Introduction and Activities

Curriculum Ideas for Using Anti-war Films and Documentaries

Educational research informs us that visual learning is among the most potent methods for helping students, of any age to learn. Consequently film has become one of the most popular genres for enhancing learning in today’s classroom. As a medium, film is especially cogent when it comes to helping students experience cultures and life experiences different from their own. Whether through a documentary approach or a full length movie, film can help promote an understanding and acceptance of values and traditions that originate in various global locales, see the complexities of a situation through different lens, and raise questions that may never have been considered if not for viewing a particular film. In short, feature films and documentaries can challenge our wisdom about the world, encourage us to consider alternative perspectives to our thinking, and help us nurture new approaches to taking action.

The films and documentaries that follow come from various parts of the world—Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and the United States. Some were made at the beginning of the 1900s, and are labeled as “silent movies.” There are films in the bibliography that deal with the U.S. Civil War, the Great War, Vietnam and the Korean wars, and the current conflict in Iraq. There are films that depict the angst of the Cold War, and the fear of a nuclear war. There are animated films, short films and epics. However, what they all have in common is that they have been labeled “anti-war.” Most important to the information they share is the message with which the viewers are left. 

General Questions to Ask about a Film or Documentary
  1. Why or why isn’t this film important?
  2. How would you summarize the plot of the film?
  3. How would you provide an informative headline about the film in less than ten words?
  4. What are the essential questions explored in the film? (Essential questions explore and probe the larger issues [conflict, violence, responsibility, etc.] that humans face.)
  5. How can essential questions introduced through the film be changed to hypothetical questions? How can these questions lead to new ways of dealing with conflict?
  6. What emotions were elicited through the film?
  7. What questions were left unanswered? What new topics or ideas were introduced through viewing the film?
  8. Who are the heroes of the film? What do they do that seems to make them extraordinary? How would you classify the heroes as ordinary people doing extraordinary things?
  9. Why is this film classified as being anti-war?  How would you define a film as being anti-war?
  10. What lessons can you take from viewing this movie into your own lives?
Viewing Films and Documentaries through a Different Lens
  1. How did the sound in the piece contribute to or detract from the message of the film? How were sound effects used?
  2. What would you say about the dialogue used? Did it keep your attention? Did you get lost in the script? What lines can you repeat after having seen the film?
  3. How did the setting used contribute to the overall effect of the film?
  4. Would you have edited the film differently? Are there scenes you would have deleted? Why? Are there scenes that you would have extended? How would you have done this?
  5. What other aspects (lighting, framing, costumes, etc.) of the film were important to you as a viewer?
 Procedures for Presenting the Film as Part of a Classroom Lesson
  1. Consider how the film should be set-up prior to viewing. Is there background information that would be helpful to present to viewers?
  2. If you have a DVD, does it have special features on it? Review the features and see if any are appropriate to play prior to seeing the film. What features could be shown following the film?
  3. Can any portion of the film be shown as a “teaser” the day before the viewing?
  4. Can any portion of the film be shown without dialogue? Ask viewers to guess what is occurring during a particular segment?
  5. Take a primary character in the film and hypothetically change his/her personality? Discuss how this change of personality would affect the outcome of the film.
  6. Explore characters that are stereotypical, ask for our sympathy, or are exceptional.
  7. Use other Voices in Wartime curriculum units to find poetry that relates to the time period of the conflict of the film. 
      Discuss the nature of the poems. 
      How do they support or show a different side of the film’s plot?
      What issues are explored through the poetry?
      What is the point of view of the poet?

  1. Explore questions about the particular conflict presented in the film:

      What is the nature of the conflict or war?

      What is the history behind it?

      How might the conflict been avoided?

      Discuss the lessons learned from this conflict? How might they be applied to present-day conflicts?

  1. Use other Voices in Wartime annotated film bibliographies to find “war” films that are from the same time period or explore the same theme. 
      How are these films different?
      What are the most striking comparisons between the films?
      How are the emotions expressed through the lives of the main characters different? How are they the same?
      What are the lessons learned in the “war” film? How are these lessons different or the same as those learned through viewing the “anti-war” film?