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Film and history

Significance

Film and documentaries can also be a great way to develop students’ skills of critical analysis and understanding of historical significance. This can range from asking students why there have been so many films and documentaries made about the Holocaust, or about World War II, but less about the Napoleonic Wars, for example. Why are there more films and TV series about the Tudors and the Victorians and less about the Stuarts and the Georgians? Does this tell us more about those historical events or their impact on the present?

Students can also explore film and significance by examining which events in a historical period a director or producer has chosen to portray and why these might be more important than other events. For example, why did the director of Schindler’s List choose to focus on someone who helped to rescue Jews, rather than someone complicit in their persecution? What are the most important events in Elizabeth I’s life and how does the director portray them? A useful exercise for students watching a film of a period they have studied closely is to act as the historical consultant for the film – picking out historical inaccuracies and judging whether they agree with the portrayal presented.

In considering issues of historical significance students can be encouraged to create their own films and documentaries, portraying the most important events of a period as they see it.