This summer has flown by, and I have shamelessly neglected this blog, partly because I am coordinating a special week-long seminar here at Facets. Called the Summer Film Institute, the seminar is aimed at public school teachers who would like to incorporate movies of all types into their classroom. The Summer Film Institute begins on July 25 and concludes July 29, and it will definitely be worth the time that I have put into it.
The goal of the Summer Film Institute is to give teachers a crash course in film studies. By understanding film as an art form, teachers will be better able to incorporate movies into their classrooms. In other words, the seminar does not tell teachers directly how to teach films; instead, it offers them the history, aesthetics, and techniques of cinema so they can figure out the application on their own. (continued)
The week is broken down into five topics: Editing (Monday); Mise-en-scene (Tuesday); Film Narrative vs. Literature (Wednesday); Documentary (Thursday); and How to Teach Classic Films (Friday). Each topic will be handled by a different instructor, and, so far, my smartest act as Coordinator has been hiring this particular staff of instructors. Each instructor is a seasoned veteran who is adept at teaching his/her specific topic in a variety of venues. As I sift through their syllabi and readings, I am impressed with their approaches and excited that one my perks as Coordinator is attending the seminar myself.
Jason Betke, who was recommended to me by our intrepid projectionist, Fred Swanson, kicks off the seminar on Monday, July 25, by teaching “The Impact of Editing.” Jason not only teaches editing at Columbia College but he also makes films. Using clips from films as diverse as The Big Sleep, Kramer vs. Kramer, and The Iron Giant, Jason will explain the role of the editor, the functions of editing, and the editor as artist. In the afternoon, participants will watch the feature Out of Sight, starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, and discuss director Steven Soderbergh’s use of editing.
On Tuesday, Michael Wright continues exploring the aesthetics and techniques of cinema by teaching “Lighting, Camera Angles, and Set Design,” in other words, the impact of mise-en-scene in film. After introducing the elements of mise-en-scene in a variety of clips, Michael will cover the history of cinematography through the documentary Visions of Light. I got to know Michael, who is a professional cinematographer and teaches at the Illinois Institute of Art, when I took a Facets Film School class on cinematography a couple of summers ago. I liked the way he gave direct instruction while we watched the film, which focused our attention away from the plots and onto the cinematography. Anyone interested in learning how the techniques of mise-en-scene work in a film can also catch Michael in “Notes on Cinematography,” a film class he will offer through Facets’ Film School July 21 to August 25.
Larry Knapp is my colleague in film studies at Oakton Community College, where I teach part-time. Like myself, he is a graduate of the Northwestern film department, so we have similar views on the major areas of film study—except that Larry is much more adept at understanding and teaching narrative structure than I am. For that reason, I asked him to teach “Narrative in Cinema” for the seminar. Larry will discuss the narrative elements of cinema and how they compare and contrast to those in literature. He has selected 500 Days of Summer for participants to analyze for its structure.
Kartemquin Films, a Chicago institution, has been devoted to making documentary films for more than 40 years, and Judy Hoffman has been part of Kartemquin for much of her career as a documentary filmmaker and cinematographer. On Thursday, Judy will teach a brief history of documentary as well as some of the philosophical problems associated with a genre that is supposed to be about reality and truth. Judy, who also teaches at the University of Chicago, offers a variety of short docs for viewing, going all the way back to 1895 with the Lumieres’ Workers Leaving the Factory. In the afternoon, the class will view the famous French documentary by Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin titled Chronicle of a Summer.
Filmmaker and instructor Michael Smith wraps up the week with “How to Teach Classic Hollywood Movies.” This topic is close to my heart, because as we get further away from the Golden Age of Hollywood, the average film-goer knows less and less about an era that defined the conventions and aesthetics of American commercial filmmaking. An entire generation is averse to watching anything in black and white, a sign of the continued narrowing of public tastes and opinions about film. I have taken classes with Michael at Facets Film School, and he is excellent at making classic films relevant to viewers and at explaining their artistry. Those of you who are fans of Night School (Facets’ midnight movie series) will recognize Michael as the person who introduced Dance, Girl, Dance in Session 7 of Night School, the Korean film Save the Green Planet in Session 4, and The Devil’s Backbone for Session 3. Michael will show Citizen Kane, along with clips from such films as Rules of the Game and Stagecoach, to pull the ideas from the previous four days into a map for teaching classic film.
In my own teaching and writing, I work hard to offer academic methodologies for understanding film in ways that are accessible and non-elitist. I deliberately selected instructors who do the same. I am proud of my staff of instructors and humbled by their knowledge and dedication.
There’s still plenty of space available in Facets’ Summer Film Institute for any teacher, librarian, or film lover who wants to sign up next week. Teachers earn 30 CPDUs for taking the seminar. Click here for additional information and an application to sign up.
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