Magazine article Journal of Film Preservation

Statement on the Use of Video in the Classroom

Magazine article Journal of Film Preservation

Statement on the Use of Video in the Classroom

Article excerpt

Note of the Editors

The following text was originally published in Cinema Journal (Vol. 30, No. 4, Summer 1991, pages 3-6) as the result of a research undertaken in the United States by a working group within the Society of Cinema Studies. Since its appearance, the article has raised a much-needed discussion among film scholars and archivists about the use of non-film media for the study of photographic moving pictures. In the interest of such debate within FlAF membership, the SCS Statement is being reproduced here with the kind permission of the University of Illinois Press and the Board of Trustees of the Univesrsity of Illinois.

Over the past ten years, teachers of film courses have come under increasing pressure from budget-conscious school administrations to use video rather than film in the classroom. What was once a choice made by individual teachers has recently become more and more of a reluctant necessity; for a variety of reasons, the use of video rather than film has been forced upon teachers. In an attempt to deal with this problem, several SCS members have asked the Society to issue a «Statement on the Use of Video in the Classroom.» The statement that follows is designed for SCS members to use, if they wish, with their college administrations in petitioning for increased film rental or film purchase budgets. It is preceded by a rationale, directed to SCS members, that explains the problems the statement hopes to address.


As general university funds decrease and the cost of film rentals increase, rental budgets have either remained fixed at figures allocated years ago, which can no longer cover films for an entire semester, or they have been drastically cut. With little or no rental budget, educators are forced to restrict their course offerings in terms of the number of films shown or must restrict themselves to inexpensive titles, often compromising the integrity and/or quality of their courses. Or teachers are forced to use rented and/or purchased video. Even in instances when film rental budgets have not been frozen or cut, administrative investment in new, state-of-the-art video playback and projection equipment exerts subtle pressure on film teachers to make use of that highly expensive machinery in order to justify administrative expenditure. In this age of highly visible video distribution and exhibition, it becomes harder and harder to explain to administrators, who have themselves become renters of videos for their own use at home, the need for renting films-on-film at costs of $75 to $300 (or more) per title, when administrators can see many of those same titles on the shelves of their local video store renting for as little as 99 cents.

No film can be adequately represented by its video version. Administrators need to be made aware of the educational drawbacks involved in the teaching of film by showing films in video format only. For example, the transfer of film to video results in a noticeable degradation of the original film image, which possesses more information than a video image. In comparing film and video images, engineers have established the common measure of «scan lines». The term «scan lines», of course, has little relevance to film; it more accurately applies to video than to film, which has «grain» rather than «scan lines».

Standard (non-High Definition) American television possesses 525 scan lines or 106,745 «pixels», a term that refers to the separate dots or picture elements that make up a video image; but from 7 to 10 percent of this information never reaches the TV screen; in effect, there are only 485 lines of active picture scanning, the remaining lines being used for synchronization of the scanning process. 35-mm motion picture film, when translated into video equivalents, possesses 3,248 scan lines (or 7,069,230 pixels), while 16-mm film, which is more often used in the classroom than 35mm, is «equivalent» to over 1100 scan lines (or 532,836 pixels). …

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