Martha Nochimson, Film Critic and Writer / Covering David Lynch, Soap Opera, The Sopranos, David Chase, and Film Writing

World On Film


A Troubleshooting Guide for World On Film: An Introduction

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1. Why do my students and I sometimes find in articles, rental listings, and books that films are dated differently than in World On Film?

Dating films, especially international films, can be complex because there are different release dates for the same film in different countries. Frequently online and print sources for information about a film may clash. The most reliable current reference for precise dating of a film is, which has been our primary source for dating in World On Film.

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2. Why do my students and I sometimes find that the names of films, directors, and actors are spelled differently from the way they are presented in World On Film?

The names of films, directors, and actors from countries that do not use the Indo-European alphabet (based on the 23-letter Roman alphabet, updated into the current 26-letter alphabet) are transliterated when they are translated into English. There is a wide variety of transliterations. For example, the name of the Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai can also be found written as Wong Kar-Wai, or Wong Kar Wai. The name of the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky is sometimes spelled Andrei Tarkovski, and sometimes Andrey Tarkovsky. Consistency is the recommended solution to this problem. Students writing papers should choose one spelling and stay with it.

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3. Can I get larger stills of the photos in the book for more intense close reading?

Yes, a special feature of our online support for World On Film is that you can access all the frame stills from the book in an online photo gallery. We consider this an important part of your teaching arsenal, since film frames simply don`t come out as well in print as they do on screen. Just click on to view each of the stills from the book on your computer screen. Because frame stills are meant to be seen on screen, in the online photo gallery they are larger and more beautifully articulated than in the book. Please think about projecting them onto a computer in class and please give your students the URL so they can access them at home when they are working on their papers.

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4. Where can I buy or rent the films mentioned in World On Film?

Many films will be available in local college and public libraries. All the films mentioned in World On Film are available on DVD or VHS through Netflix and You will find that there are many other vendors who also sell or rent some or all of them, for example Olive Films, Movies Unlimited, Hollywood Video, Turner Classic Movies, and Facets.

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5. What if a student has a strong ideological disagreement with some of the material in World On Film?

In courses that deal with films from other cultures, there will inevitably be ideological diversity. For the most part, this adds vitality to the discussion. Rarely, disagreement will be strong enough to disrupt class dialog. The course many teachers have found most helpful is to be descriptive in their presentation of the material. Probably your methodology is descriptive rather than tending toward endorsement of the values in the films your select for your students. However, when a student (or students) expresses violent objection to the point of view of a film from another country, reason can usually be restored if the descriptive nature of your approach is emphasized dramatically. For example, you might look in great detail at the information in the chapter about historical contexts of the films to encourage students to consider how the ideology evolved. You might also, where appropriate, emphasize that the ideology in the film is no longer a part of the culture you are studying. For example, in traditional Indian cinema the perspective about women is likely to be highly offensive to today`s students. However, there have been many changes in the gender construction of characters in contemporary Indian films. Placing the older films in a historical context usually helps to create the possibility for productive discussion.

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6. What if a student voices objection to the sexual content in some of the works in World On Film?

The most prudent course is to exercise sensitivity to the social values of the area in which you teach when selecting films for class discussion. Most students will accept choices that can be supported by the practices of theaters, DVD rental sources, and television providers around them. If a student is genuinely unable to tolerate a particular film, most teachers find it best to make available a substitute assignment for that student.

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7. What if a student refuses to see any movies from a particular film culture or auteur?

Unexpected stereotypes can sometimes get in the way of teaching the work of an entire film culture, or the work of an auteur. If you become aware of the presence of that kind of interference, you might try crafting a more gradual introduction to that segment of your syllabus than you usually prepare. For example, African film may be a long stretch for some students, and Chapter 10, on Ousmane Sembène, may benefit from special preparation. In that case, showing very judiciously selected montages from several of his films and getting the class comfortable with them before they are assigned whole films may well pave the way to a successful study of this auteur. The same may be said of the films of Luis Buñuel, whose inclination toward surrealism may be too much for some students to deal with unless they are given time to become familiar with one or two of his montages.

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8. How many copies of the films on my syllabus should I make available for students to borrow in order to do work at home on a paper or preparation for a class?

So many students have access to Netflix, or something comparable, that this is no longer as difficult a problem as it once was. However, experience suggests that it would be ideal to have one copy of a film on reserve at the library and one or two, depending on the size of your class, available for borrowing from the library.

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9. What is the best way to deal with students who strongly resist studying old or black-and-white films?

As with all student resistance, the tried and true method is to introduce the subject slowly. Taking an entire class period to analyze the frame stills provided in the chapters is one way to work on changing provincial attitudes toward black-and-white films. Allowing the students to talk at length about what they each see in the stills will generally yield surprising results. In-class written responses to the stills is also a useful way to get students started on acquiring an appreciation for old, black-and-white cinema. If your classroom has computer access, you might also take advantage of projecting the larger, better detailed online images of the World On Film frame stills.

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10. Is it better to show the films in class or to arrange for special screenings outside of class time?

Screening entire films during the class period has the good effect of compelling attendance and the bad effect of preempting necessary class discussion. Ideally, the students will view films in their entirety either on their own or in special screenings arranged outside of the class period. Most teachers find that in an introductory course, if special screenings for the entire class can be arranged, it is helpful if they can be present at the initial screenings, to encourage more thoughtful moviegoing habits.

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11. What is the optimum number of papers for a film course?

Many teachers find that, in introductory courses, assigning a large number of small papers is the most productive strategy. It is also recommended that you assign a book that teaches writing about film or a composition handbook. More than one film studies teacher has had to devote some time to talking about writing in an introductory course.

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12. How can I encourage outside reading about the films under study?

How about putting on reserve in the library the books in the "For Further Reading" list at the end of the chapter under discussion?

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13. What if a student protests that his/her ethnic group has been slighted because films from that culture are not in World On Film?

Why aren`t there Turkish, Romanian, Polish, or Chilean films in World On Film? The list, a very long list, goes on. And the length is the issue. World On Film is intended for use in an introductory survey course on world cinema. It is not and cannot be a definitive compilation of all world film cultures and all postnational cinema. What World On Film aims to do is provide the background and the tools for enjoying and understanding cinema from cultures outside of and beyond English-speaking countries. For this reason, national and postnational cinema has been included that introduces students to the most powerful influences on world cinema outside of Hollywood.

However, that doesn`t mean that you can`t take the next step in your class. If you feel that your students have been authentically working to understand your assignments and that they genuinely want to get into a film culture or into postnational cinema that is not in the book, why not give them the option, at the end of the course, to take what they have learned and apply it to a film of their choice?

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14. What if a student protests that the selection of films in the book reflects what they perceive as a racist or sexist bias?

Although World On Film contains films from Europe, Asia, and Africa, it does, in most ways, reflect an established canon of films recognized by many scholars and critics as central to the traditions of world cinema. Most of the chapters in Part I are devoted to European film, and in cataloging Indian and Japanese film, the most prominent mainstream and avant-garde filmmakers are referenced, rather than marginal or lesser-known figures who may be quite exciting and may reflect values concerning race and sexuality that are not part of the works of the better known directors. That, too, is true in the selection of chapters in Part II, which concerns postnational film. This reflects a pedagogical belief that the canon is important in establishing a foundation in film studies education, as a preparation for further exploration.

However, this pedagogy does not suggest that other perspectives are unworthy of study. Again, there is no reason why you cannot take the second step and make more freewheeling assignments at the end of the semester, when you feel that your students are ready to try their wings.

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15. What if a student is interested only in the technical aspects of moviemaking and refuses to discuss thematic or aesthetic content?

This chronic problem reported by many film studies teachers is actually a solid gold opportunity. Unless you are dealing with an exceptionally hostile student, of which there are actually very few, that student, the other students, and you have a lot to gain from commissioning a presentation about some technical issues in a film you are studying. In this case, a presentation rather than a written paper is the best option, since these students usually don`t feel as relaxed when they write as they do when they talk, and won`t show to best advantage in their written work. (Papers can come later.) What is most important about this kind of assignment is the class discussion to follow, which should include, guided by you, an explication of thematic and aesthetic issues that grow from the technical material your student has made available. This can generate a very exciting class. And it could become a bridge for the student presenter between technical discussion and thematic analysis.

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16. Is it better to give tests or assign papers?

Better for what? If your class has a tendency to overlook the details and to forget important factual material, then tests which require memorization will be beneficial. If your class as a whole tends to indulge in unsubstantiated ideas, then papers will help them to become critical thinkers who challenge their first impressions by seeking evidence for them. Probably, your class has a combination of strengths and weaknesses. A few tests and at least two papers are generally recommended.

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17. What kinds of outside activities best support class work?

Are there film festivals in your area that include international film? Are there art theaters, museums, or film societies in your area that show retrospectives of the works of great filmmakers from other cultures? Some teachers require attendance at one screening at a festival or theatrically screened retrospective, even if they are not teaching the work of the filmmaker in class. A class trip is not unthinkable, especially for an introductory course in international cinema.

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18. How can I integrate online resources into my class?

Probably the best way to integrate online resources into classwork is through a lesson that enables students to distinguish between valid resources and those that are unreliable. As you know, too many students never even ask the question, "How can I trust this information?" Some guidance about validating online information will be very valuable.

Another interesting use of the internet would be for you and your students to call the class`s attention to online videos influenced by the filmmakers you are studying. There is a hilarious parody of Ingmar Bergman`s movies – principally Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal – called De Duva, that students can find online at the following URL: And there are a multitude of other interesting possibilities. For example, many online videos have been influenced by the techniques of the French New Wave (1950–1960s), Italian neorealism (1945–52), and the surrealism of Luis Buñuel, although they may never have heard of these important international antecedents. It would be an eye-opener for your class to note the impact of European cinema from over fifty years ago. Similarly, some online videos have been influenced by Bollywood.

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Other questions? Suggestions? Please email us or leave your comments below.

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