Back in November I attended the Annual Network event of the Bradford City of Film organisation held at The National Media Museum. We spent a pleasant hour catching up with the various projects and events that had taken place during the previous twelve months, and networked over coffee and biscuits in the foyer of the fabulous Pictureville Cinema.
After the break we reconvened in themed groups to discuss how each specific area might approach the next year or so. The groups included local businesses, tourist and hospitality and heritage services and, the group I was in, education and training. Some of the discussion was the around the logistics of learning about and through film. With the cost of digital camera equipment and editing software coming down considerably, most schools now have the kit to make their own films and use them as learning tools. In an increasingly visual and technology driven society this seems like a good thing. And no doubt it could be. But there was a slightly awkward silence when I mentioned that I thought what needed including in any level of education about film, from primary to PhD, was the moral and ethical aspects.
What prompted me to make this observation was a comment by someone else in the group who worked at a local primary school. She noted that children were now coming to school more 'film literate' than they were able to read or write. So great an influence on their young lives were TV and DVD that the children were more comfortable (and indeed more able) discussing their experiences using visual and filmic references. I hadn't really thought about this before but it certainly got my attention.
Film and the moving image, be it animation, television or computer generated, has enormous power and influence over people. Cinema propaganda was used by all sides during the Second World War to instil fear or national pride in their citizens. TV was said to be the new family hearth during the 60s and 70s, with 'must watch' programmes regularly pulling in audiences of 20 million plus. The satellite revolution that began in the late 1980s and has exploded into a multi-million making, multi-channel maze in the last few years has proffered more choice of viewing than we could ever desire. The technology around plasma and LCD screens and services such as BBC i-Player have revolutionised the way we watch and engage with the moving image.
Anyone who goes to the cinema knows that film is an immersive experience (even if they don't quite understand the concept) and with bigger screens, 3D, and surround sound, the experience is even more of a sensory overload. Even on the average domestic TV set with a 42inch screen the viewer can be affected. Imagine the effect on a child. The complexity of the imagery used nowadays coupled with the speed of the editing combined with increasingly sophisticated and augmented sound has the potential to do untold damage to the developing brain. So, we must all act responsibly; parents, teachers, film-makers.
I am not advocating censorship - this is not about curtailing creative freedom or stifling speech. I just think that we should be conscious in our decisions, and take time to consider any implications. If film literacy is to be taught in schools then a moral and ethical aspect is essential. If you understand the power of the moving image then you are better equipped to deal with it. The codes of genre, the politics of representation, and the rules of narrative structure should be discussed. This is not to take away the 'magic' of cinema, nor to diminish its artistic merit. Rather it is to make sense of what we are presented with (not only as children but as adults too) and to enjoy it from a secure base of consciousness.
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