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One of the most powerful ways to engage and inspire young people is through film. Documentaries cut through because they are genuine and relevant. Documentary film screenings can be used to build empathy and inspire action or educate and create awareness about a subject, topic or issue. Most feature length films are too long to be shown in class, and although short clips are great for informing, they don't carry the same impact of the journey of a full length film. To give your students the experience of the feature film, you can set up special screenings or an entire screening program to take place outside of regular class time.

Below are some tips on how to organise a documentary screening program at your school. 

What you will need: 

  • A venue: Where can you hold your film screening? Is there a room that is already well setup for watching films? If not find a dark room;
  • A wall or screen to project the film onto;
  • A projector and a computer to plug it into (check the projector and make sure the picture is clear and not discoloured);
  • External speakers that you can plug into your computer (it's really important to have good audio);
  • A copy of the film, or if streaming make sure you have a good internet connection.

Steps to arrange your film screening or screening program:

Get a student group or committee together to drive the program and as a team:

  • Set a date and venue - make sure its all approved by your teachers. NB: Films often run for about 90 minutes, so you may have to choose a time that’s just after school, or in a long break in lessons.  If you’re running a series of screenings, its often good to pick the regular time so people anticipate something coming up even if they don’t know the film title. For example, the the second Tuesday of the term or month, or maybe you’re running it weekly in Term 3.
  • Select the films that you will screen. Consider what aligns well with your learning, or what’s topical in your school. Consider if there are any problems or issues that you want to address and use the film as a springboard to start discussion and inspire action. Talk to your librarian about what films the school has already purchased for screening or how the school finds and accesses films. It’s really easy for schools to access films that have aired on television. If you’re using another film you may need to go directly to the film’s website to find a schools screening pack or toolkit. Watch the films in their entirety before allowing students to watch them to ensure there is no inappropriate content, and prepare you for any tough scenes that may confronting. If you think some students may find the film confronting, make sure you have the right provisions in place to support them. You may need to let parents and other teachers know about the film and the possible effect it may have, and you may want to set up a safe place for students to go to if they need to leave the film, and make sure there is someone there they can talk to. Make sure you also have support services information ready for the students.
  • Consider whether you want to bolt anything onto the screening. Many documentary films have a screening or discussion guide that you can download to get some ideas, which may include stuff like:     

    1. A panel discussion or Q&A with relevant community members

    2. Show relevant clips or interviews with the filmmaker

    3. Run an activity inspired by the film, for example visit a local charity that is working on the issue in the film, run a fundraising drive, or start an action group in your school to inform and make change in your community

    4. A relaxed discussion over a meal to reflect

    5. A survey to evaluate how the film has changed attitudes or informed viewers

  • Make a poster. If you have a school screening kit, there may be a poster you can use, otherwise you can search online of the official film poster, or just make an original work of your own. You might also want to create a Facebook group or event and send your poster viral on instagram, twitter, snapchat or whatever apps are most used by students at your school.
  • Start promoting your screening with enough time for students to prepare themselves and book it into their calendars.
  • Before the screening test all of your equipment, and if you are streaming the film, make sure it has time to fully load to avoid buffering. You may want to give a little introduction to provide some context and let viewers know if anything is happening after the film.

And away you go! If you need some film ideas you can check out some of the films we have supported and have extensive educational resources here. We have also got a few blogs listing films about science and time, with many more topics to be added. To make sure you're kept in the loop of films good for other subject areas sign up to our newsletter here.

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