Critical approaches - Film analysis

Considering ways and means for bringing film into classrooms, and how to talk about them with children and young people; and how to begin some simple film analysis.

Critical approaches - Film analysis


Here we have two of the ‘3 Cs’ in its sights: watching and talking about film (part of the ‘Cultural’ spehere of film education), and ‘analysing film’ (part of the ‘Critical’ dimension). The section on FIlm Analysis was written by our colleagues in the Danish FIlm Institute, and features a brilliant one-minute film from South Korea. So we have a film from beyond the viewing experience of many young people (part of the ‘Cultural’ sphere), as well as using it to model approaches to film analysis.

We emphasise as always the importance of combining the Cs together: so that watching a wide range of film is always done critically; and that film analysis should always range across different types of film forms and genres, periods, and locations.

Educational perspectives: film analysis

In this section we will be looking at a specific approach to teaching film analysis devised by colleagues at the Danish Film Institute. The approach is based on three fundamentals of visual storytelling: themes, style (aesthetics) and film form.

Film Form

We will introduce you to some hands-on exercises supporting learners’ film analysis skills around a film called 'Edge of Seventeen', a one-minute short South Korean horror film. Then, we will also ask you to choose a different short film example and propose some analysis activity of your own.

A note on short film

Throughout this course, we typically propose approaches to watching, making, and analysing short films, rather than feature films. This is for a number of reasons:

  • Short films are complete narratives in their own right, but can be watched many times in a lesson or session;
  • Young people are much less likely to have seen the short films we propose - and much more likely to have seen feature films;
  • shorts are more easily cleared for copyright;
  • and while taking clips from feature films is sometimes useful for illustration, if you want to teach about whole narratives, then short films are most efficient.

In later steps, you will be looking at ways in which to plan student presentations and feedback from student to student, and finally, you will see an example of film analytical teaching materials, made by the Danish Film Institute. The latter is included to inspire educators to plan their own film analytical tasks after the course.

Each step asks you to read a text and/or watch the short film 'Edge of Seventeen' as part of the step task. We encourage you to share your thoughts and notes with the other participants.

Why analyse film? And how to do it?

Analyzing film has a positive effect on learners’ critical awareness. Film analysis is a powerful way of improving their ability to decode and analyze, and film analytical tools are invaluable in a visually dominated culture with different visual media.

Film analysis motivates a variety of collaborative tasks, from pair work to teamwork and discussions in class. A critical approach to film provokes conversation, which is essential for learning.

In school, film analysis can often focus on ‘themes’ - the purpose being to find out what the film is telling us in relation to its underlying theme. However, a film-specific approach will help the students to become aware that both film form and style (aesthetics) contribute to the shaping of the film’s content and the ways in which we, as members of an audience, receive and understand what we see.

It is important to know that a film’s ‘messages and values’ are expressed in a close and dynamic interaction between what (the content) and how (film form and aesthetics). When film form, style and theme(s) interact well, it strengthens the viewer’s personal, emotional, creative and cultural experience of the film’s narrative and message. The approach we take in this section to film analysis is only one among many different approaches. However, the focus on both themes, aesthetics and film form is essential for critical awareness, and the method is suitable across educational groups and ages in school. Teaching this approach to film analysis is a matter of preparation and organization.