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Film Festivals in the High School Classroom

Published by Daryl Youd

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Published by Myron Horsey

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Creating and facilitating a school-wide film festival involves students, parents, and alumni through a creative inter-disciplinary approach.

Film festivals are springing up all over the world. Most students and parents that follow entertainment and pop culture will identify with film festivals. What better way to infuse interdisciplinary lesson plans that engage all students and elicit the help and support of parents and alumni than to plan a high school film festival.

Setting Up a School Film Festival

In cooperation with other departments, set a date and plan 3-5 days for the festival. Divide students into groups that correspond with subject studies like American History, World Literature and History, Religion, Science, Art, and Music. Involve all department heads and teachers.

Develop a viewing schedule to show two to four feature length films during the course of several school days. Special showings can occur in the evening or on a Saturday. This activity need not take all day: integrate the festival into the normal school day by:

  • Using two morning and two afternoon periods if on an 8-9 period model
  • Use one morning and one afternoon session if on a block schedule
  • Devote normal “club meeting” periods, extending the times
  • Hold the festival between school year quarters or semesters

Including Students in the Planning

Have students select appropriate movies based on ratings; some schools may frown on an “R” rated film being shown in school. Explain that the goal is to select films that represent specific themes being studied. American History, for example, might show the Patriot and compare it to the much older classic film Drums Along the Mohawk. Science classes can mix documentary films with The Boys from Brazil or Outbreak. Follow all school-wide procedures including the use of parental permission slips if necessary.

After each showing, designated students can lead a discussion about the film:

  • Was the movie accurate?
  • Is there a message or moral?
  • How does this movie make you feel and/or think?
  • Does the film add educational value?
  • If an older film, should it be remade? If so, how?

The Value of Older Movies

There are many older, classic films that were intended to make the audience think:

  • On the Beach – about the lives of people innocently caught up in World War III and facing death from a radiation cloud in Australia.
  • The Cure – how two boys deal with terminal illness.
  • Ship of Fools – demonstrates superb character development among a widely diverse group of passengers.
  • Voyage of the Damned – the true story of German Jews fleeing Nazi Germany but refused entry at Havana, Cuba
  • Immortal Beloved – the secret love of Ludwig Van Beethoven, highlights his erratic life through beautiful music.
  • Chariots of Fire – the story of runners working toward the Paris Olympics in post-World War I Britain and Scotland. A good example of character-education.
  • Dr. Zhivago – epic film of the lives of various people whose lives are caught up in the Russian Revolution and Civil War.
  • Lion of the Desert – the story of the brutal conquest of Libya by General Graziani.
  • The Fog of War – riveting documentary following James McNamara’s role in prolonging the war and destroying Vietnam.
  • Night of the Generals – This focuses on the psychological effects of war as seen through the actions of three generals, one of whom is a serial killer.
  • Seven Days in May – a fictional story of how the military could take over the government (released in 1964).

There are many more that can be used to stimulate discussion and bring together different teaching disciplines. It is a good idea not to select recent movies because the audience would be very familiar with the plot. Classic movies, though lacking technological wonders, frequently compensate with excellent screenplays and terrific acting. Avoid long films like Gone With the Wind or The Ten Commandments!

Bringing the Community Together

Enlist the assistance of parents and alumni in facilitating discussion groups and bringing past, personal experiences with older, less-known movies to the forefront. It should be noted that too often teachers may reference an older movie yet most of the students in the classroom may have never see or heard of the film. Film festivals are one part in bridging that gap.

Film festivals can be successfully conducted in individual classes, by disciplinary department, or as a school-wide event. Classic films have gained renewed popularity and in many cases add to discussions of social and cultural history. In some cases, individual editions of longer docudramas will be sufficient: showing parts of Roots, for example, helps facilitate studies of the Atlantic slave trade.

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