Pirates of the silver screen

Pupils enjoy the cut and thrust of lively debate as a new resource on film copyright theft gets them thinking. Jerome Monahan reports

James Bond is in trouble with the Year 9 English class at Park High School in Harrow, north-west London. Not only does he have to cope with the usual array of villains and explosions, but the image is blurred, the sound fuzzy and someone just stood up in front of the picture to go to the toilet. Yes, it's a pirate copy of the latest 007 blockbuster, as filmed by somebody at a cinema.

The class is piloting a new resource on film theft, produced by Film Education, a charity that provides educational material on film-making. The DVD-Rom is designed to get children thinking about whether it is a victimless crime and even what to call it: does the term "pirate" have glamorous connotations?

"The point is not to whip up sympathy for the film industry, but rather to generate good discussion and lively writing," says Mike Haldenby, the school's deputy headteacher, who is taking the class.

"It is relevant to the pupils' lives, as they all know where pirated DVDs are on sale in the town centre."

The class is discussing whether illicit DVDs and illegal downloads really harm the film industry, touching on the much trumpeted link to organised crime. The pupils watch cinema advertisements about piracy, produced by the Federation Against Copyright Theft, identifying the messages and language used, and then, in pairs, devise their own script for an ad, building on previous discussions.

Shivani and Heena, both 14, immediately come up with a script suggesting all the better ways you could spend the pound;5 you waste on a poor-quality film. Others focus on what they have been told about the link between organised crime and film piracy.

"The resources are not didactic, but help young people question their attitudes and come to their own conclusions," Mike says.

Dheemal, 14 agrees. "Pirate DVDs are out before general release, and people feel important seeing a film ahead of anyone else. But it is a crime and the victim is you. You are getting ripped off."

* The Film Theft DVD-Rom, for teaching English and citizenship at key stage 3, is being sent free to all secondary schools in the UK.

The Film Industry pack, aimed at key stages 4 and 5, which focuses on creative forces in the film industry, will be on sale from June 9.www.filmeducation.org

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