Teaching film in modern languages

Date: 19 June, 2009
Location: University of Bristol, School of Modern Languages, 19 Woodland Road, Lecture Theatre 1 (access through the entrance to the Arts Faculty, 5-7 Woodland Road) 
Event type: Symposium

Programme | Event report

students in class

Past event summary

This one-day symposium is organised by the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies in collaboration with colleagues from the Departments of French and Italian at the University of Bristol.

The conference will bring together colleagues interested in the teaching of film from departments of modern languages and departments of film studies in order to share good practice and move on debates in key areas. These areas include:

  • Helping students to work with material artefacts and using these in assessment
  • Teaching ‘minor’ cinemas
  • New approaches to formal analysis
  • Teaching non-feature films: eg. documentary, short films, animation

Organizers: Catherine O’Rawe (Italian), Derek Duncan (Italian), Nick Rees-Roberts (French)

Workshop fee

There is no charge to attend for employees and postgraduate students of publicly funded UK educational institutions. The fee for employees and postgraduate students of private institutions/organisations and non-UK institutions is £40.
Lunch will be provided. We reserve the right to charge a £50.00 non-attendance fee.

Travel bursary

A travel bursary is available for this event.

Programme for 19 June 2009
Time Session
10.30 - 11.00 Registration and coffee
11.00 - 12.00

Panel Session 1: New issues in national cinemas

Mexican documentary filmmaking today
Miriam Haddu (Royal Holloway):
Powerpoint Documentary filmmaking from Mexico (Powerpoint, 256Kb)

Architecture and intercultularity in new Danish cinema
Claire Thomson (UCL):

12.00 - 13.00

Is Chinese star a star?: Challenges in teaching foreign (or minority?) stardom in the UK
Sabrina Yu (Newcastle University):
Powerpoint Is Chinese star a star? (Powerpoint,19.4Mb)

Subtitling as addition, substraction, multiplication and division
Carol O’Sullivan (University of Portsmouth)

13.00 - 14.00 Lunch
14.00 - 15.15

Panel Session 2: Bringing theory and practice together

Film practice as film studies
Richard Misek (University of Bristol)

Critical practice in film and video pedagogy
Elspeth Kydd (University of the West of England):

Powerpoint Critical practice in film and video pedagogy (Powerpoint, 292Kb)

Will Higbee (University of Exeter)

15.15 - 15.30 Coffee
15.30 - 16.45

Panel Session 3: Issues in the Use of Material Artefacts
Objects and Objectives:
Teaching and Assessment with Material Culture Artefacts

Helen Hanson (University of Exeter):

Powerpoint Objects and objectives – using artefacts in assessment (Powerpoint, 1.1Mb)

Over Here: Tracking Foreign Language Film Cultures in Britain
Phil Wickham (Bill Douglas Centre, University of Exeter)

The BBFC and Film Classification in the UK
Mark Piper (British Board of Film Classification)

Event report: Teaching film in modern languages

by Victoria Pastor-González

Panel Session 1: New issues in national cinemas

Miriam Haddu, Royal Holloway: Mexican Documentary Filmmaking Today

Miriam Haddu offered a very interesting overview of the problems and challenges involved in designing an entirely new module on Mexican Documentary that she will be offering from this coming September. The module will be open to students taking a BA in Combined Modern Languages or a BA in Film with a Modern Language

She started by giving a brief summary of her current teaching at Royal Holloway and explained how this new module on Mexican Documentary addresses a growing interest in this mode of filmmaking. For her, it is also a new area of research and she highlighted the pedagogical advantages of research-informed teaching: students get expert knowledge and cutting edge teaching; it fosters a culture of discussion and it encourages exploration of new ideas.

She then offered a detailed explanation of the teaching methods she will be using for this module. Her first intention is to involve her students, through the study of relevant texts, in a critical analysis of the nature of documentaries and the representation of reality, whilst making them familiar with the theoretical framework relevant to the subject (of which she offered a rather comprehensive summary). As an example, she showed how a clip from the documentary En el Hoyo (In the Pit) (2006) can be used to discuss methods of documentary making and the role of the director.

Some of the problems Miriam envisages with this module relate to accessibility of the texts, language and lack of secondary sources, although she has had to deal with these problems in the past and suggested several good solutions.

Architecture and interculturality in new danish cinema

Claire Thomson, University College London

Claire Thomson started by offering an overview of the course she is currently teaching in the Department of Scandinavian Studies at UCL, and a brief summary of the difficulties of teaching a course that crams the cinema of five different countries into a very limited space of time. She pointed out that making students aware of intercultural issues was paramount for a university such as UCL that markets itself as London’s Global University.

She then went on to analyse issues of interculturality in Denmark. As a starting point she referred to the recent creation of a Danish cultural canon. In 2004 the Danish Minister of Culture, Brian Mikkelsen, appointed a group of experts to compile a list of the greatest, most important works of Denmark's cultural heritage, including, books, films, architectural landmarks, etc. The list was finally published in 2006, and not without controversy, as reflected in Claire’s example of Lars von Trier’s reaction to the list.

In her classes, Claire wants to address and discuss this notion of a canonical work of art, and particularly how certain architectural landmarks have been identified by the canon as containing the essence of the nation. Although she mentioned housing estates as one of the architectural spaces she analyses, her main example for the presentation was the Øresund Bridge that links the Danish and Swedish coasts. In the clip that she showed, the bridge is not presented as an essentially Danish landmark, but more as a space for cross-border relations and intercultural conflict.

Is chinese star a star? challenges in teaching foreign (or minority?) stardom in the uk

Sabrina Yu, Newcastle University

Sabrina Yu started her presentation in a very direct and practical manner, by showing the audience some pictures of Chinese film stars and asking if they could recognise and name them or any of the films in which they had starred. The half-hearted answer she got to this question illustrated one of the key issues in teaching foreign stardom in the UK: the students are simply unaware of the identity of these actors. Further to this, even if they are able to recognise them by name, they are mostly unable to grasp the cultural and social significance of these stars in their countries of origin.

Sabrina then offered a few examples of how she addresses these problems in the classroom. For example, she compared some Chinese stars with some well-known Western movie icons, such as Vivien Leigh. More interestingly, she invites her students to work with secondary texts such as fan websites, or the stars’ personal blogs to make the students aware of the importance of these actors, and also to explore issues of the star’s off-screen persona, star image and star phenomena.

This approach was possible with some of the Chinese actors that have achieved international recognition, such as Maggie Cheung, but Sabrina recognised that in order to explore more local stars she needs to provide her students with some cultural references and linguistic tools, although her task is made easier by the fact that most of her students are also studying Chinese language and culture.    

Subtitling as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division

Carol O’Sullivan, University of Portsmouth

Carol O’Sullivan is a Lecturer in Translation Studies and in her presentation she explored how subtitles interact with the film. She briefly used the concepts of addition and subtraction to offer an overview of some of the theory related to the subject matter. She then concentrated on the issue of subtitles as multiplication of the text, and how subtitles cope with films that contain several spoken languages.

In some cases, subtitles are physically multiplying languages on the screen. As an example, Claire showed a clip of Le Fate Ignoranti (2001), an Italian film by a Turkish-origin director. In that clip, the characters switch from Italian into Turkish to discuss a member of the family, thus turning the language into a private space in which they can discuss an experience of trauma. Claire uses the fact that original Italian subtitles compete for screen space with the English subtitles and the slight differences in meaning between the two translations to raise several questions about the unobtrusiveness of subtitles, and the process of translating and inserting the subtitles into the film.

Sometimes subtitles can actually erase the multiplicity of languages on the screen and she used as an example a clip from the German film Kameradschaft (1931) where the fact that a German and a French character are making the effort to speak in each other’s language is lost in the English subtitles. Her final clip, from Night on Heart showed an example of the impossibility to translate puns.

It all comes down to the fact that she has to convince her students that writing subtitles is a rather complex exercise that requires more than a simple translation of the original text.

Panel Session 2: Bringing theory and practice together

Richard Misek, University of Bristol: Film Practice as Film Studies

Richard Misek’s talk concentrated on the advantages of including film practice into film studies degrees. One of the main obstacles to achieve this is that traditionally film theory and film practice have been treated as two independent activities and therefore taught in separate institutions and by different people. According to Richard this is a mistake and we should improve the communication between academics and practitioners.  Within academic courses, Richard suggests that the students should get involved in producing some short practical exercises, and through them, engage critically with the process of filmmaking. In his course, he asks students to produce single shots, for example a tempogram that functions as a still photograph plus time. This exercise prompts discussions on practical issues, but also develops into discussions about theoretical issues, for example the use of the zoom in films from the 1970s. The students also meditated on the relation between image and music/sound through a practical exercise in which each student would add a different musical extract to the same scene. Finally, Richard also involved the students in an editing exercise in which each student would edit the same footage in different ways, which prompted discussions on film narrative. For Richard, all these exercises help students improve their visual literacy and facilitate their understanding of modern communication society.

For next year Richard is planning to ask his students to film, in groups, a scene from a script also written by students. He will give a different set of instructions to each group and the final works will be discussed in class.

Critical practice in film and video pedagogy

Elspeth Kydd, University of the West of England

As an experienced teacher, Elspeth Kydd showed in her presentation how an educational model based on critical practice can be applied to the teaching of film. She started the presentation with a brief summary of the circular way in which students acquire knowledge depending on their individual capacities, and how a teaching strategy that combines theory and practice allows the teacher to address the students’ different learning styles.

Our pedagogical approach today is also influenced by previous knowledge about media language and media practice that our students already possess. For Elspeth this previous knowledge is an advantage because it allows the teacher to go straight into discussion about meaning making and the kind of ideology at work in media production. Equally, the students are already theorising about media in their daily lives and the course should provide the language to discuss those critical issues in a meaningful way.

Like Richard previously, Elspeth emphasised the need to bridge the traditional gap between practice and theory in film and media studies. For Elspeth, introducing practice into more theoretical courses is a way of making the students move beyond the passivity, because to become an active participant in the communication process can be a very rewarding experience. For students who are in a more practically-oriented course, to be able to use theory helps them to verbalise the self-critical process and also generates new and interesting discussions about the question of authorial intentionality. 

Integrating theory with practice in film studies

Will Higbee, University of Exeter

Although very much in line with the two previous talks, Will Higbee’s presentation added the point of view of the academic rather than the practitioner’s to the issue of how to integrate theory with practice. He also concentrated on the advantages of a course such as the one offered at Exeter University whose ethos ‘is driven by integrating theory and practice not only at programme level, but also at module level’.

Like Richard and Elspeth before, Will pointed out that this integration of the two elements is only made possible by the relatively cheap and essentially user friendly technology, both for the filming and editing processes, available nowadays.

More interestingly, Will spoke of the way the course is structured and taught at Exeter University. The students on the 1st and 2nd year have the opportunity to take a module in “group or independent filmmaking” and in the final year the students can produce a dissertation film. For all these projects the students receive support and feedback from both an academic and a practitioner, through a combination of seminars, workshops and lectures. In the first two years, the practical side of the course is largely determined by theoretical issues. For example, if the students are exploring the language and aesthetics of film noir, then they will have to produce a short film that follows those conventions. After these more guided exercises, students in their final year are given the opportunity to develop their own projects for the dissertation film. Will ended his talk by showing two short films by students on his course. This prompted an extremely interesting discussion of the type of assessment method and criteria most suitable for this kind of work. 

Panel Session 3: Issues in the use of material artefacts

Objects and objectives: teaching and assessment with material culture artefacts

Helen Hanson, University of Exeter

Helen Hanson’s presentation concentrated on the very interesting collaboration between the Bill Douglas Centre and the University of Exeter. Situated within the University Campus, the Bill Douglas Centre houses an impressive collection of film-related artefacts, from fan magazines to toys, or cameras, some of which Helen uses to structure her lectures and students’ assessed work. She explained that she may use, for example, a cover of Life magazine showing a close-up of Marilyn Monroe to discuss issues related to modes of representation in the 1960s, or a Jaws bath toy to consider the rise of the Hollywood blockbuster.

Helen gave some examples of this pedagogical approach within the context of her module on screen adaptation, but the most interesting issue was related to the reaction of the students to this new experience. She spoke about how the use of these objects often opens new lines of enquiry for the students and that they relished the opportunity to put on a pair of gloves and touch the artefact. 

As a conclusion, Helen pointed out that this methodology of working with artefacts can be used by anyone, since most of the Bill Douglas’ collection has been digitally photographed and it is accessible via the EVE: Everyone's Virtual Exhibition website.

Over here: tracking foreign language film cultures in britain

Phil Wickham, Bill Douglas Centre, University of Exeter

Phil Wickham is the curator of the Bill Douglas Centre and in his presentation he used several objects from the collection to explore the reception of foreign films in England.

He first showed a 1925 programme for a film society that worked also as a manifesto. The text clearly emphasises the early division between film as an art form and commercial film, and also lists some of the experiments in film-making that were carried out at the same time in other countries. Also, the use of foreign language titles gave an aura of intellectual superiority and seriousness to the society’s activities.

He also showed an editorial from the magazine Film and Filming as a way to illustrate how from the 1950s through to the late 1980s, the intellectual sectors of British society identified themselves with foreign film culture in opposition to their own culture to the extent that British culture became devalued by that audience. However, as the big auteurs traditionally related to the culture of art film started to fade away, a new concept appeared in the form of world cinema, and Phil illustrated its rise with a cover of Sight and Sound magazine from the early 2000s showing the director Wong Kar-wai.  He also used that cover to suggest that from the early 1990s the interest of art-film audiences shifted from Europe to Asia.

Phil also mentioned that objects such as press books and other types of merchandise can be a useful tool to explore marketing issues and potential audiences.

Phil ended his talking by reminding the audience that the Bill Douglas Collection is open to anyone who is interested in the world of film, and also welcomed any film scholars working in the West Country to join their regional network, Screen Studies South West, and collaborate with their research projects.

The BBFC and film classification in the UK

Mark Piper, British Board of Film Classification

Mark began his talk by offering a brief summary of the legal framework that supports and justifies the activities of the BBFC, and also spoke of the rather uncertain future of this institution.

However, the central issue of his presentation was to offer a response to recent concerns at Bristol University about some titles in the audiovisual collection that do not have the BBFC approval. They are mainly DVDs of films bought by lecturers abroad and available to students for viewing on university premises. In theory, making these copies available to students is considered illegal. Although it is very unlikely that the BBFC will take any legal action against academic institutions, it is still an issue that needs to be resolved. In this regard, Mark suggested that the best solution is to digitise the entire collection because, at the moment, digital material is exempted from having a BBFC mark of approval.