Film as History/History as Film

According to co-teachers Mark Wheeler (Social Studies) and Thato Mwosa (Visual Arts), “History’s lessons are as important now as they ever were, as we look to our screens for answers to the world’s toughest questions.” Students in their collaborative course, Film as History/History as Film, learn about history and one of the most powerful ways in which it is remembered: the documentary film. “To be truly effective communicators and participants in the 21st century,” say Wheeler and Mwosa, “students need the skills to maneuver both word and image.”

In this full-year senior elective, students address issues of academic research, writing, media literacy, and perspective. Decision-making and ethics are central themes. Students use textbooks, articles, and primary source material to study historical eras and events; they also view documentary films depicting the same eras and events. Analyzing the films for content and technique, students learn to critique the films and the filmmaking choices: including and omitting information, showing both sides of a story, the effects of camera angles and lighting, etc. They also explore in depth the opportunities presented by and limitations imposed by both written and filmed formats.

In addition to written papers, students produce small media projects such as interviews and PSAs. Through these exercises they learn to operate cameras, gain editing skills, practice writing and interviewing, explore elements of cinematography, and generally improve their media literacy. For the culminating project, students research, plan, and produce a film on an era, event, or person of their choice. Final projects are peer reviewed and screened as part of a BHS film festival. Students also have the opportunity to submit their films to national contests, such as C-SPAN’s Student Cam documentary competition.