Film in the composition classroom
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Film in the composition classroom l.jpg
Film in the composition classroom

  • Goals:

    • Reduce student resistance to analyzing film

    • Demonstrate ways to prepare students for film analysis

    • Make in-class discussions of film more specific and more textually-based

    • Recommend basic film concepts to use with our students

    • Provide independent exercises for analyzing the moving image


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Film in the composition classroom

  • “[F]ilm has been used as a pedagogical tool in many writing classes, but little has been written about actual classroom practice or about the theories underlying its use. As a result, most English teachers don’t know much about how other teachers use film. The professional conversation about film’s place in the writing class generally stops at the level of the classrooms themselves and the hallways outside of them.”

    --Johanna Schmertz, “Filmcomp: Reframing Writing Pedagogy through Film”

  • Question: What positive experiences have you had with film in the composition classroom? What are the negatives or challenges that you have experienced?


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Film in the composition classroom

  • Issue: Film is first and foremost a pleasurable experience (“just entertainment”), and analysis disrupts the affective experience of viewing.

  • Solution: The affective response to film is a type of theoretical response, but it needs to be theorized.

    - Move out of “like/dislike” and into more analytical terrain such as (for instance) identification/distance.

  • Give students access to cinematic language that will allow them to theorize their affective responses to film.

    - “disorienting” / “sentimental” (camera angles? music? editing? perspective? cinematic space?)


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Preparing students to screen films

  • Theory readings

    - Opportunity to analyze primary and secondary texts together

    - Gives students a “lens” through which to view the film

  • Places to look: MLA, Humanities Abstracts, Academic Search Premier, J-STOR


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Preparing students to screen films

  • Reviews/Critical Reception

    - In the absence of theory readings, reviews can give students a sense of the public reception of a film and potentially locate critical issues to explore

  • Places to look: Academic Search Premier, LexisNexis, imdb.com, film criticism databases (Journalism Library)



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Preparing students to screen films

  • Focus your students’ attention on key issues before the screening.

  • [ex., Dave handout]


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Leading Film Discussion

  • Issue: Discussion of film tends to be general, plot-based, and relies upon our students’ memories of the previous screening day.

  • Solution 1: Give the film a referential presence in your classroom by requiring students to take notes during the film screening.

  • Use the language of WA: “Identify visual/aural/textual repetitions, strands, binaries and anomalies in your notes.”

  • Model this practice yourself!


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Leading Film Discussion

  • Solution 2: Make the film a referential presence in the classroom (i.e., bring it back into the classroom on discussion day).

  • Review key scenes (practice close reading strategies)

  • Have students identify scenes that would serve as evidence for a particular claim, and analyze those sequences

  • Model how students might “notice and focus” on particular elements to write a specific and detailed final paper.


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Leading Film Discussion

  • Solution 3: Use screenshot capture technology to create PowerPoint slides that can navigate students through scenes.

  • Several programs available online (most with trial periods).

    - Google search on “screen capture program” will turn up several examples.

    - Recommended: www.any-capture.com

  • [ex., Andy PowerPoint]


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Independent Film Analysis

  • What film analysis skills can be distilled and transferred to our students for their analysis?

  • Perspective/P.O.V

  • Though whose “eyes” am I seeing?

  • Is it objective (not linked to a character) or subjective (limited by a character’s perspective)?

  • With whom am I asked to identify? With whom am I asked to not identify?

  • Where would I imagine the camera to be in these shots?

  • Is it ever above or below the subject of the shot? Tilted?

  • Is the motion of the camera steady, or is it unstable?


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Independent Film Analysis

  • Mise-en-scene

  • How would I describe the setting of the scene? What elements give this setting a “feel,” or a sense of “place”?

  • What props or set pieces are present in this sequence? Are they significant?

  • How would I describe the costuming in this sequence?

  • What can I see in the frame of the picture?

  • Is my interest drawn to any visual element?

  • Can I see elements in the background, or are they blurry?

  • How far back can I see in the frame (depth of field)?

  • Are any colors or textures repeated visually?


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Independent Film Analysis

  • Sound

  • What is the role of music in this film? How does it make me feel? What associations does it create in my mind?

  • Is there a melodic line in the music, or does it feel more disjointed?

  • Are there any sequences that emphasize silence, or absence of sound or music?

  • Does the music “match up” with what I see on the screen?

  • How are sound effects utilized in this film? Are any sounds repeated?

  • Is the dialogue steady? Overlapping? Is all of the dialogue taking place on the screen? Does any take place off screen?


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Independent Film Analysis

  • Editing

  • How long in duration are most of the shots?

  • At what points are the shots, or “takes” longer than others? How does this make a difference?

  • Is the editing rhythmic, or in tune with music?

  • Does the editing make me comfortable or confused?

  • Does the editing follow a logical progression, or does it feel like some spaces in time are “left out”?

  • Are the transitions between scenes a simple “cut,” or are there dissolves, or black outs?


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Independent Film Analysis

  • Film Analysis Exercise 1

  • Theorizing identification/distance:

  • “Stop the film in the middle and ask students to describe where their allegiances lie, with what character or situation; have them enumerate the evidence that sways them. Repeat the exercise at the end of the film, but this time have the students also determine how and why the new evidence shapes the final outcome. This initial exercise can further develop into a piece that analyzes types of evidence and their impact on positionality, voice and point of view.”

    --from Dulce Cruz, “Mapping the Use of Feature Films in Composition Classes”


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Independent Film Analysis

  • Film Analysis Exercise 2:

  • Reading texts in layers (sound/visual):

  • Step 1, Sound: Play a selected scene with the picture turned off. Ask your students to pay attention to the use of sound (music, sound effects, dialogue) in this sequence. Discuss.

  • Step 2, Visual: Play the scene again with the sound turned off. Ask your students to pay attention to the visual elements (mise-en-scene, camera angles, editing)

  • Step 3, Integration: Play the scene again with both elements. Discuss how sound and visual work together (or in dissonance) to achieve a particular experience.


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Independent Film Analysis

  • Film Analysis Exercise 3:

  • Isolating cinematic elements:

  • Divide your class into four groups, and assign each a particular element (perspective/p.o.v., mise-en-scene, sound, editing) to focus upon when viewing the film scene.

  • After viewing the scene, have the groups each develop a claim based on the cinematic element that they have been assigned.

  • As a class, discuss each claim and try to pull together a broader claim that integrates elements of each individual claim.


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