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Hooray for Hollywood

What does Bugsy Malone have to do with Robin Hood? The Color Purple with Twelfth Night? The Borrowers with Babe? All are being shown as part of the third annual National Schools Film Week run by Film Education.

This year the focus is on adaptations of books. Given that the Film Week,running from October 5 to 9, coincides with National Children's Book Week,and comes only a few weeks after the launch of the National Year of Reading, not to mention the primary schools' literacy initiative, Film Education has certainly gone with the flow in its programming.

But more importantly, teachers who use films as teaching resources know that a story on celluloid can draw young people into books, plays and historical events like nothing else. Think about the popularity among the young of recent film adaptations of Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, Schindler's List and Titanic.

Film is sexy. It moves quickly. It's good to look at. It can make the unreadable watchable. Quite apart from the star quality of Al Pacino in Looking for Richard, the pace, the engaging location and stage shots, the juxtapositions, music and lighting and everything else that is part of film-making, makes this odd little film about an actor's obsession with Shakespearean theatre irresistible.

No one knows this better than Film Education, a 12-year-old organisation that helps teachers use films to teach everything from history to media studies, maths to English, religious education to technology. Its excellent teacher's notes on contemporary and classic films for primary and secondary school use are user-friendly and designed to give teachers the confidence, background information and enthus-iasm to use film as a way of enhancing learning across the curriculum.

This year, 160 cinemas around the country will screen films for students during the Week. There will be preview screenings of new films including Disney's Mulan and The Truman Show starring Jim Carrey, along with classic films. Celebrities and film specialists will give talks and presentations on subjects including mark-eting, scriptwriting, distribution and acting.

Two years ago, Ian McKellen talked to groups in different cities about Richard III from a textual perspective. A year before that, Mel Gibson made an appearance to accompany his Hamlet. But beyond the glitz and excitement of Film Week, there is a wealth of material produced by Film Education for classroom use at all key stages. This year, it is launching prim-ary and secondary packs written to national curriculum requirements and designed to support film-based initiatives throughout Film Week and beyond.

For secondary teachers of media studies and English there is a pack on using screenplays to stimulate reading and writing tasks. Excerpts from screenplays, among them Sliding Doors, are used as illustrations. There is also a film location pack, a cross-curricular resource which has students using their local area as a production location and preparing a film treatment with photographs of locations to be used.

Primary teachers can make use of "Cinema Senses", which shows how a tour of the cinema involves the five senses, and "Film and History", which looks at how teachers can use films to examine history. Examples include Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Railway Child-ren as windows on the Edwardian era, and Bugsy Malone, set in the Prohibitionist 1920s.

Apart from these packs, literacy materials for primary schools concentrate on book to film adaptation, scriptwriting and storyboarding, structure and myths, and legends and fables. All are accompanied by CD-Roms andor videos containing clips from a wide range of films.

Primary teacher Claudine Tomlin uses Film Education materials with her Year 4s at Blean County Primary in Canterbury. "With The Little Mermaid, I was able to cover aspects of creative English, drama, health education (feelings and emotions) and seas and oceans by using Film Education's worksheets. When you put a child in front of a CD-Rom featuring clips of films, it captures their imagination so much more than standing and trying to describe ocean life. A child's dream lesson is when they're looking at films they love on CD. That's where Film Education has got things so right."

"We compared the real story of Pinocchio with the Disney film version and the children analysed what Disney did to the story to make it so much more attractive than the book. I had nine-year-olds coming out with things like 'he always gives us happy endings'. So we were connecting media studies-style critic-al analysis with solid literacy work and it didn't seem like work at all to them because they're so into film."

The same applies at secondary level. Alan Fairnie, a media studies and English teacher at Dayncourt School in Nottingham, says: "Our school has used Film Education's Deep Impact CD for science teachers to complement work on space. Regeneration was used for poetry and humanities. And in English I used two Romeo and Juliet films, the 1970s Zeffirelli version and the new Hollywood film, to look at the different interpretations with a Year 8 group. They were shocked to realise that both were in the same language as the original text because they seemed so contemporary."

Materials designed for Film Week are being sent to all prim- ary and secondary teachers this month. Like all Film Education teaching resources, they are free, thanks to the company's hefty sponsorship from Barclays Bank, among others.

Given the success of film in education in general and Film Education in particular, it's a shame that many teachers are still so sniffy about using it. Alan Fairnie says: "I get comments all the time. There's the idea that you're using it as a get-out rather than for a worthwhile purpose. You're fighting against cynics."

For information about Film Education resources and National Schools Film Week, ring Film Education on 0171 976 2291 or browse the Film Education website at

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