Create a Film Festival

Raph here.

The strategy I will be using to teach Dr. Strangelove for my unit on Comedy comes from the New York Times website. In this lesson, students discuss different themes and create film festivals based on a topic. Since Dr. Strangelove is a comedy about the Cold War, the main topic of this exercise will be War. Students are to compose lists of relevant films to be screened in pamphlets and postcards publicizing their events.

In groups, students will organize movies around a common theme: War. This exercise will let the students learn about a variety of films that pertain to this topic. They will research films that relate to War and create  pamphlets explaining how these films embody the concept. As the teacher, I will have to provide information on what a film festival is. I will use Cannes and Sundance as examples.

To me, this feels like a fully engaging activity that allows the students to be creative. They will have access to the internet and other resources so that they can research relevant films. The Internet Movie Database is one such resource.

I was also thinking of using a strategy described as Lights, Camera, Action… Music to teach Dr. Strangelove. This strategy allows for students to critique films using sight and sound. They are to compare and contrast images on the screen with the music used in the film score. This would be perfect for Dr. Strangelove considering that the opening title sequence shows an image of impending war–a B-52 bomber being fueled in the air–while romantic lounge music plays. I would be able to ask students why the director chose to use this music to play over this particular image. Why does it or doesn’t it work?

More will be explained on Tuesday. I look forward to hearing suggestions and comments.



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7 responses to “Create a Film Festival

  1. sunyprof

    Raph, these are wonderful ideas for lessons. How exciting. My only caveat is that this little seminar on Tues. is focused on reading “strategies,” not what I see here as full-blown lesson plans for teaching with film.

    Your film festival idea is great but it’s not an example of a reading strategy. Do you see what I mean? The second example is also a fine lesson.

    I encourage you to work up a strategy that focuses film analysis (visual literacies). This is a great website I encourage you to bookmark for now and future reference.

    This Dartmouth College Writing Program blog also has some of examples of what I would call stategies to read and write about films. Scroll down and take a look at the annotation strategy.

    This is another good site for information about reading films. It also has links to great resources for teachers I found. You may have already seen all of these suggestions but I know how interested you are in this topic and your enthusiasm is infectious.

    Do plan to share the plans you have been working on along with an example or two of a strategy you find.

    Isn’t that NYTimes lesson plan bank wonderful!! KES

  2. traverse02

    I guess I am confused about what constitutes a strategy. Doesn’t a strategy allow students a way to approach a text? How do these activities not manage for students to approach the film, especially the second one which was listed on a website of strategies? I can see where the Film Festival might not be a strategy, but it still allows the students to think of the subject of the film in different ways, by researching other films that deal with the subject of war but from different angles (think of classic war films, and contemporary thrillers, how the subject matter can be more serious or more lighthearted). It shows them that there are different ways writers can approach one subject. The second activity I mentioned is a strategy. It has the students pick apart the scene, the images and the music, to see if they can come to an idea of what it might mean. These lessons provide strategies for reading and were both listed on websites that you provided. I’ve even looked at the sites you just listed above and fail to see where I’ve come up short. If you can offer any clarification as to how these activities do not offer strategies for reading, I will be happy to take your advice.

  3. sofiapenna

    Raph, just as a side-note, I thought of you while I was reading Ch. 15 in Beers. Have you read the discussion on page 237 about expanded notions of text?
    “The texts students find immediately rewarding lean toward the humorous – be they cartoons, jokes, or gags…Visual texts such as movies, magazines, and graphic novels offer various kinds of visual assistance to help the reader comprehend complicated issues or plots.”

    I think your unit plan on humor, which pulls in music and video, really compliments this discussion in Beers. You’ve got great ideas.

    I took a loot at the read-write-think web and did a search for reading strategies. Have you checked out the Focus on First Lines strategy? I think this might fit in with what you’re trying to accomplish in your unit on humor. In short, students are asked to read the opening lines of texts and stop there. Based on those first few words, students are asked to make predictions about the rest of the text. I’ve copied the theory behind this strategy for you below:

    “In When Kids Can’t Read, Kylene Beers explains, “Skilled readers consciously try to anticipate what the text is about before they begin reading. They look at the cover, art, title, genre, author, headings, graphs, charts, length, print size, front flaps, and back covers. . . . They do anything to find out something before they begin reading. Dependent readers, on the other hand, often don’t do that; they are told to read something, and once the text is in hand, they just begin” (74). The comprehension strategy outlined in this lesson interrupts the habits of dependent readers by asking them to focus their attention on what they can tell from the first lines of a story, play, poem, or other text.”

    Hope that helps? -Sofia

  4. traverse02

    Thank you, Sofia. That definitely helps. I have read the chapter in Beers and it reaffirms my belief in teaching the material I have chosen. As for the Focus on First Line strategy, I have thought about using that as a way to read into the opening credits of Dr. Strangelove; its imagery in contrast to the music really offers a good opportunity for writing/discussion where students can predict or hypothesize about issues this film will address (Analysis of the title ‘Strangelove’ and the image of a giant war machine being fueled with music suggesting romance provides great material to work with to get the kids thinking of war in a completely different way). The activity I outlined in my post would be a really good way to introduce this strategy to students.

    How do you feel about the Festival activity? I think it would introduce great reading/research strategies to students. By actively seeking out other films dealing with the subject of war, students can get a sense of where Dr. Strangelove fits in film history (contextuality). I am most interested in the prospect of the finished product, the pamphlets and cards, a tangible work that shows how they have learned to describe the similarities, the differences, etc.

    I will use the First Line strategy in conjunction with the Music activity, but I still think highly of the Film Festival. Any suggestions on how to describe the strategies it would incorporate? The article on the NYTimes website stated it was a strategy, but I do see where it would be more of an activity or ‘lesson.’

    Anyways, thank you again.


  5. sunyprof

    Raph, I think you misunderstood my comments. I was not suggesting that you not use the lesson activities you explain here for your seminar–in fact I was very excited about these plans–only that you shine a lens on at least one specific comprehension strategy for reading films. I might have also suggested you use more than one text (Dr. Strangelove) from your unit to illustrate command of a variety of reading strategies for your seminar.

    When I developed this assignment, I expected most seminars to focus on strategizing the reading of print texts. Your investigations of how to develop activities for “reading” multimodal texts just takes the assignment to a new level.

    I think the difference is that the activities you describe have more macro impact; whereas the strategies assignment is designed to focus not on the bigger picture but on the smaller unit, that is, the act of comprehending that which may be challenging to students in unit texts.

    I assume most presenters will use several different texts and strategies to support reading those texts. But that is only a suggestion, not a requirement.

    I would call your film festival a key project your students would work on throughout the unit. It has significant tangible products–the pamphlets and the postcards–in contrast to a strategy-driven lesson, the end result of which is more comprehension of a particular piece of text.

    The difference may be more one of semantics than anything else. The Beach essay (HO) does a nice job talking about strategies and practices. Have you had a chance to get at it? I wonder how it works with application to film for you?

    I do think some of the material on the sites I posted does offer strategies that fit this definition. For example, the film annotation strategy from the blog:

    “Whenever you prepare to write a paper, you take notes. However, when analyzing a film, you may want to take a very particular sort of notes in which you annotate a shot sequence or scene.

    Annotating a scene involves labeling each shot in a sequence. For example, a scene may begin with an establishing shot, which segues into a dolly shot. The dolly shot comes to rest in a medium shot of the main character, who is looking off frame. Next comes a reverse angle subjective close-up shot, which dissolves into a montage.

    Labeling each of these shots – preferably using a system of abbreviations for efficiency’s sake – enables you to keep track of the complex sequence of shots. When you review your annotations, you might see a pattern of camera movement and editing decisions (or, on the other hand, some unusual variation in the pattern) that better helps you to understand 1) how the director crafted his film, and 2) why the film has a certain effect on the audience.”

    This would be an example of how you might strategize with students how to read a particular scene in a film. It’s nowhere near as exciting as your film festival for example, but it is what it is–an opportunity to teach a particular skill.

    The purpose of this assignment is 50% the research — designed to help us all think about ways to engage readers, ways to develop lessons–and 50% executing those strategies crisply with your participants. It looks to me as if you have been diligent about your research. Now I look forward to your being effective in your “teaching” on Tues night. I am assuming you want to work in a smart room to be able to show a clip from Strangelove.

    I had an email from a former grad student today–now teaching 8th and 12th grade English. He said that he was doing pretty well at getting reluctant readers to like reading but that he was having a hard time teaching “meaningful, useful skills,” esp. to his 8th graders. In part, he means he’s having a hard time developing strategies for engaging kids in meaningful ways to strategize responses to difficult texts they must read in or out of school.

    He described a “coffee hour” he’s instituted where students read poetry, bits of fiction, or non-fiction, songs, etc. to their classmates. He says that’s going well. Now that’s what I would call a “practice,” esp. if he repeats it weekly or bi-weekly througout the year.

    Sofia, thank you for your very good suggestions and for calling attention to the Beers’ chapter. Excellent example.

    Raph, you’ve been most ambitious–in fact, you could take any number of strategies in the appendices of Atwell or Beers and do a terrific seminar–as long as you’ve investigated the web sites I laid out–for your own interest.

    The goal Tues. night is to show skill at planning a way into or through text for students….KES

  6. traverse02

    Just to clarify, this isn’t the only text I am using. I thought we were to introduce, via the blog, one of the strategies that we’ll be using with one of the texts from our text set. We are going over three strategies using three different texts from our unit on Tuesday night, correct? Is the First Line strategy alright to use? Also, are there any strategies you can find that are implicit in the Film Festival activity? I would certainly like to use that at some point

  7. sunyprof

    Raph, I think you can use any strategy that helps students read/evaluate films in the film festival activity. Strategies can be embedded in any activity that focuses on comprehending a complex text. When you use such any strategy, you are focusing at the micro level–of comprehension– within a larger vision of how students might view and select films for a “festival” on a particular topic of interest.

    You do not have to use 3 different texts for your seminar. But you can of course. Re: the first line strategy–the question I would ask is what text are you using it to read and why does it help to make that text accessible to “readers?”

    The goal, of course, is that the strategy fit the text you are using. Some common strategies (like creating Venn diagrams to mark comparison/contrast in a text, or annotating texts using sticky notes, or using a jigsaw method to collaborate on reading a particular piece, or the SQR3 (survey, question, read, recite, review) method that Mandy shared last week, etc.) are pretty useful for most texts. Others would be more text specific.

    One way to think about reading strategies that’s helpful to me is that they make the implict (what good readers take for granted when they read and comprehend a text) explicit in ways that enable less able (although not always) readers to be more metacognitive and monitor their own reading comprehension. KES

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