The Value of Making Movies for Educational Purposes

Published in the OpEd section of The Capital Gazette (Annapolis, Maryland) on May 23, 2019

Last week, with far less fanfare than I would have expected, “The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future,” a state bill to provide an additional $855 million for public education over the next two years out of $4.4 billion over ten years, became law.

As ever, the devil will be in the grueling task of implementation but considering that the bill adopts the recommendations of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, I would like to suggest one pedagogical tool in the direction of innovation involving an unfortunately underknown state agency.

Four years ago, with the invaluable assistance of the Maryland Film Office, I located an appropriate venue in Annapolis to film my screenplay, formed a crew and made my first movie. Jump cut as is said in filmmaking to the present and to say the very least, I have been astounded by the reception from the marketplace as my four most recent movies have been accepted for distribution in over 80 countries.

I hope and believe that one of the reasons for their global distribution is their contribution to learning because my very intention in leaving the faculty of the University of Maryland to make movies was for what I call “edu-tainment.”

Anecdotal evidence gleaned at industry events suggests to me it might be because the use of cinematic art to enliven the teaching of literary and historical classics is common in many countries.

Personally, I would have benefited greatly from that. If we’d had classroom use of some of the great films already available when I was in high school like Laurence Olivier as “Hamlet,” Franco Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” and Ingrid Bergman as “Joan of Arc.” I could have made far greater sense of those stories, or in the case of Hamlet at least a little of it.

The watching of movies though, wouldn’t qualify as innovative. Creating them, however, just might be. I recommend for consideration permitting students the option of creating their own movies out of readings many if not most high school students consider sheer drudgery.

As it happens, we are in the best time in history for anyone to enter the cinematic medium. Anyone with a newer smartphone already has more filmmaking technology than Walt Disney ever had.

To those who have never had the chance to create a movie, just take my word for it that the exhilaration of doing so is absolutely intoxicating. There simply is no comparison to reading a story on the page and it would be no drudgery.

I strongly believe as a former educator that knowing such a project lies ahead would incent a tremendous amount of learning where previously there would have been dread. And I highly doubt high school students these days would have any difficulty wielding whatever equipment would be required.

Consider marveling at modern masterpieces of cinematic performance like Tom Hiddleston’s Henry V exhorting his troops into battle with “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers” and David Tennant’s Hamlet pondering with existential anguish, “For in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil” and then having students create their own interpretations of them.

I dare suggest that the Prince of Denmark’s plight might actually become comprehensible to the happy few who attempt to depict it.

Digital technology being as inexpensive as it is now, offering students the chance to mount cinematic productions as curricular activities would not consume much of the $4.4 billion Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.

The confluence in Maryland now of affordable technology, approved funding and the tremendous expertise of the Maryland Film Office suggests to me that there won’t be a better time to attempt such an educational endeavor.

View More Articles