How a varied approach can benefit your film club

20 Dec 2016 BY Paul Scowcroft in Leader of the Month

7 mins
Paul Scowcroft Bridge End Primary
Paul Scowcroft Bridge End Primary

Our final Leader of the Month for 2016 is Paul Scowcroft of Bridge Integrated Primary School in Banbridge, Northern Ireland. Paul has been running his film club for several years, with review writing being a particular success. Below, Paul reveals his strategies that have led to multiple Review of the Week winners, talks about his involvement in our Film Buff Challenge pilot, and offers his top tips for new leaders that might be getting started in 2017.

This is our fourth year of film club. It's very popular at the moment - we have 32 regular members, a couple of whom have been with us for three years.

I think the most rewarding part of it is seeing the club members lost in the moment of watching a movie; the point where you can see they have lost themselves in the story being told. We have seen several instances - in movies of different genres - where the hero or heroine has been cheered when they have succeeded in their quest or challenge. Similarly, when it's a movie that involves some form of competition between characters, you can feel and see the club members really rooting for their chosen character to win.

We've had several Review of the Week winners, too. We have used many of the great Into Film reviewing resources, and I think film reviewing in all its forms is very important, because it's great to see our audience express their understanding of what has happened. To be unafraid of passing a personal opinion or comment on a movie is a fantastic thing. All we ask is that the children try to back up their opinions with a reason.

I try to tell them it's ok not to like a film, but that you need to give a reason that's tangible. We should never go out of our way to be hurtful, but we should be honest. Sometimes it's easier to say a movie is great and that you liked it because of its story or characters or special effects. It's a lot harder to justify not liking a film - especially if everyone else disagrees.

But I think our film club allows contrary opinion so long as it's a reasoned and fair criticism. I think it's great that children can have so many differing views on movies and be accepting of those that are different. I suppose it fits in well with our ethos as an integrated School.

I think our secret is that we vary our strategies. We have used many different resources, mainly from Into Film. Sometimes, especially after a long movie, it's better to give verbal feedback, or even use the five minute review cards, which we then use on our classroom display.

As long as you vary it, children don't see it as a chore. There is a time and a place for written reviews, and that certainly is a great focus, as it develops the children's literacy skills. The children enjoy reading each other's reviews on the website and it does create a bit of a competition.

This has definitely increased since Empire's Chris Hewitt paid us a visit. I think the fact that the children understood that here was a man from their part of the world (Banbridge, Northern Ireland), who has a job writing film reviews, and not only is he paid for it, but he also gets to meet some of the biggest movie stars on the planet. That was inspiring to them.

My top Review Writing tips would be:

  • Outline - Give a short précis of the story outline (but never give away too much of the plot)
  • Opinion - What did you honestly think of the film?
  • Enjoy - Focus on the parts of the film you liked best.
  • Wish - How do you think the film could be made better? Be truthful.

And again - never, ever, ever give the plot away! (Even if you think the movie is old and everyone must have seen it.)

We also recently took part in the Film Buff Challenge pilot. Taking part validated the choices our club has made. We had watched many of the films on the lists. We took risks in watching a few of our movies, and found that the children loved them because they told stories. It might have been a documentary or a piece of fiction, but every movie tells a story of some kind. We found that the children paid attention if the story was good or challenged them. We used after-movie time to clarify any events in the movie they didn't understand and we did it collectively. It wasn't me preaching a message to them; it was a collective understanding of what we had watched.

Some advice for new club leaders, about to embark on their first sessions in the new year would be:

  • Start with a bang - choose your first movie to entice children in. The first movie we ever showed was The Princess Bride. They loved it and from that moment they were hooked!
  • Be brave - sometimes you just have to trust your audience. We show a couple of popular movies to start with and then choose something different which will challenge them and perhaps alter their perceptions. If it has a good story it will work.
  • Always, always watch your movies first and know your audience. Our club is for 8-11 year olds, and the biggest thing I have to watch out for generally is (i) violence towards children and (ii) bad language. IMDb (the parents' guide part for each movie) is good for that in some places, but some movies will surprise you - E.T. was one, and so was Into the West. A simple turning down of the volume is a way of counteracting it - but you need to know when it happens. (That said most children can lip read!) Just be aware that a U certificate is not necessarily a cleanly spoken movie.

We suggest using the BBFC guidance for further information on a film's content and suitability.

Paul's Top 6 films for clubs

Paul Scowcroft

Paul Scowcroft, Teacher and film club leader, Bridge End Primary School, Banbridge, Northern Ireland

Paul Scowcroft has been running his film club for four years, and has seen particular successes with review writing, with his members regularly winning Review of the Week awards.

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