Students explore social justice themes through a popular and familiar medium. Via the genre of documentary films, students will increase media awareness and hone persuasive writing techniques.
- Familiarize yourself with quality social justice films. Many college, university and public libraries have a social justice section. Suggested resources:
- Review your school policy on using film in the classroom.
- Determine how many and which films you will show. Will you offer three and have students select one? Will students research, watch and bring you a list? The goal is for students to watch several films in class and then, through a critical review process, select one or more for the community film festival.
- Decide on the time and resources you’ll need and decide on a criteria for film selection (will they relate to one specific theme?). Be sure to watch all films first on your own, taking notes on violent, sensitive or controversial scenes where you will need to pause for discussion and clarification.
- Determine whether students will work in groups or individually.
- Provide students with information about supplies, work schedules and due dates. Use the rubric to define expectations and project components and to clarify how you will assess student work.
- Explain to students that they will write reviews of the films shown in class, making their case for which are best to show at the film festival. Read quality film reviews as mentor texts. Discuss components of strong reviews and encourage students to look for bias and stereotypes, both in the films and the reviews.
- Play the films for students over a series of classes or after school if appropriate. Introduce the Social Justice Film Screening Reflection Sheet. Instruct students to complete the handout after viewing the films. After viewing all the films, provide ample time for discussion of the final reflection questions.
- Provide in-class or out-of-class time for students to write their film reviews. They should use their notes from the handout and from the discussion to help with the review and to make their case for which film(s) should be shown at the festival.
- Have students share their reviews. Use the reviews and ensuing discussion as a springboard to select the film(s) for the film festival. Consider holding a class vote.
- Set up the roles and responsibilities for the event by completing the Social Justice Film Festival Planning Guide.
- Decide the time and location. The event might take place on an alternate schedule day, after school, in the evening or on the weekend.
- To enhance the viewing and make the festival a true social action event:
- Post student film reviews for guests to read;
- Host a panel of critics and experts from the community to discuss the film;
- Survey or interview the audience about their reactions to the film.
- Throughout the film festival, tie the importance of the film(s) back the work students are doing in class.
Use journal writing or Talking Circles to facilitate student reflection. Suggested reflection questions:
- What did we learn through the film and how will it change us? Did any film inspire you to action? What could you, or our class as a whole, do to affect this issue?
- Discuss the effectiveness of using film for social justice change.
- What did you learn from the experience of planning and hosting the event? What about the process stands out for you?
- How did our films and film reviews relate back to our reading of the central text?
English language learners
Explicitly pre–teach key vocabulary and pause during the film to monitor comprehension. Certain reading strategies (predicting, questioning, storyboarding) work well with film; determine which reading strategy fits each film1. Build retelling strategies (oral, written or verbal) into the viewing.2 If any of the selected films have graphic novel adaptations, consider using those in the classroom. Finally, honor the diversity of language in your classrooms by using subtitles during the film festival.
Connection to anti-bias education
A social justice film festival can build empathy and foster understanding of diverse perspectives. Films, especially documentaries, can convey the complexities of situations and capture the stories of people whose voices often go unheard. Unfortunately, film can also perpetuate stereotypes. This task allows you to help students question and analyze the role of stereotype or bias in film.