(Article originally written for IntoFilm)
As a further education and former secondary school teacher who’s interested in film, and as leader of my sixth form college’s film club, I’ve seen repeatedly how film broadens young people’s horizons and enriches their learning experiences. Whether it’s Alfie to spark a discussion about the treatment of women, Life is Beautiful to introduce the holocaust to a young audience, or Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet to enthuse a disengaged Year 10 SEN group, film can be a powerful tool for teachers seeking new ways to educate and inspire. This is a medium that appeals to all, regardless of ability, yet unlike art forms such as literature, theatre or music, it has never, to date, featured prominently in education – so it’s great that the British Film Institute has decided to invest £26 million of lottery funds over the next four years to build on the work of education charities FILMCLUB and First Light and make film education available to every school in the country.
Key elements of the programme for teachers will be a new, National Youth Film Festival with screenings and workshops they can take pupils to for free, increased access to training and CPD about film-making and using film in the classroom, and a raft of curricula film resources which will complement the curriculum in subjects including English, literacy, history, geography, science, PSHE and modern languages.
Have you already used film in your lessons and would like to do so more? Are you keen on the idea but unsure how to go about it? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Any film that is screened has to be reviewed, however to increase the challenge ban certain over used words. For example my students are not allowed to use the words; Good, Bad, Very, Interesting or Boring.
“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be” Mark Twain
Set word counts, I ask for 100 words explanation of the plot and 150 words for their opinion. This helps them to separate the two, which might otherwise be mixed all in, to the satisfaction of neither.
Rewriting or plotting an existing film can be an exciting and challenging activity, for example, after a screening of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkhaban, the students were tasked with outlining the plot but were not allowed to mention magic or wizardry of any kind, what we got instead was a dark and thrilling story of espionage, treason and mental health!
The famous example is the thriller Finding Nemo; a film in which a Man’s wife is brutally murdered by a serial killer and his son left physically disabled. Years later his son is kidnapped and he has to travel thousands of miles with the help of a mentally disabled woman to rescue him.
Reviewing films is a great way to improve critical skills, challenging students on the difference between objective and subjective reasons for liking and disliking a film.
It’s ok to screen a film student’s dislike, as long as they explain why, rather than just say ‘it was rubbish’ as that’s a banned word.
You can also use film reviews to encourage peer assessment, with students checking each other’s work before they are published on the filmclub website, and remember the best reviews win prizes.
Film has a long history of adaption, and many classic works have been modernised like 10 things I hate about you/ Taming of the Shrew or animated Lion King / Hamlet, whilst both these films are a little old now, I have found their high quality ensures they still work with audiences. A more recent release to consider include Easy A/ Scarlett Letter and
A great resource for looking at adaption is comic books, many of the great characters are based on a cultural starting point, have survived decades of retelling and are now proving hugely popular with young audiences. Dark Knight is a great example of this.
Is not a subject that has been ignored by film, so film shouldn’t be ignored in the teaching of maths.
Pi, a horror story with mathematics, as a paranoid mathematician searching for a number, found in nature, that will unlock the universe.
A Beautiful Mind, a biographical film, about John Nash, a Nobel Laureate in Economics. As well as economic theory the film also involves scenes about cryptography.
Good Will Hunting, about a janitor at MIT, who has a gift for mathematics, but needs counselling to find direction in his life.
Are incredibly diverse and could be an article in its own right to cover all the cultures in any depth
Film is a perfect way to learn a foreign language in context and be exposed to foreign cultures, real life conversation and new day-to-day phrases and vocabulary, increasing students’ ability to cope with different accents and discussion of foreign texts to support study of foreign literature.
La Haine, following the repercussions of a riot in a urban environment, a local youth finds a police officers gun.
Cyrano De Bergerac, Gerard Depadieu’s iconic performance as the French poet/ soldier, who embarrassed by his long nose romances his love by proxy.
Persepolis (Iran) French Animation of a autobiography about a precocious young Iranian girl that begins during the Islamic Revolution.
The Wave, based on a true story from California, is a dramatic look at the potential rise of fascism, here in a school setting
Sophie Scholl, about the student and anti-violence revolutionary active in Nazi Germany.
Spanish/ Latin America
Pan’s Labyrinth, looks at the myth of Pan amid a setting of Spanish facism during world war 2.
City of God, based on real events, about two boys growing up in Rio de Janeiro, one becomes a drug dealer the other a photographer.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (China) is a notable example of Wuxia fiction, a mandarin term that means ‘martial arts chivalry’ and refers to a form of storytelling that dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907)
Rashomon(Japan) is director Hurosawa’s melding of Akutgawa’s short stories. The result is a black and white film using complicated cinematography and innovative narrative that enjoys classic statute of its own.
Film has covered a lot of difficult subject matter and can be a great resource to start a discussion about difficult topics such as bullying, sex, drugs, alcohol and Internet safety, however by it’s nature these subjects often lend themselves to age 15 certificates.
Mean Girls (12A) is a well written examination of social groups and hierarchy’s within the school system. It features a theme of retaliation and retribution.
Catfish (12A) examines through documentary the idea of identity and representation online.
Bowling for Columbine (15) an examination of the effects of violence in society.
Taking Liberties (15) which shows the effects of the War on Terror on civil liberties in the U.K
Juno (Teen Pregnancy), Kidulthood (teenage life in modern London), Trust (Online sexual predators) are just a few of many other films available through film club which can incite debate.
Films can bring to life different periods, engage pupils in subjects or introduce a complex topic such as the holocaust / analysing sources etc.
Within the context of the Hollywoodisation of History, it can be pertinent to screen a film like U571 and discuss the historical inaccuracies.
Downfall, a controversial study of the final days of Hitler from his perspective.
Lives of Others, looking at the cold war, from within East Germany, as a member of the secret police conducts surveillance on a writer.
Use film to support topics relating to physical geography (eg environment, climate change and natural phenomena), and human geography (migration, immigration, globalisation etc)
Gasland, fracking is becoming an increasingly relevant debate, this film looks at the effects of the procedure on local community, features the notorious ‘firewater’ scene.
Age of Stupid, Pete Postlewaite plays a future archivist, looking at documentary footage from 2008 to understand why humankind failed to address climate change.
Fast Food Nation, an all-star ensemble class examines the risks caused by the globalisation of the fast food industry, to health, the environment and society.
Disclaimer: The films mentioned in this article are in no way a complete list, the beauty of cinema is that there are hundreds of films suitable and adaptable to your students, your curriculum, your classroom.