George Lucas Educational Foundation

The Story of Movies: Understanding Films and Filmmaking

An educational package to add to the curriculum.
By Amy Standen
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Girl and boy using a shadeless lamp to learn about lighting
VIDEO: Reading Film: The Story of Movies
If there's one thing you don't have to convince a kid of, it's the value of movies. A love of the silver screen is practically a birthright in this country, and yet we tend to value movies more for their recreational value than their educational one.

When movies are brought into classrooms, it's usually as a treat for kids who have finished the book the movie is based on, rather than as an exercise in and of itself. Now, however, The Film Foundation, along with celebrated film director Martin Scorsese, aims to help teachers expand their use of film in the classroom with a series of DVDs and curriculum guides called The Story of Movies.

"We live in a very visual society," says Cathy Gourley, the project's curriculum writer. "We are surrounded by visual images, moving images. Teachers recognize that. They know that we live in this kind of a society. The problem becomes, how do you fit film study into a curriculum?"

The Story of Movies is intended to teach kids to think critically about what they see in film, and to consider the filmmaking process and decisions made along the way. It also helps students place films in a historical context, using them as a springboard for conversations about social issues. Finally, says Scorsese, the program should help kids manage and decode the barrage of visual information they absorb in daily life, to "shape their minds to a critical way of looking at these images and what they mean, and how to interpret them."

In 2005, The Story of Movies released its first teacher's packet, which included a DVD of To Kill A Mockingbird along with a teacher's guide, a student activity book, related images and documentaries, and a website with even more resources, including a teacher's lounge, where educators can compare notes. Within a month, the packets had all been given away. Since then, the Film Foundation has launched two more units, based on the 1939 Frank Capra classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and the 1951 film by Robert Wise, The Day the Earth Stood Still.

The Story of Movies curriculum is available free to teachers for use in middle school classrooms; the teacher’s guides and other resources can be downloaded from the website, and DVDs are available via online registration at the Film Foundation.

Amy Standen is a former contributing editor to Edutopia. She reports on science and the environment for KQED-FM, in San Francisco.

Comments (6) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Janette Levin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The films mentioned earlier in the discussion are not the best examples of films to teach with.

Teachers do not need a license to show a dvd in the classroom as long as it is accompanied by a substantial curriculum.

You can find teaching guides based on age and content appropriate foreign language films at They were developed to teach cultural understanding and global competency skills through core subjects to Middle School students. Read the teachers comments on the website under feedback.

Shawn Holland's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have created a course called film studies (at Mark R. Isfeld secondary on Vancouver Island) with these central beliefs in mind. Students are regulary learning about character, theme, symbolism, and conflict, but not through novels and short stories, rather through film. Schools no only should take advantage of students interest in film, but should be more responsible in teaching students about the subtleties of film making and the messages they contain, exposing them to the rich history captured in film, and the different genres which each hold their own rules and messages.

Holly Denman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

We started a foreign film club after school for students who were struggling in reading. Because of the closed captions and the interesting themes, culture and music, the children have started reading the closed captions to figure out what is going on. Children of Heaven, The Red Balloon, as well as the Tin Cup and other Journeys in Film movies got us started. Now parents are renting foreign films at home.

Pamela Smith's picture

Went through the whole process of registering myself and my school only to find that only the print materials are available. They are awesome materials, however they say that you need the DVDs that go with them. The DVDs are no longer available.

Gwen Whitaker's picture

I need the print materials that go with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. For some reason, I can't get the site to load. Can anyone help?


John J. Gaines's picture
John J. Gaines
CEO & Co-Founder of Moving Mindz LLC

Not only is it important to consider the filmmaking process as an object of study, but it is also important to use the filmmaking process as a means for exploring different content areas. In mathematics, for example, we have used the filmmaking process to encourage students to explore positive and negative integers by reimagining the concept in terms of conflict resolution. If interested, please feel free to view the trailer that we made for this film (see Thanks!

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