Using short films in the classroom part 2

In one of my previous posts, I wrote about how I use short film and how useful I found the site Short of the Week.  I teach a documentary unit in grade 12 and having access to short docs on the internet has been very helpful in analyzing technique.  Here are a few that I discovered through Short of the Week and its very insightful comments:

Avatar Days ( here ) is about 4 World of Warcraft players in Dublin who see themselves in terms of their avatars in the game.  The film is only 4 minutes long but it is a gem for discussion.  There is the mood or tone that is set by the music. colour, lighting and choice of visuals. The film uses a visual hook ( the animation) to keep the viewer interested in- spite of the somber mood.  Many conventions of documentary are employed such as voice-over, realism etc.  The director is showing a bias and at the same time is making a statement about everyday life.  My students and I had a really good discussion about this film.

Amar is an observational documentary.  There is no music or dialogue; the only sound is the background noise.  The viewer is left to draw their own conclusions without much bias from the director although he does appear to be making a type of statement.  We had an interesting talk about this one because some students bring their own bias to the film and draw certain conclusions that are not necessarily there.  A discussion of the structure of the film and the shots that the director chose to show us helps to reveal the subtle bias that the director has.

Dinosaur Curtains ( here) is a character study.  It has some documentary conventions e.g. talking heads and a shaky hand-held camera but it is mostly about the 2 people whose story this is.  We looked at how the film established character and why it was the focus of the film.  It could also be used to examine theme e.g. materialism, small-town life etc.

Kwa Heri Mandima is the most experimental film in this group.  It is told from the second person and uses one photo as the focus for the film.  There is a lot to talk about in this film: the construction of the narrative arc, the use of ” you”, the video at the end, the themes, lack of music etc.  It is a sad film and well worth watching.

When I showed the films, I gave the students questions to focus on but if they were more experienced with docs, you could ask them to construct the questions.  You could also ask them to write an analysis of one of the films.  As I have stated in my previous posts, analyzing film is similar to any literary analysis but you have to be familiar with the conventions before you can do so.  This is challenging work for many students because they are used to being just watchers.  Because you are asking them to speculate and find evidence, they are using higher order thinking skills.

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