Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Academic Films in the Classroom: A History

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Academic Films in the Classroom: A History

Article excerpt

Academic Films in the Classroom: A History Geoff Alexander, Academic Films in the Classroom: A History. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2010. 233 pp. $55.00 USD (Hardcover) ISBN: 978 0 78645 870 7

Like most Baby Boomers, my public school days included the 16 mm "educational film," remembered as much for the teachers fumbling as they tried to thread the projector or the clattering of the film and off-centre imaging when the film wasn't threaded properly. But there were some triumphs too.

I still remember a film narrated by Lorne Greene in high school biology class on the Arid Lands Ecology project at the nearby Hanford Atomic Works in Washington State. Some of the reason I remember it is no doubt due to the fact that it wasn't every day that Ben Cartwright talked about a place close to home (I remember that I wondered naively if Greene had perhaps visited my hometown?). I also remember the startling clarity of the photography and the cinematography--its production quality rivaled that of mainstream films (or that's how I remember it, anyway). It definitely helped spawn and nourish my love of local ecology.

I also have little doubt that at least part of the reason I now employ films in my own classes comes from the fact that films had become an accepted part of my life, whether going to the movies after school or watching "films" in school. Films had totally integrated themselves into my generation's lives.

Alexander wrote this book for a number of reasons. As the country races towards total digitalization, celluloid films are vanishing as fast as blacksmiths and boot blacks--and getting the word out is a big part of the book's purpose and appeal (3, 7). I agree with Alexander that academic film is an ignored genre (undeservedly so), as this kind of film is important in its own right (3). Multiple generations remember this medium as an integral part of their schooling, and in the 1950s through the 1980s, it was still possible to see quality films in an educational setting.

The book does an excellent job in matching the epochs of the U.S. with the educational films produced during those times. For example, as Alexander relates, there was the expected tension in the so-called "progressive era" (1960s) of filmmaking, between the bottom-line concerns of the producers and film companies and the needs of the director and artistic voices (52). …

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