Narrative and Documentary
Nearly all of our students come into the classroom with a history of going to the movies, and we suggest that teachers take advantage of this natural enthusiasm, transferring its energy to academic subjects.
Our documentary series also uses film as the basis for powerful lesson plans, however, this series was developed primarily for high school and college-age students.
Journeys in Film brings outstanding and socially relevant documentaries to the classroom. Our collection teaches about a broad range of social issues in real-life settings such as famine-stricken and war-torn Somalia, a maximum-security prison in Alabama, a World War II concentration camp near Prague, the youngest Nobel Peace Laureate, Malala Yousafzi, Race and Gender.
Journeys in Film guides help teachers integrate these films into their classrooms, examining complex issues, encouraging students to be active rather than passive viewers, and maximizing the power of film to enhance critical thinking skills and to meet the Common Core standards. In order to comply with today’s educational requirements, Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects have been developed for each guide.
The filmmaker almost always has an agenda with a point of view. In this series, we encourage at least one lesson to explore the filmmaker’s point of view on the subject of the film: Does it lead to distortion? How much faith can the viewer put in the film’s perspective on the subject? This is not to say we (or our students) should never trust a documentary film, only that we should examine the film’s and the filmmaker’s perspective to determine how much we accept their depiction of reality. This provokes interesting discussion and examination of the various definitions of “truth” we find around us in the media each day.
We may notice a clash between our own beliefs and those of the filmmaker that keeps us from accepting what is being presented, despite the ethical intent of the filmmaker. For example, would someone who adamantly believes that mankind plays no role whatsoever in climate change accept a National Geographic program that assumes the opposite point of view? For this reason, we encourage viewers to be aware of our own biases that may prevent us from accepting information that is honestly depicted in a film – a useful lesson about the filters we use everyday as we process information.
It is up to the teacher to help the viewer to be as aware as possible of the biases we bring to viewing a film in order to think critically about its point of view on a subject, as well as our own. Calling to mind that others may disagree with our conclusion is a good way to try to open students to the possibility that there is more to be considered than we thought on any given subject.
The strength of cinema in an academic setting
Media influences students’ lives more than almost anything else, outside family. Counterintuitive as it may seem, using popular films in our program works for students, particularly if the story is well told. Creative writing, mathematical concepts, scientific discoveries, and historical events can all come alive on the screen, making an otherwise potentially tedious subject more meaningful for students. Even films that are historically inaccurate can be a valuable teaching tool if teachers use the opportunity to have students research and debate the accuracies of the events portrayed in the film. It can also inspire them to watch similar movies to learn more about the subject.
The written word has long been the main vehicle for teaching and learning. Films have much in common with books in the way they tell stories. They are as layered and nuanced with the same elements of analysis as great works of literature. Moreover, they are not only their own discipline—the dramatic and cinematic arts—but also supportive of all content areas. In addition, the power of a visually rich story engages audiences and can often convey a message more effectively than printed or spoken words.
According to the Social Science Research Network, 65 percent of people are visual learners. For these visual learners, film can often convey a message better than printed or spoken words. Furthermore, film scenes can offer visual examples of abstract concepts and bring lessons to life that could otherwise be difficult to grasp.
Students seldom need to be coaxed into watching film—it is a medium that evokes emotion and provokes stimulating discussion both inside and outside of the classroom, thus increasing the likelihood of understanding and analyzing concepts.