What is film?

Before we start looking at approaches to film education, it is worth spending some time thinking about what we mean by the term “film”. On the surface, the term seems straightforward. But the video below, it shows how wide the definitions are. It also shows how important it is to ask children and young people what is their own ‘concept of film.’ What do they think about when we say what is film’? What kinds of films do they, where, who with, and what pleasures do they take from it?

What is film?

‘Film’ can refer simply to the latest blockbuster, or to what might be called ‘art film’. Martin Scorsese recently created controversy when he said Marvel comic films were not ‘real cinema.’ Does a film need to be seen in the cinema or is it still a film when we stream it onto our laptop or mobile device? Does a film need to tell a story? Is film an art form? And if so how do we define what is “artistic”? And then there are the synonyms for film: ‘cinema’ (in French) has a different set of meanings; ‘movies’, means something different again. Some countries have tried ‘moving image’ as a neutral term. And these are only English terms!

Over the last hundred years the idea of what a film is, what it might become and how it appears on a screen, have changed dramatically, sometimes due to technological advances, sometimes by accident. 3D film has struggled to take off over the last 70 years, but on the other hand, filming on mobile phones has led accidentally to ‘portrait format’ filming (which many cinephiles hate!) So not only the way that we view film but also the ways in which films are created and circulated have changed.

Film therefore is not a fixed term but rather a whole set of possibilities, types and places of consumption.


Film has been used in education since the 1930’s. Be it the filmed version of a play or novel, a documentary , a fiction film based on historical events or social issues, films have been used to “illustrate” topics and themes which are studied in a variety of subjects.
But is this film education?

We think it is important to differentiate between using film to support the teaching of a variety of different subjects and the actual teaching about film. The former focuses simply on the content of the film, quite often in an unproblematic way.
But then what is film education?

Watch the two videos and make a note of anything that surprises you in their conversation?
How far do their experiences vary from your own?
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