Interactive Spectatorships

Media Viewing Practices in the Digital Age

Project Blogs

Students out of Sync with Film Screenings?

Posted on April 10, 2012 at 6:50 PM

After a 90 minute lecture followed by a ten-minute break, my fellow film students and I settle down to watch a feature length film. With complete concentration we are expected to process and analyse the ‘important’ aspects of the film, our thoughts invited to become part the basis for discussion in seminars, which can occur on the same day or up to a week later. This is the 'standard' format of film studies delivery. However, a film screening, in reality, does not lend itself to being an active learning environment. Unfortunately, I believe very few students treat the screening as part of the academic process to the extent that our lecturers expect or wish. Some students don’t even watch the film leaving after the lecture, some just sit through it with little attention, and I have never seen any students take notes. The atmosphere is very relaxed; students are comfortable enough to talk, eat and even sleep. Furthermore, many students spend much of the time on their laptops or other portable devices. Social media such as Facebook is a common sight during screenings alongside Google. What I have yet to discover is whether some students use the internet to research the film as they watch it.

So why are we as film enthusiasts and students unable to use the screenings in a more scholarly way? There are many possible reasons. Firstly, I believe most students have been passive watchers of only mainstream films before university. They therefore struggle with the sudden expectation to stop simply ‘enjoying’ films as a form of escape. Watching independent or foreign films is perhaps difficult for some, as is the very process of analysing them throughout. It is a difficult transition to make. Secondly, many students seem to prefer to watch films at home on a small television screen or computer screen where they can download a film at a later time and watch in a more comfortable environment. This may be due to the fact that there is more flexibility on portable devices - such as ability to pause and fast-forward - therefore editing your film experience whilst also able to browse online or have a break. I think this, for students of my generation, outweighs the negatives of smaller picture size and lower quality of sound, especially with the improvements in sound and picture technology on small screens. The fact that many people my age do not or cannot enjoy watching a film without being able to multi task shows a dramatic change in our ability to concentrate solely on something. Thirdly, the readiness of such technology actually renders it unnecessary to take our own notes on the film. The Internet provides a wealth of information that can tell us about the key aspects of most films. This perhaps even negates possible interaction between students in person after the film to discuss and develop ideas because technology means we can find answers or voice our opinions straight away.

So why do we still go to the cinema still at all? Perhaps this is because of the excitement of watching the latest releases. On the other hand, thanks to the Internet, illegal downloading of pirate films means people can view even new films can be watch fairly easily at home. The perceived limitations of film screening may actually make students think that time spent watching in a cinema auditorium is either boring or even has negative effect on their expectation or understanding of the actual film. Film screenings are perhaps almost out of sync with us as an audience who live in the digital world. The solution is not to cut screenings as it is vital to becoming an active film viewer and many students just wouldn’t end up watching the film before seminars. Neither is the answer to ban media during lectures or screenings, it is too late to ask everyone to reject media, it is part of every other aspect of our lives. Using social media during screenings could have the potential to address some of these issues. It suits the appetite for instantaneous interaction and could provide a method of documenting comments for further discussion during seminars. It could also facilitate more active spectatorship helping students with more critical methods of analysis. The introduction of twitter into screenings does present some contradictory problems. The balance between engaging with the twitter feed and screen cause an unsettling level of distraction. However, I believe screenings need to change somehow. They are not at this moment as valuable a use of time as they could be for the majority of students, and neither do the screenings seem to fit in with the contemporary student’s mindset.

Ellie Goodwin

Categories: Student blog

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