The case for cine-literacy
Discovery, Scotland's first film festival for children, made a remarkable debut last month. It has attracted high profile support, including Billy Boyd (Pippin in The Lord of the Rings) as patron and Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella, and it has proved its mettle with an innovative programme of films aimed at 3-to 18-year-olds.
Mr Minghella, chair of the British Film Institute, was at the MacRobert Arts Centre in Stirling to open the "Inspire" educational forum, bringing together educators, policy makers and industry delegates to discuss the role of the moving image in the curriculum.
"Before mass literacy, visual literacy ... was part of our understanding of the world. Text-based literacy has diminished that ... but we don't want to throw the books and pens away, rather, to enrich and expand how we understand the world," he explained.
Cine-literacy is "not necessarily about producing more Tarantinos but allowing kids to understand the grammar of the moving image," he said. Just as a textually literate person can read an article and understand its sub-texts and hidden messages, a cine-literate person can read and critically assess what they see on screen. One could argue, then, that moving image education is something of a core skill, an important part of being an informed citizen.
Mr Minghella said: "When I think of what is required of me as a filmmaker, it corrals all the core aspects of the curriculum. You are forced to research, to manage, to work with other people and use these skills in a creative way."
Scott Donaldson, education officer at Scottish Screen, said: "The Discovery team are to be congratulated on the way they have raised the level of debate concerning moving image education and cinema for children."
They were helped by a strong, international selection of films, from Gaelic shorts to hard-hitting documentaries such as Arna's Children, Juliano Mer Khamis and Danniel Danniel's film about a Palestinian theatre group set up as part of an alternative education system in the West Bank.
The strength of the programme was due in no small part to the faith placed by the festival partners, the MacRobert and Dundee Contemporary Arts, in children themselves. All of the films shown were previewed and chosen by a team of 37 school-age consultants.
"There were some films where we had to debate a bit, like Jargo," said one, "but we got them in." The German film about coming of age contains strong language and scenes of a sexual nature.
The young consultants thrived on the challenges of running the festival.
Tom Fletcher, of Wallace High in Stirling, said: "I'm more aware of the films that are out there in the world I but also how to organise an event and get your vision across."
Katie Fisher, of Dunblane High, said: "We even went into the projection room to see how it worked and how much organisation is involved in just screening a film."
The programme captured the imaginations of all involved. "Seeing a class of Primary 3s and 4s get excited over a film from Senegal was great ... both educational and engaging," said Marie Binnie, education officer at the MacRobert.
Mr Donaldson said: "The moving image has massive creative and cultural potential, both for teachers and pupils, and it is clear that it has a pivotal role to play in schools education.
"We hope that both Scotland's Cultural Commission and the curriculum review will recognise this and support its development in the coming years."
Discovery continues on tour this month. For information and P1-S2 educational resources, see www.discoveryfilmfestival.com