Mise-en-scène of Film Pedagogy
Updated: May 11
Before we get started with class...
A Land Acknowledgement is a respect paid toward the true caretakers and protectors of the lands in which we currently reside. Usually at the start of every quarter I begin with a statement provided by WWU and explanation of what a Land Acknowledgement means to me.
I created a short video of that for y'all here.
This is a list of the First Nations and Indigenous communities of this area.
Bellingham: Lummi Nation and the Nooksack Tribe Anacortes: Samish Indian Nation and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Everett: Tulalip Tribes, the Snohomish, the Stillaguamish Tribe and the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe Kitsap Peninsula: Suquamish Tribe and the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe Olympic Peninsula: The Hoh Tribe, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, Makah Indian Tribe, Quileute Tribe, Quinault Indian Nation, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe and the Skokomish Tribe. Seattle: Duwamish, Suquamish, Nisqually, Snoqualmie and Muckleshoot tribes.
Thank you. And now, Fade In:
I fully admit that I was an ignorant cinema goer til I was asked to teach and introduction to film class at the university. The sea of films that I have not, and am very much supposed to have seen is vast and deep. And yet I have found that I still can offer a lot for a large, general undergraduate lecture class in an introductory course; even without having memorized Film Art or enlisting into the church of Everything But the Cat.
I studied film structure and writing screenplays in grad school. My instructor was kind and working on spec scripts with a broad range of folx from all backgrounds. He seemed to love movies. Like love loved them. I still had a hard time connecting. I even have a really decent pitch for a film adaptation of Hamlet set in early 2000s Portland (when it was still kind of gritty) in the rockabilly/roller derby world and wrote it. And got a couple option offers. But I still didn't LOVE film. Probably because as much as I like movies and stories, it's just never really felt like it was something I was supposed to be included on. Like there is always some kind of an inside understanding with cinaphiles that I will never fully understand. So why bother? Just take in the trashy movies I like and be done with it.
Frankly this is what teaching film was like for me the first three years. I used a text that would do everything for me (even write the quizzes) and I felt like I was constantly trying to tread water just to hold on to a buoy in a giant sea of pretentiousness that I was supposed to be an expert on.
And then slowly, slowly something started changing in me. I began by tearing up the text I was using and trying to find better examples of what was being studied. Not because I didn't like what was being said, but because the way it was being presented felt condescending and unfamiliar. Movies and the appreciation of them should come from a familiar place- because almost everyone in the demographic I teach has had access to them all their lives.
The course I teach usually has an enrollment of around 200 participants. Many of them are taking it for an "easy A" and so my job becomes even more about sparking inpspiration. In a way I am comfortable offering. If I'm going to teach film, I'm going to teach it in a way that I understand it. In a way that excites me.
All this is to say: for the purpose of this condensed version of the class on this website, instead of a traditional syllabus, I will give you an idea of the course design I created so that you can see the blueprints of the pedagogy behind the class.
CATHARSIS is a HUMAN need
Diversity of Voice
For some people the art of Cinema isn’t just an entity that exists, but a powerful force that has influenced them all their lives. They may not even know it. Most everyone has cinema/film/movies form an integral part of their lives since before they can remember.
What was the first movie you saw in a theater? Do you remember? What about a film you watched over and over and over again as a child? What are some of your favorite quotes? What are some of your favorite quotes from films you’ve never seen?
I remember spending countless hours playing Star Wars in the backyard with my brothers and neighbor kids. Then I remember watching children I babysat play Peter Pan and Ruffio. Now my own child plays Cars where ever he goes- and yes- he gets to be Lighting McQueen (unless he wants to be Mator).
The cinema industry is such an influence of our everyday lives; it’s almost impossible to imagine what life would be like without film. And that’s why this course is such a great one to add to your cannon of General Undergraduate Requirements. Because you already understand this thing called Cinema so intimately, and now I’m going to try and give you some tools to be able to interpret that knowledge you already have into analytic discourse about the purpose of catharsis and story and the place those two, ancient, human rites hold in this very modern world. We will also look at technique, style, and form. And hopefully answer a couple questions about what makes film such an important part of humanity.
Participants who successfully complete this course should be able to:
1. Examine and summarize the basic/introductory techniques in filmmaking from the perspective of the designer, director, cinematographer, and screenwriter. (Viewing films with class during lab time)
2. Explain critically some of the historic influences on modern directors and movies. (Read articles, view informative webcasts, and group discussion)
3. Identify and defend or critique modern, non-traditional filmmakers predominantly based in the United States (Lecture and group discussion)
4. Create a short film using a smart phone and free apps (Online learning tools and final project)
5. Discuss and defend the necessity of film creation and distribution (Summary of class objectives through dialogue)
Topics by Week:
A note on this... the topics move around depending on the quarter. You will have eight to explore in what is hopefully a nice unfolding of subject matter.
Week One: Historical Parallels
1. What is German Expressionism?
2. How was film the best portrayal of this form of resistance?
3. Why is it relevant now and who is most influenced by it?
Week Two: Growing up on the Silver Screen
1. Why are the “Coming of Age” films so important
2. What about genre? How does it define a generation/culture/group?
Week Three: Feeling the Feelings we Feel (Catharsis)
1. Why are some films so moving?
2. What tricks are used to suck us in? (Structure/Design)
3. What defines a “good” film?
Week Four: Story, Narrative, & Plot (Oh my!)
1. How do we tell stories? Is there a formula or a rule?
2. Is the most important part of the story HOW it is told?
Week Five: Documentary
1. Is film truth? Cinema Verite vs. Direct Cinema
2. Children’s Programming
Week Six: The New Turks (Mod)
1. Editing and breaking structures/rules
2. Experimental Film
3. Women as Directors (FINALLY)
Week Seven: Samurai Cinema
1. Why does cinematography matters?
2. The art of beauty (as defined through a lens)
Week Eight: Cell Phone Cinema
1. How to make a film on your phone with free apps.
2. Technology leveling the playing field
Week Nine: Appropriation vs. Inspired By
1. The best steal from the best.
2. When do we acknowledge the inspiration?
3. What is the artists duty to humanity?
Week Ten: The Audience
1. What is the responsibility and expectation of the audience?
2. How do you choose films? How do you watch them?
3. It’s okay to just be entertained, right?