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News article27 February 2023Directorate-General for Translation6 min read

UCLouvain on the big screen

By Colin Puylaert & Perrine Girboux (UCLouvain)

Logo of the Brussels Short Film Festival

Master’s students in translation specialising in audiovisual translation at the Louvain School of Translation and Interpreting (LSTI – UCLouvain) are given the opportunity to subtitle many of the short films shown at the Brussels Short Film Festival (BSFF). This blog is about the collaboration between the nonprofit Un soir… Un grain, which organises the BSFF, and LSTI students, whose work was supervised by Nathalie Caron, professor of audiovisual translation at UCLouvain, and managed by two LSTI students sent as trainees by UCLouvain to cover the 2022 edition of the BSFF.

The nonprofit Un Soir… Un Grain was set up in Brussels in 1998 by Pascal Hologne and Céline Masset with a view to promoting art, particularly cinema, and facilitating dialogue between professionals and the public. As well as the Brussels Short Film Festival, the first edition of which was held in 1998, the nonprofit also organises the Be Film Festival and the Brussels International Film Festival (BRIFF). In the early days the BSFF was a small-scale event attended by only a few hundred people, but now it draws audiences of over 26,000 who come to watch more than 300 short films in seven Brussels venues. The festival, which takes place over ten days, is divided into three competitions: international films, Belgian films and “Next Generation” films, the last of which is reserved for films made by cinema school students.

At the BSFF, Un Soir… Un Grain, which has a staff of ten, relies on the assistance of some 70 interns and volunteers not only to greet audiences, producers and actors, but also to subtitle the short films.

For more than 20 years students from UCLouvain’s Louvain School of Translation and Interpreting (formerly Marie Haps) and KU Leuven have been taking part in the BSFF as part of their training in audiovisual translation (AVT). As the short films shown at the festival come from all over the world, they have to be subtitled, including in French for the French-speaking audience. And it is here that the LSTI audiovisual translation students come in. During their training, they subtitle short films made originally not only in English, Spanish or Italian, but also in languages not taught at UCLouvain, such as Korean, Finnish, Greek and Polish. In the case of the latter languages, the students receive the script in English and produce the subtitles on that basis. The number of films to be subtitled is constantly increasing, so two students nearing the end of their studies were invited to spend their work experience at the BSFF, one with the nonprofit Un Soir… Un Grain, the other assisting Nathalie Caron.

Colin, trainee with the nonprofit Un Soir… Un Grain: as a trainee responsible for subtitling for the Brussels Short Film Festival, my main role was to subtitle the films being screened at the festival. My traineeship ran from 31 January to 30 April, the last day of the festival. During the traineeship, which amounted to almost 500 hours of work, I subtitled about 70 short films of between 5 and 35 minutes in length in some twenty languages.

I was in regular contact with Perrine, whose traineeship was with Nathalie Caron, so that we could pass on students’ questions and requests to the staff of Un Soir… Un Grain and so facilitate communication among all the participants. Like Perrine, I had had the chance to subtitle some short films in the first year of my Master’s, so that I knew what difficulties the students would face: the absence of scripts in English, poor sound quality, unfamiliar accents, not to mention the many IT problems that arise when files are shared. As the collaboration between UCLouvain and the festival has been going on for many years, I was able to consult the documentation produced by Nathalie Caron and previous trainees, including on the subtitling conventions to be observed at the BSFF, which are slightly different from those used at the university, since its subtitles are projected onto a cinema screen; as the cinema screen is much bigger than that of a TV or computer, it can display more characters per line. Often, too, one has to bear in mind that the subtitles will be projected in more than one language, which means that they have to be shorter, since each language can only occupy one line.

Throughout the festival my tasks were to project the subtitles at showings in the national and “Next Generation” competitions, and to welcome and assist the first-year Master’s students from UCLouvain and KU Leuven, who are offered free admittance to the films and can also volunteer to project the subtitles of some short films at the screenings. As the festival provides subtitles in three languages (English, Dutch and French), a second screen has to be added under the main screen to display them. This is achieved using a second projector and a separate computer from the one used to project the films. This means that at the beginning of each short film someone in the cinema has to synchronise the subtitles with the film being projected. This task was taken on by the LSTI students under the supervision of myself and Perrine.

Perrine, trainee working with Nathalie Caron, professor of audiovisual translation at the Louvain School of Translation and Interpreting: my traineeship with Nathalie Caron, which lasted twelve weeks, involved supporting the students tasked with subtitling the films that would be shown at the festival. The traineeship combined subtitling and training activities, as I not only subtitled some films myself, but also assisted the students, within and beyond their classes, with their subtitling, by answering their questions and helping them deal with any problems they encountered. The students subtitled in teams of two, depending on the languages they were studying at UCLouvain. I then revised their subtitles before passing them on to the BSFF. As I corrected I noticed that the main problems were with spelling and syntax. I also had to deal with certain IT tasks such as splitting films between the two team members. In addition, I maintained regular contact with Colin.

I was present at the festival to support the students when the films they had subtitled were screened. I also attended the showings of my own subtitled films, and I was able to learn more about the films I had worked on when, at the end of the showing, the directors and actors were invited to come on stage to talk about their projects. I was even fortunate enough to talk to some of them in person: they told me about their film-making techniques and shared their impressions after their film had been screened. This was a most rewarding experience. Finally, I also projected subtitles with Colin at some of the showings.

This partnership gives UCLouvain translation master’s students an opportunity to become more familiar with the cinematic milieu and to gain professional experience in AVT. Among the essential skills of a translator as defined in the EMT’s competence framework, we believe that the students are able to exercise their ability to rapidly rephrase, summarise and adapt a message in the target language in order to produce a high-quality subtitle. They also get to develop their personal and interpersonal skills. They must fit in with the requirements and deadlines of the festival. And finally, they learn to work in a team and to revise both their own work and that of their team-mates.


Publication date
27 February 2023
Directorate-General for Translation
  • English
  • French
EMT Category
  • Pedagogical initiatives