Reading the silver screen
This year marks the 10th National Schools Film Week and 2005 promises to be the most ambitious yet. "We are offering perhaps the most extensive range of free film showings ever, and certainly the most exciting variety of pre and post-screening events and masterclasses to date," explains Nick Walker, head of events at Film Education. "Far from just providing recent movies, we have made an enormous effort gauging schools' needs and if that entails a screening of various Animated Shakespeares or Jacques Tati's Jour de Fete, that's what we've tried to set up."
Tyrone Walker-Hebborn, owner of the family-run Genesis cinema in Mile End, east London, is a long-committed fan of NSFW. "Thanks to this initiative, there's a chance for children to get away from house-bound activities, off their consoles and into cinemas, to see films as they deserve to be experienced on big screens," he says. "For me, the thrill is seeing the children come in, the younger ones 'buddied up' and chatting away, but when the lights dim and the films begin - you can hear a pin drop." As well as hosting screenings, the Genesis is also holding one of several workshops provided by the British Board of Film Classification, explaining the processes behind film classification.
"The board's examiners and education team will front screenings across the country, each of which will be followed by a presentation with an in-depth look at our work and analysis of how the classification for the screened film was reached," explains the BBFC's Education officer John Dyer. "Young film-goers really seem to appreciate being able to find out why films have to get classified and how those decisions translate into what gets shown."
The Genesis is also holding a special story-telling event prior to Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. "This is just one of 16 story-time sessions planned nationwide," says Film Education's education director Julie Green. "They will accompany such movies as the Kirikou and the Sorceress - an animation of a West African traditional tale - and The Secret of Roan Inish, which concerns an Irish 'selkie' legend about a seal capable of transforming itself into a woman. At secondary level, we're running an event with Kevin Spacey at the Old Vic. He will be exploring storytelling and film adaptation ahead of a screening of Laurence Olivier's 1955 version of Richard III."
In Chatham, education outreach officer Robyn Goldsmith is looking forward to screenings of Kirikou and the Sorceress and Hotel Rwanda. "We have worked hard this year to make NSFW known locally, supporting its promotion officially through the local authority. And it's paid off - we have taken the Central Theatre in Chatham and have almost filled it for the primary event. Film Education have helped tailor-make the screenings for us, for example Hotel Rwanda will tie in with our Black History Month 'offer' this year, too."
The same film is also due to feature with Innocent Voices - a powerful child's-eye view of the civil war in El Salvador in the 1980s - as part of a strong human rightsworld cinema strand in this year's NSFW. And, at the Ritzy, Brixton, both films will be introduced by Amnesty International's head of education Richard Riddell. "Such films can take children away from their concerns for a while and build a sense of themselves as part of a world community," he says.
It is a view echoed by Jez Walker at the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield.
"Teachers can choose a film to support or enhance a subject area or they can choose one that will encourage debate and challenge established andor entrenched patterns of thinking. The quality of educational support both in terms of downloadable teachers' notes and professional input at screenings is also consistently high."
In London, Malcolm Jones, a freelance education officer with the Theatre Museum, will host a session in which pupils will have a chance to quiz Richard Eyre, having just seen his 2004 film Stage Beauty. At other times in the week, Malcolm will also be presenting introductions to showings of An American In Paris and The Crucible. "It would be nice, but perhaps a little idealistic, to think that a NSFW screening can entirely switch young people on to a broader spectrum of films from standard commercial fare," he suggests. "But last year I witnessed ordinary teenagers finding Donald O'Connor 'Make 'em laugh' routine in Singing In the Rain hilarious."
"This year the list of directors, producers and other senior figures giving their time in workshops and post-screening discussions is unprecedented,"
says Nick Walker. "Emma Thompson will discuss her film Nanny McPhee; Gillies MacKinnon has agreed to take part in a QA about his 1997 adaptation of the novel Regeneration, and both Ronald Harwood and Timothy Burrell will be discussing their respective roles as scriptwriter and producer on Roman Polanski's Oliver Twist."
Overall, the week is the most significant manifestation of Film Education's all-year-round programme of screenings, training and publication. "Every day our children are bombarded with powerful messages via film and the moving image," says the charity's director Ian Wall. "Now, more than ever, we need to help them become an informed and confident audience; capable of questioning and interpreting, as well as enjoying what they are watching."
A development this year is the offer of multiple screenings nationwide geared to sensory-impaired students.
l NSFW runs from October 17-21 in England, Northern Ireland and Wales; October 31 to November 4 in Scotland. To check local NSFW screenings and seat availability tel: 020 7439 4880 www.nsfw.org
* Film Education's main site www.filmeducation.org
* The event is supported by The TES