Responding to the use of the term “Film Education”

Film, to many people, refers to a thin celluloid layer. In this sense, Citizen Kane on a DVD is not film. It may be movie, moving image, it may be cinema or, better, artistic audiovisual expression. Or, alternatively, right from the start of our final report, appealing to historical reasons, we may redefine “film” as an artistic audiovisual text, regardless of its storing technology.
A whole different discussion would also consider how films share common characteristics with other forms of artistic audiovisual expression (animation, video-art, creative recording etc) as well as other forms of audiovisual media expression (electronic journalism, advertising etc) which, undeniably, would contribute to the development of critical understanding.

“Meeting Points” (as a response to our relevant discussion in the Critical group)

An artistic audiovisual text (film) is not only “the meeting point between a creator and a recipient-spectator”, but also each film constitutes a mental meeting “place” (in the sense of Trafalgar Square or Alexanderplatz) where different individuals with different cultural backgrounds who agree to meet there, share the same experience and, potentially, communicate-exchange their differing points of view. This is a major component of cinema (an invention aiming to show moving pictures on a screen for the public). All audience-centered arts share this (opera, theater, musical performances etc though, there, the role of the audience may directly affect the final outcome). In a concise form, cinema may be a common experience between 3-10 children viewing a DVD in a classroom. While private experience of the same DVD in a laptop or home TV, can be a “study” activity practiced by an enthusiast. A Film Literacy project then, may focus more in developing conscious cinema audiences with critical skills, than developing critical skills for private cinema aficionados.

Response to the importance of experiencing films (as discussed in the Critical Group)

Experiencing films is of primary importance. But Film Education cannot just be random film experiences. Education may provide a systematic context for experiencing films and reflecting on them. Discourse elaborating on a film experience will encourage the “translation” of personal impressions into communication between the members of an audience which shared the same experience. Two examples for providing and organizing film experiences in an educational context:

  • The educational power of categorizing:
    Primitive and crude (often simplistic) categorizations of films by the pupils can be a powerful educational tool enhancing their argumentation and negotiation skills, essential for the development of critical thinking. Each time pupils watch a film or a film’s excerpt, it may be useful asking them to agree categorizing it in simple categories (e.g. silent – sound, color – BW, fiction – documentary, simple film technology – extravagant film technology etc) and to try to support their choice with an example. A template suggesting pairs of categories would be useful for the teacher.
  • The educational power of comparisons:
    Comparing films that share one major common characteristic (e.g. theme) made by different directors and representing a variety of film aesthetics (not only European), can reveal issues of film aesthetics beyond the common remarks of “what the story was about” to which the pupils usually focus. Do they tell similar stories? How do they differ? Can we describe our different impression for each one of them? Through comparisons children will develop their own perspective of film history.
    e.g. Films with trains:

    Clement's "Battle of rail", 1946

    Clement’s “Battle of rail”, 1946

    Keaton's "The General", 1926

    Keaton’s “The General”, 1926

    Lumiere's "Arrival of a train", 1896

    Lumiere’s “Arrival of a train”, 1896

    Frankenheimer's "The Train", 1964

    Frankenheimer’s “The Train”, 1964

    Hitchcock's "The lady vanishes", 1938

    Hitchcock’s “The lady vanishes”, 1938

(Slides from PPT used in teacher training to encourage comparisons. The corresponding DVDs are easily accessible in the Internet or in DVD libraries).

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Getting Critical with the Critical Group

For our Framework Seminar discussions, devising working groups around the 3 Cs – Critical, Cultural and Communication – was a useful way of focussing our diverse and often dizzying ideas.

The Critical Group, calmly steered by Ian, ventured into territories both familiar and uncharted. Were we critical? Definitely. Informed? We believe so! And passionate in our criticisms too. But what would the Critical aspect of a proposed Framework look like? How would we define critical? Did it have to be judgemental? Was the emphasis to be on process or end-product? Were we obliged to make it competencies-based when, as a group we (more or less) agreed that a ‘find the close-up’ approach was not desirable. Instead we favoured encounters with film that would prompt a How and Why. Critical encounters involved providing access to a wide range of film (including – but not only – European, given that audience development was a Creative Europe concern). Critical acknowledges pleasure as a valid aspect of the cultural encounters and the fact that film, unlike any other area of the curriculum, was an artform of which learners all had some experience by the time they arrived at school. And yet, were we simply to give learners what they would enjoy? Or what they would choose to watch? Was it to be Kurosawa or the Fast and the Furious for all? Heated discussions ensued and, despite differences of opinion, we all agreed that a framework should aim high. The artform was paramount, and film heritage too; the encounters – be they mediated through discussions/introductions/workshops – or just standalone should, where possible, take place in a cinema, within optimum viewing conditions. As film educators we disputed the notion that people watched passively. We agreed that foregrounding the artform at its best should be at the heart of the framework. From several different countries, over two consecutive days, our different voices, backgrounds and film education experiences combined to make the experience one that was, in many ways, critical.

cinema experience

The critical group was discussing what is essential for a film education: is it providing knowledge about film to young audiences and their adults? If yes, what is knowledge about film? Perhaps knowledge on its structure – narrative, language.

But no, we’ve decided that such knowledge might be a tool for something more important: experiencing cinema. This is the essence of film educational work: how to raise a sensitivity for film and make cinema experience growing (constantly, without an end).

It should start with experiencing cinema in cinemas and should continue with finding a way of translating our thoughts about the film into words – or other ways of expression. In this perspective knowledge of film vocabulary becomes useful.

In the process of “translation”, or expression, our cinema experience obviously changes.

Methods are important: rather than systematic teaching, adjusting to children’s response is more valuable.  It raises dynamics of teaching and allows children to explore and become and stay more curious.

Very good discussion. Rarely experienced, inspiring.