The Cinema & The Film


An ongoing debate within our film education community concerns both the subject of study, and the place of study:

1/Place of study: The cinema? Is the best film education that which happens in the cinema? Should we advocate principally for the expansion of in-cinema film education? Is the ultimate purpose of classroom film education to encourage viewing in the cinema, and/or to enrich/support the experience of viewing in the cinema (pre- or post-).

I would answer ‘no’ to all of these questions, for the following reasons:

  • The cinema is a place primarily of (communal) full-on film experience, pleasure, and consumption, rather than interactivity and collaboration, the lifeblood of education and learning.
  • Creative filmmaking doesn’t happen in the cinema, but elsewhere, and the creative side of things is essential to film education. It is good if learners’ films can then be shown in the cinema (as often happens) but if we aspire to make film education an entitlement for all, there will not be enough screen time to accommodate cinema screenings for all.
  • There are not enough cinemas to go round. Many young people in Scotland, as elsewhere, have no access to any cinema at all; of the cinemas that do exist, only a few offer education activities or have the curatorial expertise we would want learners to access.
  • Most cinemas show more of the same and less of the different. There’s actually a much richer offering of cinema (and other audiovisual art) online and on DVD! Doesn’t look or sound as good as it would in the cinema, but it’s not on in the cinema and most of it never will be.
  • What is a cinema? Community screenings and film clubs aren’t cinemas, they may not have the comfort, blackout and projection facilities of the cinema, but they do offer key elements of the cinema experience: 1/communal experience; 2/no pause or fast-forward buttons. I hope we will see more such spaces develop over the coming years, especially in Scotland, where many rural areas are hours from the nearest cinema (they’d need to fly there, take a long ferry journey, or drive for hours…).
  • Reductio ad absurdum: Is visual art education only possible in the gallery? Only truly achievable in the presence of the original? Is music education only possible in the concert hall? If I watch a film at home on the TV, alone or with others, I am still inspired and excited by its art.

Disclaimer: Cinemas are still uniquely valuable. As the place to enjoy and be moved by films, the cinema reigns supreme. In-cinema education activities have their own own unique value and contributions to make to film education. Unquestionably, it would be desirable for learners to go to the cinema as part of their education, but, as above, this is only possible for a minority (certainly in Scotland).

2/Subject of study: Big screen films? Is film education (mostly) about feature films (and other cinema-friendly forms like surrealist film or artist’s moving image); or is it about all audiovisual forms (including TV, YouTube, maybe even video games); or is it about all audiovisual art (a helpful coinage from Menis, see post 10Nov).

For us in Scotland it must be wider than feature films. I find Menis’ formulation of ‘audiovisual art’ very useful here. Leaving aside the ‘what is art?’ question (‘Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves’ – Rilke via Mark Reid), it provides a useful distinction between film education and media education: if film education concerns itself with audiovisual art – ie is informed always by aesthetic questions – media education concerns itself with all audiovisual media (and all media of course), and does not always or necessarily bring aesthetic questions to bear (its questions may relate to rhetorics, linguistics, economics, politics, sociology etc – film education may ask these questions too, as and when).

Hold on though/i: what about ‘film heritage’ which is not particularly ‘artistic’, which wasn’t produced for artistic purposes but might be amateur or corporate? For example, is our teaching resource ScotlandOnScreen (in need of updating…), which comprises predominantly factual film clips (1890s – 1980s) a true ‘film education’ resource or merely a support for other subjects (especially humanities)? Is it merely education through film not education about film? As has been said many times before, education through film (film as ‘tool’) works best when it is also education about film. Obvious example: a key activity for the historian is interrogating historical texts – what can we learn from it, how reliable is it? Interrogating the historical film text requires film literacy. Which is to say that the knowledge, skills and understanding of film education (education about film) has immense value and relevance across the curriculum, even maths, not as mere tool, but in a rich dialectic with everything else – just like verbal language.

Hold on though/ii: does the ‘audiovisual art’ formula put Fast and Furious 9¾ beyond the scope of film education? I would say not, it merely means aesthetic questions and values are deployed in its analysis, in the same way that they would be in approaching Triumph Of The Will or Olympia, where other socio-political-economic-cultural questions probably loom larger than they might for other texts.


I think we should be inclusive in our conception of ‘film education’: it is defined by the questions we ask, not the texts being studied. Moving image forms and platforms are changing, driven by technology and other forces. Audiovisual art is being made and shared in all kinds of contexts; we don’t know what the future holds.


One thought on “The Cinema & The Film

    At last a post that I can disagree with (or should I say, a post inviting further clarifications?)

    Talking of cinema, we usually focus on the “dialogue” between an artist and a recipient. This is the idea of the projected audiovisual text as “a meeting point”. I would agree that this dialogue between the artist and his/her audience, probably, is the most interesting aspect of artistic expression. But, especially in audience centered arts like cinema, I would insist that the recipients constitute a remarkable population; with no major common, social characteristics they are the non-homogeneous group of people who decided to go there and share a common experience! True, further social discourse usually does not take place in the cinema hall. But it may still take place in pubs, peer groups, social gatherings etc. The audiovisual text is a stimulus for active human exchange and mental interaction. We love talking about the films we liked!

    This doesn’t at all imply that that we must guide kids to exclusively experience films in cinema halls. Any group of 3-10 pupils or students watching a film in a classroom on an adequate TV screen from a DVD (no pause or fast-forward buttons), can be an audience sharing a cinematic experience. For educational purposes, this could be our minimum audience context. It certainly differs from the idea of experiencing films “home alone”. The latter, of course, can be part of a studying and enjoying a film by myself. This however can be a supplementary situation.

    In our educational proposal let us not neglect the importance of the audience-sharing factor. It is not only a financial argument. It mainly is a cultural argument by a society sitting around in the dark and watching a fire glowing in the center of the community.

    As for the Disclaimer and the “Hold on though’s” I am with you Scott.

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