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Film studies is the new English literature, says Four Weddings producer

Film studies should be treated with the same respect given to English literature, according to one of Britain’s most successful cinema producers.

Eric Fellner, who is behind such blockbusters as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Les Misérables, Atonement and the Bridget Jones films, said that film studies was often viewed as a “lesser subject” which was not taken as seriously as more established areas of study.

“Film is often taken very lightly,” he told TES. “It isn’t given the space it should be afforded, in terms of cultural endeavour, and is often viewed purely as an entertainment culture form.

“But if you think of every aspect of literature, from trash to high literature, it’s exactly the same. It deals with all human emotions. But film is very much seen as a secondary form of storytelling.”

This was echoed by Paul Reeve, chief executive of the Into Film festival. “Film is a text,” Mr Reeve said. “Film conveys ideas, information, feelings, in the same way that literature does. But it isn’t afforded the same status. Yet some of the greatest works of art of the past hundred years have been films.”

Into Film is a new charity that encourages schools to provide opportunities for students to view, discuss and make movies. It is running a film festival for schools from 4-21 November, which will include screenings across the UK, as well as question-and-answer sessions with industry experts and film-making masterclasses. The festival will be accompanied by resources on the TES website.

One of the aims of the festival is to demonstrate the ways in which film can be used to support classroom learning. “Film is being underused as a medium, as an art form, as a tool that can ignite young people’s curiosity,” Mr Reeve said. “It enables them to understand more broadly the world, and their place in it.

“One of film’s problems is that it is popular. Because it’s popular, and because at one end of the spectrum it creates very commercial blockbusters, it can easily be dismissed as something that doesn’t have substance, in the way that other mediums do.

“Yes, there are blockbusters, but why not honour Citizen Kane and Orson Welles the way we honour Pride and Prejudice and Jane Austen?”

After all, Mr Fellner said, pupils today lived in the era of the screen. “If someone saw the film of Pride and Prejudice, and if they then went back and read the book, that would be a result,” he said. “But if they don’t, they’ve still engaged in storytelling. That’s what we do. Cavemen were telling stories and, however many years later, we still are.”

But, he added that there was more to it than that. Showing a class the biopic Gandhi was a way to tell them a story. “But it’s also a brilliant way to get people talking about colonialism or the history of India, or leadership,” he said. “It’s not just story for story’s sake. It’s story for history’s sake, or geography’s sake, or science’s sake."

Find out more about Into Film here.

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