This year’s Panorama of the European Film includes a collection of films within its special focus of Education and Cinema. In addition to the film screenings, aimed at students from a variety of schools and age groups, there were also conferences for teachers and educators in which they could discuss how to use film in the classroom.
The idea was to introduce film as not just a form of passive entertainment, but a powerfully active learning tool in the educational process. Accordingly, the organisers hoped that they could do more than get young people excited about cinema. They wanted to show them how movies can help you learn to debate and think critically.
Such was the initiative at one of the festival's conferences, held at the British Council in Agouza and led by Andrew Erskin, a London-based consultant. Erskin introduced the concept of employing film in education and then led a mini workshop on how to do it in the classroom.
During his talk, Erskin highlighted the benefits of using film as a learning tool. Films are informative, he said. They shed light on socio-cultural elements and discuss big ideas like citizenship and social responsibility, all the while using the most universal kind of language, images. All of this translates into emotions, which can inspire actions, he said.
During the conference, teachers from Cairo's El-Marg School raised some of the difficulties they have faced in the past when using interactive techniques -- not enough time or space in the classroom, as well as a general lack of support from policy makers.
These problems were fielded by Aysha Selim, of Masreya Media, a Cairo-based company offering dubbing, audio production and post-production services. After giving a presentation on how aural and visual learning can stir up curiosity in students, she stressed that she would remain determined the help the teachers in finding the best way to use films in their classrooms.
"If there's a will, there's a way," Selim said.
The Education and Cinema component has been part of the annual film festival since its launch in 2004. This year, however, Misr International Films, the Panorama organisers, have expanded the initiative considerately to include schools which are not private. Reaching out like this proved to be a challenge for the organizers.
"This idea of cinema as education is new in Egypt, and it required a lot of explanation and persuasion to convince schools to get on board with it," said Sama Waly, coordinator of the Panorama’s Education and Film component.
While preparing for the Panorama, the organisers spent a lot time deliberating the films they would screen and which schools would be involved.
The movies were chosen in consideration of the schools curricula. They range from the French comedy Populaire, to last year's documentary Hannah Arendt. The Panorama also provided the schools with sets of questions to trigger discussions with students after the screenings.
Waly hopes that future Panoramas will attract a greater number of students, all of whom will find values in the films beyond just pure entertainment. For her, the success of the festival's education initiative can be measured in whether or not the teachers who attended the conference can keep the discussions on film going throughout the year.
She said that educators need to find a way to reach out to modern students, most of whom are increasingly surrounded with interactive devices. In many cases, the classical lecture-based methodology becomes ineffective.
"There has been a shift all over the world towards alternative learning techniques," she said.
"I think Egypt should catch up."
This article was previously published during the 6th edition of Panorama of the European Film.