Sunday, March 15, 2009

Movie Review Assignment

Historians like to discuss and discredit films for their inaccuracies, but the average person learns a great deal about the past from these cinematic representations. I bet each of us can think of at least one scene from a movie that really affected our understanding of an historical event or time. Movies can excite students about history and teach about the past in a way that draws viewers into the experience. Many great history instructors are also great storytellers, and film is simply another way of telling the world’s story. Directors may take creative license with the facts and characters, but they often are careful to represent dress, life-style, and culture in a way that texts and even great storytellers have trouble doing. After students finish the course they may never actively try to learn history again, but they are likely to watch movies that represent the past. This assignment will encourage students to be critical thinkers as they analyze the film for class and later films they enjoy.

First, students select a movie from a list provided by the instructor to watch. The list should provide a variety of new and old movies and cover a variety of subjects. Since new movies come out all the time and there are many films I am not aware of, I allow students to contact me for approval for a movie not on the list. While watching the movie, students are to consider these questions:

1. Were there inaccuracies in the movie compared to the material in our course which covers that time period or person?
2. What did you learn from the movie that you did not already know?
3. Were there any obvious values or opinions being presented by the director in the way they depicted the main theme of the film or the way they portrayed the heroes and villains of the story?
4. How did the depiction of this event or person compare to reading about the same topic in a textbook?
5. Did you have an emotional reaction to the film, why or why not? How do your own history and experiences affect how you perceive the film?
6. Did the film have an impact at the time of release on society’s perspective of the event and people involved? Did the film change your perspective about the people or event?

After watching the film, students write a concise review of the movie that considers the questions above and summarizes the plot. You may also provide the option for students to share their work in a discussion, so that they can learn from each other and review a variety of films.


Anonymous said...

I have used a similar assignment for my US History survey classes. The students seem to like it, and I like that it gets them thinking more critically about the time period being presented and how it relates to the topics we are covering in class.

Karen Kaemmerling said...

Thanks for sharing your feedback. Do you provide them a list of movies or let them select one on their own?

Anonymous said...

I provide a list of approved films, but also tell them I can approve unlisted films on a case-by-case basis. Often PBS has American Experience films running during the term that fit in with the class topics. This term the "We Shall Remain" mini-series features three films that fit in with the time period of my classes.

Karen Kaemmerling said...

I agree PBS has some great mini-series. I also let students suggest a film that might not be on the list on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes I will also add these suggestions to my list. Also as new movies come out, I sometimes let students watch a movie and review it for hisorical accuracy in place of other assignments.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! I am planning a similar assignment for my Classical Civ course - great guiding questions.