EDUCATION: All Eyes on the Screen!

Staffer Angelica Dongallo, coordinator of GFI’s educational screening programs, explains why world cinema deserves a place in the classroom…and vice versa

Angelica Dongallo speaks to students and teachers attending our first-ever World Cinema Week screening @ Ninth Street!

Pencils down!

Before you naysayers say nay—just as the parents described in this post did—about screening films to students in the classroom, hear me out. I’m not referring to the Hollywood blockbusters used by many teachers (we’ve all encountered at least one during our school days) as mindless background noise at pizza parties or as a last-minute time-filler on days with no lesson plans. Rather, I speak of cinema (particularly independent world cinema) and its unique value when shown with an intent, a lesson plan, critical discussion questions, the works.

Yes, contrary to popular belief, it can and should be done. But first, some context…

At GFI, our mission is to promote cross-cultural understanding through cinema. We are always searching for ways to help educators use world cinema for effective classroom use. Every year, we produce discussion guides for each title in our Global Lens film series, and twice per year we bring our films to classrooms and educational institutions across the U.S. (19 total so far this year!). During  World Cinema Week in April and International Education Week in November, we provide our films and discussion guides to educators, to help them help others to change the way they see the world.

For this year’s World Cinema Week, we thought: If we can bring films into the classroom, why not bring the classroom to the film?

So, for the first time ever during World Cinema Week, we brought local high school students (from The Marin School and San Lorenzo High) to the Ninth Street Independent Film Center for a screening of GETTING HOME (dir. Zhang Yang, China)! This was a great experience for everyone who was involved, but for me in particular, it was a wonderful opportunity to see our Education Program at work. Oftentimes, my only interactions with our educational screening participants are limited to phone and email correspondence, but at our screening event (co-hosted by our Ninth Street neighbor TILT and with an introduction by the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco), I was able to shake hands with our educators, to watch students’ eyes glisten as they watched the screen, to experience their engagement during our post-screening discussion/Q&A and to hear of their appreciation for our work and the film. It was very inspirational, especially in composing this post.

These and other experiences have further convinced me of the importance of world cinema in the classroom when used with the actual intent of engaging and educating students. Based on the feedback we’ve received about our programs, as well as some fine literature on the subject, here’s why you should be, as well:

Spanish 3 students at Middle College High screened THE PRIZE (Argentina) during World Cinema Week!

World cinema opens a window to other parts of the world. In a country where only 35% of Americans own passports for international travel, it is likely that many young students do not have the opportunity to venture outside of the U.S. Through world cinema, however, anyone can catch a glimpse of nations outside of our own—without ever leaving home. Students view the breathtaking landscape shots, bustling city streets and lovely peoples portrayed in our films with awe. Educators who’ve used our films and resources have even fostered interdisciplinary learning by assigning research projects about the countries in which the film is taking place, among other supplemental assignments.

World cinema is a valuable tool for teaching/learning foreign languages. Immersion is key for understanding a foreign language and attaining fluency, and foreign films provide a way for students to see the language at work in a local context—just ask our former intern, Rachel Cook!

World cinema helps break stereotypes. Global Lens films are created by directors making films about their own nations. As such, when we watch these films, we are watching real stories from a very unique perspective (hint: not by Hollywood’s stereotypical view).

World cinema teaches students to be engaged consumers of film. In a fast-changing world where more and more teachers and students are gaining computer (and even iPad)-competency, it is all the more important for students to build a solid set of skills to encourage their critical engagement with the images that surround them. Students who are taught to watch film critically—rather than as passive automatons—learn how to interpret the messages being communicated, as well as how to evaluate film’s value as a visual medium.

Click here to view a poster designed by one of our World Cinema Week participants!

World cinema promotes cross-cultural understanding, period. Many of us have experienced campus “multicultural days” or “international fairs” where students see the native dress, entertainment and food of different nationalities (especially those represented in a school). Film can also be used in this way. Any resource to help make our children not only tolerant, but also appreciative, of the diversity surrounding them deserves attention from educators.

Of course, world cinema or film, in general, should not be all there is to a world-class education, but it certainly does have a place in the classroom. It’s just a matter of knowing when and how this powerful medium should be used.

If you’re not entirely convinced, or are an educator and just don’t know where to begin, you’ve come to the right place. From our award-winning Global Lens films to our educational resources, we have the tools to get the conversation started. Just let us know what we can do to help.


Want to learn more about our Education Program and how your school or public library can be involved? Check out our website or email to find out how you can bring Global Lens to a school or public library near you!

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