BFI Education: Reel Literacy for the 21st Century

By Reid, Mark | NATE Classroom, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

BFI Education: Reel Literacy for the 21st Century


Reid, Mark, NATE Classroom


'In the same way that we take for granted that society has a responsibility to help children to read and write--to use and enjoy words--we should take it for granted that we help children and young people to use, enjoy, and understand the moving image; not just to be technically capable but to be culturally literate too.'

(From the Foreword to Film: 21st Century Literacy)

Film: 21st Century Literacy is a strategy for promoting and developing education about film across the UK (the Strategy document is available at http://www.21stcenturyliteracy. org.uk/). It was published by a consortium of film education organisations funded by the UK Film Council in June 2008 and in January this year it began its work. The headline idea is that for the first time, five organisations--BFI, Film Education, Film Club, First Light Movies, and Skillset--that each deliver film education funded by UKFC, will closely align their work; below that, the group has 750,000 [pounds sterling] to spend over three years to build a case for major long term investment in an infrastructure for film education.

But the central idea is that if literacy, in one definition, is 'the ability to fully participate in a culture', then one can't be truly literate in the twenty first century without having access to, and being to analyse and create, film.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Film clubs

Access first. From September last year, schools have been able to set up after-school clubs for film-savvy children, by accessing rental DVDs through Love Film. Film Club (www.filmclub. org) is the DCSF-funded organisation supporting these clubs, and they aim to have 1,000 clubs running by the end of this academic year.

Their aim is to broaden the range of film seen by children, going beyond the blockbusters typically put in front of them, and beyond too 'the popcorn factor' whereby film is saved as a treat or wet playtime filler. Evidence so far is that children, as usual, buck our expectations, and are receptive to non-Hollywood fare, and respond readily to more challenging or sophisticated material.

Of course, school access to film through cinemas has been going a lot longer; Film Education continues to grow National Schools Film Week (every October) with smaller programmes throughout the year. There are five film festivals aimed at children and young people across the UK: Cinemagic, Discovery, Showcomotion, and festivals in Leeds and London. But beyond these beacons there is still only a very narrow range of film available to children through cinemas.

Reframing literacy

But it's inside the curriculum where the big opportunities for film lie. Nearly all children in the country follow literacy or English lessons as a mandatory part of the curriculum for a minimum couple of hours a week. A reframing of literacy that welcomed film would mean all children having access to a wider range of texts on a regular basis--and beyond the stock of film versions of more famous, and more highly valued, books.

This is work that BFI has pioneered over the last five years at least, with our DVD compilations of short films (Starting Stories 1 and 2; Story Shorts 1 and 2; and Moving, Screening, and Real Shorts. All searchable via Google and often available from the NATE catalogue!). Each compilation features short, repeatable, films from across the world but also from the UK's film heritage (see below) which offer intense experiences more akin to poetry than feature films.

For the past three years, we've worked directly with over 60 local authorities to train lead literacy and English teachers in the 'story shorts' approach and now over 2,000 teachers are developing curriculum materials from Early Years to KS3. The evaluation of the programme found that teachers wanted more--more films, a more substantial grasp of film language and a better sense of children's learning progression--so we've approached DCSF to help extend the work and give it more bite and more comprehensive coverage. …

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