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Hard look at life through cinema

Promoting films as teaching tools for various classes is a key aim of National Schools Film Week. Mitchell Miller previews the event later this month

Developing a critical faculty in children is just one aspect of Europe's biggest initiative for cinema in education, National Schools Film Week.

Reading the advice given for the TES Young Film Critic 2004 competition, I am more than a little alarmed that so many of the "Don'ts" rank among my own sins as a reviewer. But then, being able to watch a film then write about it, is not as easy as it sounds. At least, that's my excuse.

The competition for 11-to 14-year-olds and 15-to 18-year-olds (and its counterpart for 7-to 11-year-olds, the Junior Education Film Critic competition) aims to encourage high standards from writers.

Squeezing your thoughts, impressions and opinions into 250 words (200 for primary entrants) is not easy, and the critics are also encouraged to do their research, identify their audience and consider what they are writing, which hits a fair few of the core skills point-blank on the nose.

Behind National Schools Film Week is the charity Film Education, which promotes films that can be used as a teaching resource in the mainstream curriculum. For nine years, it has allocated free cinema tickets to schools for film week in an effort to promote cinema as an educational tool.

As Ian Wall, founder of Film Education, explains: "National Schools Film Week is the highlight of our year. We want students to enjoy the experience of going to the cinema, but then go back to the classroom and relate that to their studies."

In past years, it was discovered that for about one in five children using the free tickets, Film Week was the first time they had set foot in a film theatre. Accordingly, access is a guiding principle.

In all, 170 towns and 241 screens across the UK are involved, with an estimated 120,000 pupils watching films that range from Saving Private Ryan to the gritty French drama La Haine to anime such as the superb Spirited Away.

Through themes that include citizenship, myths and legends, first outings and European cinema, the organisers hope to promote "cine-literacy" - the ability to read and assess critically what is on screen - and broaden children's experience of cinema.

This year's event sees an expansion of Film Week's range and activities as part of the build-up to what education officer Nick Walker describes as "2010". It's nothing to do with the risible sequel to Kubrick's epic, but a shorthand for 2005, a double anniversary: 10 years of National Schools Film Week and 20 since Film Education was founded.

Central to the build-up is ensuring that this year's Film Week is a more widespread event than ever, especially in Scotland: 14 locations from the Borders to the Highlands will take part. As Mr Walker explains, particular care is taken to cater for the Scottish curriculum, from screening films with a Scottish flavour to ensuring resources are correctly levelled for the education system.

Atta Yaqub, star of Ken Loach's Ae Fond Kiss, will be talking to Glasgow pupils after a screening of the film. Sylvain Chomet, director of the animated masterpiece Belleville Rendez-vous, will further cement his ties with Edinburgh at its screening there. Dundee will celebrate its links with the writer J. M. Barrie (born close by at Kirriemuir) by screening Finding Neverland (starring Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet and Dustin Hoffman), about the difficult birth of the classic Peter Pan. And BAFTA Scotland will hold a launch event for Bride and Prejudice, a frothy comedy that nevertheless communicates well the diversity agenda in schools.

Entrants to the Young Film Critic competition might be interested in hearing what Eddie Harrison and Andy Dougan have to say at the Meet the Critics events at the Glasgow Film Theatre on October 27 and 28 or Richard Mowe at the Edinburgh Film House on October 28.

A packed programme and a lot of organisation makes National Schools Film Week no mean feat. So what keeps Mr Wall going?

"Developments in education and in technology and how we can adapt them keep it exciting," he says. "We used to supply stills and photographs as study materials; now we can give teachers clips and rushes for use in the classroom. There are always new challenges, for us and the students."

National Schools Film Week in Scotland is October 25-29Competition details for TES Young Film Critic of the Year and Junior Education Film Critic (deadlines November 12 and October 29), see www.nsfw.orgwww.filmeducation.org

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