Use film to open up discussions around the theme of 'Respect'

17 May 2016 BY Grace Eardley

9 mins
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

'Respect' is a word that is banded about freely, without much real consideration of its multiplicity of meanings and interpretations. If you take a moment to consider your own personal understanding of the word, the range of possible connotations and the term's huge significance become very apparent. 

The notion of respect is obviously hugely important in an educational setting, and I'm sure like many other teachers, I am aiming to promote respect in my everyday practice and lead by example. Using film in the classroom and running a film club allows me to do this.

To me, respect is about tolerance, admiration, and above all, a sense of acceptance and celebration of differences. I feel that using film in the classroom and running a film club is a perfect gateway into promoting and celebrating respect, and these themes are very much a hot topic on many schools' spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) agendas. 

Firstly, just running a film club alone and allowing inclusive membership promotes respect. The sense of community in participating brings about mutual respect, acceptance and helps develop a sense of identity for young people. Members of my film club all have a badge that they love to wear with pride. This badge signifies immediate acceptance and makes them part of a community. Being part of a film club gives members, particularly the younger ones moving up from primary, a sense of self at a turbulent time. Film club becomes their thing and a great leveller, as it puts all members on the same footing. A good way into this topic could be to get members discussing what being a film fan and a film club member means to them, and seeing how they think the club can promote respect.

Another way running a film club can promote and celebrate ideas around respect is through programming films that celebrate differences, whether this is films from other cultures or films that explore respect thematically. Discovering films from other cultures is a good starting point. At my club, we have recently run a season of films from other cultures and held brief discussions afterwards. 

Widening young peoples cultural awareness through film is a useful way to promote universal respect and particularly the idea of accepting and celebrating difference. After we watched the magnificent Song of the Sea I could see that students had a fresh awareness of the cultures and traditions of people beyond their own; in this case it was the culture and heritage of Irish people, and the world of Irish folklore. If you have a diverse range of cultures and ethnicities within your club, you could ask individual members if they are aware of any suitable films that explore their own cultural heritage. 

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is a great starter film for exploring respect. The film can easily open up a conversation and mutual understanding of what respect can mean to young people. Above all, the film explores the key theme of acceptance, and, interestingly, it reveals the innate sense of prejudice-free acceptance and tolerance that young children possess, as we see how the young characters accept E.T.'s otherness. If you are a bit stuck, this film might be a good starting point. Questions to start a discussion could be: Is E.T. actually that different? Who shows E.T. respect first and why? Do you respect E.T. at the start of the film as well as at the end? 

Here are some films that can be used to open up a dialogue around the topic of respect:

For young people aged 9 - 15 years:

  • E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial - The story circulates around an outsider in the form of the titular extra terrestrial, who arrives on this planet alone, lost and then finds himself seemingly very different. ET is initially only accepted and welcomed by 10 year old Michael, then later by his sister Gertie, and then gradually each family member overcomes their skepticism and accepts E.T. regardless of his apparent differences. A great film for exploring difference and acceptance.
  • Song of the Sea - A hand-drawn animation about an Irish boy called Ben who lives on a remote island and learns that his mute younger sister is actually a mysterious creature called a Selkie. They set off on an extraordinary journey full of challenges and adventures, taking in enchanted forests, Faeries and magical wells. A great film for exploring other cultures and also for opening up a conversation about acceptance through the mute character Saoirse. 
  • He Named Me Malala - A beautiful documentary, which captures the life of inspirational figure Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban for campaigning for women's education. The film explores other cultures and traditions and blends documentary footage with vivid watercolour animation. It explores respect through Malala's discussion of her unconditional respect for her father and also exposes how Malala and her family have dealt with the acceptance of her new-found fame and her new life in the UK.

For young people aged 15 - 19 years:

  • Persepolis - The story follows Marjane, a smart and strong-willed girl whose life is forever changed when the Shah of Iran is overthrown by the Islamic Revolution of 1979. This film explores other cultures and traditions, but also opens of the theme of respect via Marjane, who is confused and questions who she must respect in her formative years, but as she grows she ultimately must learn self-respect and self-acceptance.
  • Vi är bäst! (We Are the Best!) - A film that ultimately explores growing up different. Bobo and her Mohawk-haired best friend Klara have little musical talent or training (or instruments). This does not stop them forming a punk band at a time when punk was supposedly dead. They recruit their straight-laced, guitar-playing schoolmate Hedwig to complete the band. A funny and warming exploration of friendship, difference and determination.
  • Whiplash - A film that explores notions of authority, power and respect. Andrew is a determined young drummer, and after winning a place at a prestigious New York music school, he focuses on rising above his classmates. When the infamously hard-to-please director Terence Fletcher invites Andrew to join the school's elite jazz ensemble, Andrew soon discovers that the tutor lives up to his reputation. Andrew finds himself struggling with Fletcher's standards and goes to great lengths to gain his respect. The film opens up complex questions about self-respect, authority and ambition as a result of Fletcher's exacting standards and brutal teaching methods. The pair's obsessive pursuit of perfection forms the basis of a tense, destructive relationship that tests the limits of both men, but is nonetheless exhilarating to watch.
Grace Eardly - Congleton High School

Grace Eardley

Grace is a film and media studies specialist and has run very successful film clubs since 2012. In 2014 she was nominated for the TES Inspirational Teacher of the Year. She works for exam boards and writes film and media resources. 

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