Film School

By Rich Shea — February 26, 2007 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Anyone who’s seen kids chuckle over the antics of Shrek or cheer the heroics of Spider-Man knows how movies can transport a young person to another world. Harnessing that power for cultural education is the aim of Journeys in Film, a New Mexico-based nonprofit that offers multidisciplinary lesson plans to accompany critically acclaimed foreign films.

“We’re a tool for international education, we’re appealing to media-savvy youth, and we are raising critical film viewers,” says Anna Mara Rutins, JiF’s director of programs. She has reason to be confident: By the end of this school year, JiF expects to have served roughly 50,000 students in 65 public and 15 private schools across the country.

See Also

Read the accompanying story,

A Whale-Riding Lesson

Founded in 2003, JiF primarily serves middle schools, although it recently expanded its reach to high schools. The middle school lesson plans cover four films: The Cup (set in Tibet), The Way Home (Korea), Children of Heaven (Iran), and Whale Rider (New Zealand). Each curriculum package ($75 apiece; $250 for all four) includes 10 to 12 detailed lessons compiled by educators with expertise in each film’s content, but the movies must be rented or purchased from other sources.

According to Rutins, the films are chosen for their compelling storylines and appealing central characters, who are close in age to the intended viewers. In Whale Rider, for example, Pai is the 12-year-old granddaughter of the outgoing chief of a coastal Maori tribe. Tradition, set by the tribe’s legendary whale-riding founder, demands that only male heirs become chief. When Pai’s father refuses the post, she struggles to convince her grandfather to make her the new leader.

For more information about using films in the classroom, visit:

Whale Rider is, as Rutins puts it, “rich in content,” allowing for lesson plans that cover Maori culture, gender issues, media literacy, and science topics, including whale species diversity and echolocation, the radar-like system whales use to navigate.

How a school uses JiF’s materials depends on its needs, Rutins notes. Math-science magnets, for example, may ignore the media-literacy lessons while performing arts schools focus on them. Chris Forfar, a 6th grade English and social studies teacher at International Studies Learning Center, a public magnet in Los Angeles, says that he and a math-science colleague have screened three films and used the JiF lessons. Calling the experience “invaluable,” he adds that the films “help break stereotypes about [other cultures] that are formed from seeing too many Hollywood movies.” That alone is an accomplishment, says Rutins: “Many of these kids may otherwise never view a foreign film—ever.”

Related Tags:

For more information about using films in the classroom, visit:
A version of this article appeared in the March 01, 2007 edition of Teacher as Film School


Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum Opinion I Quit Teaching to Become a Climate Activist. Here's Why
Have you recently talked to a teenager about climate change? If not, you should. Here’s what we’re getting wrong about climate education.
Bryce Coon
5 min read
conceptual digital image of a fragile cracked eggshell planet earth
Curriculum In Their Own Words Why I Kept Teaching To Kill a Mockingbird When Others Wouldn't
A recently retired English teacher explains why she continued to teach the classic novel after it was challenged in her district.
6 min read
Retired teacher Ann Freemon is pictured in Everett, Wash., on November 24, 2023.
Retired teacher Ann Freemon is pictured in Everett, Wash., on November 24, 2023.
Chona Kasinger for Education Week
Curriculum More States Require Schools to Teach Cursive Writing. Why?
Technological advances notwithstanding, advocates give a long list of reasons for teaching students cursive.
5 min read
Photo of child practicing cursive writing.
iStock / Getty Images Plus
Curriculum Computer Science Courses Are on the Rise—But Girls Are Still Half as Likely to Take It
Schools expanded the availability of foundational computer science classes, but stubborn gaps in access to those courses persist.
4 min read
Photograph of diverse group of primary school students using laptops in a bright classroom.