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“The Ending Wasn’t Really Fair”: The 400 Blows, The Wizard of Oz, and Envisioning Social Equity through Film

Over the past two weeks, approximately forty students from Manual Art have participated in a film intersession course I am co-teaching with Peter Carlson. These students have watched a handful of universally lauded films, critiqued them, and created & produced their own films. And although Peter and I will be writing in more detail about the pedagogy and instructional experiences of our current intersession film class, I wanted share a few snippets of what makes this such a fun class to be a part of.

  • Location Location Location: While our first class met in a large room at Manual Arts High School, the rest of the classes have met at UCLA the past two weeks. Though students were initially concerned about the nearly two hour public-bus commute to the other side of the city, the experience of holding the class at the university has a powerful effect on the students. Utilizing UCLA’s classrooms, labs, and film school has helped expose students to the opportunities of four-year universities and has made this period much more an experience than simply an elective class. Further, though Peter has taken the bus with many of the students in the morning, many students are getting to campus early and exploring. It’s been fun walking through the sculpture garden in the morning and encountering kids wandering and relaxing.
  • Production: Each week, student groups are required to create a short film. These films are based on the themes and techniques studied in class that week. Last Thursday as our guest instructor Daye Rogers worked with students editing their films, Peter and I walked across the campus. It was thrilling to see the school sprinkled with our students collaborating, planning, and shooting their films. The breakneck pace of the class has student’s working creatively, thinking technically, and getting a pretty solid foundation in digital editing thanks to Daye’s help. (There will be a student film festival at Manual Arts on April 3rd and the films will likely be available online soon – details will follow.)
  • Problem-Posing & Social Analysis through Film: Of course, the experiences of discussing and critiquing the films in this class have been powerful for all of us. Though the history of cinema is generally one told and produced by an overwhelmingly white and male demographic, we started our class by screening Children of Men to help frame the more diverse, global community working in film today. A hefty number of guests continue to visit the class discussing their work in film and academia. However, the conversations that arise as a result of the films are what most engage the students. Today, for instance, students analyzed how the ending of 400 Blows may yield the kind of ambiguity that is absent from the definitive door slam that concludes The Godfather. Further, students looked at the sexual objectification of women in Truffaut & Coppola’s films, and contrasted it with aspects of The Wizard of Oz. Questions of freedom, liberation, and responsibility were discussed in looking at the treatment of children in 400 Blows and robots in Blade Runner. Through these small and large group discussions, students are naturally guiding themselves towards critical analysis of their communities. These films are helping students reveal universal commonalities of their lived experiences.

Again, I will be posting an update about the upcoming film festival, Peter and I will be drafting a more comprehensive description of the work, and I am hoping to rope in a few students to author posts about their experiences as well. Stay Tuned.

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