Business is an industry-facing programme co-delivered by specialists from Exeter and the London Film School.