War Child on Screen

Dr Ute Wolfel, Literature and Languages
u.wolfel@reading.ac.uk
Year of activity: 2014/15

Overview

9412Finalist students from German, French and Italian organised a public film season of four films (German, French, Spanish, Italian) with Reading Film Theatre (RFT) on ‘Children in War’ to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The students chose the films, contacted the distributors, and helped with the actual screening but also researched the films and put together Film Notes that, together with an invitation letter, were sent to local secondary schools.

Objectives

  • Encourage students to undertake independent research within the context of taught modules.
  • Enable the students to reach beyond university by using their knowledge in a public context.
  • Enable them to see the relevance of their academic learning and effort.
  • Allow them to gather practical experience within the wider field of their course by including them in the organisational work with RFT, distributors, the University of Reading’s Design & Print Studio, and local schools.

Context

The project took place within the context of Dr Leavitt’s and Dr Wolfel’s research and finalist modules on World War II and War Cinema. Dr Leavitt and Dr Wolfel are specialists on the respective national cinemas and have worked on war films in particular. At the time of the project, Dr Wolfel was also principal investigator for a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant on ‘Children in German War (Con)Texts’.

Implementation

Students and staff from the respective languages and modules were asked to join the project. A schedule was agreed by all and then students formed groups to watch and choose the films for the season. Students divided into working groups for the creation of Film Notes as well as organisational work such as liaising with distributors and RFT. The students in the various groups contributed researched information to the Film Notes and wrote them up together with staff; students also read the Film Notes’ proofs sent from Print & Design. Students as well as staff wrote an invitation letter for local secondary schools and sent it out. At the actual screenings students helped as ushers; for the German screening they also did part of the introduction to the film and helped with the following Q&A session.

Impact

The Film Season as a whole was a success. Out of the four films scheduled, three were actually shown and attracted very good audience numbers and lively discussions at the end. The students most engaged in the project, enjoyed the work as well as the success. They found the work undertaken useful and rewarding – if not always as easy and straightforward as anticipated – and were proud of having been involved in a public outreach event related to their actual studies.

While the initial response from secondary schools was enthusiastic, not all the schools that had booked seats came to the screenings. Those schools that attended, however, enjoyed the event and new perspectives offered. It was good to see that the film season attracted a good audience from the general public.

Reflections

The project’s success was based on a small group of students’ engagement and diligence and also some of the staff’s willingness to work hard with those students. Were this was not given, the implementation would have been less successful. Some of the students participating felt less responsible for the work and were therefore less reliable. One of the reasons for this might have been that the group of students involved was initially too large and not all the students were equally interested in the topic. For such a work intensive project it seems, retrospectively, best to keep it smaller and the group closer together, perhaps within the context of one module or research project.

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