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IMGALTTAG Volume III: Hollywood and American History:  Reel History VS. Real History


Creating and Interpreting Shakespeare on Film
James R. Addlespurger
CAPA High School

This unit will introduce Shakespeare’s plays to high school students.  The goal is to have students appreciate Shakespeare by getting involved in interpreting his plays through the art of making film.  Students will come to understand the universal themes that exist in Shakespeare’s plays and, like a film director, make choices about setting, characterization, and points of emphasis that exist within the play.  By becoming involved in creating their own film adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s plays, students will have ownership of their projects that will ultimately enhance their commitment and involvement with the text.

Students will learn the rhythms of blank verse and iambic pentameter by memorizing lines from the text.  They will be involved in a visualization project that focuses on imagery and metaphor within the text.  Finally, students will examine characterization and choose characters to play the parts within the text.  Like directors, students will choose which scenes to cut and where to place the emphasis.  Examining a variety of film clips from key Shakespearean scenes will give the students enough background information on the various ways a scene can be interpreted.  The ultimate result will be an explanation of the process students went through to create their film followed by a showing of the film.


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The Blending of Nonfiction, Screenwriting, and Film: Documentary Filmmaking 101
Mara Cregan
The Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts

The Blending of Nonfiction, Screenwriting, and Film:  Documentary Filmmaking 101 will allow students the opportunity to work as developing, collaborative artists bending the traditional definition of art by experimenting and connecting the genres of writing and film. Working as both writers and filmmakers, students will be expected to create a short documentary based on an original creative nonfiction essay. Students will explore social and historical contexts of the genre of documentary film as they begin to explore, discover, perceive, interpret and create for themselves within the medium of film. This course will allow students to understand the considerations both a writer and a filmmaker must make as they create films as well as the opportunity to understand firsthand the historical implications of documentary film and its purposes in our society as a medium of art. The course will culminate in a showcase of the student made documentaries for the entire school community.


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Reel, Real West
Mary Ann Gaser
Pittsburgh Gifted Center

The curriculum, Reel, Real West, draws on the body of knowledge I gained by attending the seminar, Hollywood and American History: Reel History vs. Real History. The seminar, led by Dr. Ron Lombard, “explored the impact of Hollywood and motion pictures on perspectives of American history and American culture.” I was surprised to learn how Hollywood manipulates pubic opinion and has manipulated public opinion from the silent pictures to today.  The curriculum, Reel, Real West, explores the small but lasting part of this phenomenon: the impact artists and filmmakers have had on American perspectives of the West. The class will watch excerpts from the PPS series, West of the Imagination, and read selections from the book of the same name. They will watch the movies High Noon and Fort Apache then compare and contrast the paintings of Remington to scenes from the movies. In the course the students are challenged to evaluate how Westerns influenced present day perceptions of the West. The students will decide what is the most accurate version of the truth and where the filmmaker has decided to take artistic license with the facts. The students will debate the questions, "Are movies journalism or art or both? What is the filmmaker's responsibility to his/her audience? Does the audience have the right to censor the artist/filmmaker?" The students will gather information to accomplish this task by watching movies, reading articles and researching artists/filmmakers who depicted the West. After gathering and debating information the students will produce and exhibit art and describe what it means to them. The art can be in the form of a video documentary, an illustration or a display board.


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Lights, Camera, Science
Barbara Kengor
Pittsburgh Gifted Center

The curriculum, Lights, Camera, Science, uses movies as a supplement to the elementary science curriculum at the Pittsburgh Gifted Center.  The curriculum begins with an introduction to the movie making process.  Students learn about the early inventions that led to modern day films.   The second part of the curriculum has the students view clips of modern movies that deal with animals and their habitat. Students study the major biomes of the world and the wildlife that occupy each biome as they separate fact from fiction in the movies.  The final part of the curriculum engages students in an original production using what they have learned.


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Defining the Notion of a Hero
Dana M. King
Peabody High School

In this unit, students will learn the characteristics of a “hero.”  Everyone has their own idea or perception of what a hero actually is.  The students will learn about the journey that a character must embark on in order to be considered a hero.  They will specifically learn about the stages of a hero’s journey based on the theory of Joseph Campbell.  The students will examine heroes through the use of two genres; literature and film. Further, students will demonstrate the knowledge they have gained about the heroes through written products; including narrative and persuasive pieces, group discussions, and oral presentations. Students will follow the patterns and characteristics of a hero. The unit focuses on the hero theme and can be used with several pieces of literature, as well as many films.  The theme unit can be adapted to fit the needs of any English classroom.  For my purposes, this unit will be used in a secondary special education English class.


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Forrest Gump
Candace Morgan
Schenley High School

Movies are America’s mythology.  The iconic images we have created of our culture are frequently expressed in the flickering shadows and memorable lines of the silver screen.  Like all works of art, movies tell as much or more about the people who created them and the culture of their time as they tell about the actual historical events they portray.  Watching films is a great way to learn more about history, but it is also a great way to transmit and perpetuate distortions of history.  Distinguishing “reel history” from “real history” can be a daunting but fascinating task.

This curriculum unit will explore the relationship between American history and American mythology as portrayed in the movies. It will take an in-depth look at the 1994 Academy Award winning Best Picture, Forrest Gump, comparing and contrasting the events portrayed in the film with factual historical accounts.  This will provide a model that may be used to analyze other films for historical accuracy and cultural and artistic value.


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A Cinematic View of the Holocaust
Melissa A. Pearlman
Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts

This unit on Holocaust film is designed for a secondary English classroom to accompany piece(s) of Holocaust literature. Through a study of the Holocaust, students can come to realize that democratic values and institutions are not automatically sustained but should be protected, nurtured and appreciated. Additionally, indifference to the suffering and mistreatment of others (such as the infringement of basic civil rights) in any society can perpetuate problems. It is also important for students to recognize that the Holocaust cannot be seen as a mere accident in history. It occurred because individuals, organizations, and governments made choices that legalized discrimination in an effort to condone mass murder.

Film will be incorporated into this unit with two objectives. First, students will view historical documentaries as non-fictional accounts for visual and artistic enrichment. Then, students will explore how a film presents these events. It is imperative to examine how the film industry has manipulated the historical event of WWII and the Holocaust to make it more, or sometimes less, appealing for mass consumption. Exploring American and International films, this unit attempts to teach the Holocaust through cinematic and artistic enrichment.


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Identifying and Understanding Latino Stereotypes as Portrayed in Film
Ilene Scoratow
Oliver High School

Throughout history stereotypes of various ethnic groups have form in the minds of citizens of the United States.  These stereotypes serve different purposes depending on the group using the stereotype and the group being defined by it.  A stereotype can be defined as many different things. One meaning of the word was used by Walter Lippman in 1922 and is defined as a necessary psychological tool used by all people for contextualizing information from their environment, when defined this way, a stereotype remains value neutral.  Another way of defining stereotype, which is more commonly used in today’s society is as a prejudice; a way of judging others as innately inferior based on traits such as skin color, language, religion, and basic cultural differences.  This way of “bad” stereotyping was described by Arthur Miller in his work Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Stereotyping, this meaning of stereotypes will be the basis for this unit.

I have been a teacher at Oliver High School, a predominantly minority and low income school in Pittsburgh’s north side for four years. The students with whom I have come into contact over the past four years do not have much interaction with people from backgrounds other than their own, and also do not possess knowledge of cultures other than their own. With the exception of movies many of the students I have taught have no understanding of the Latin American community. However, as the racial make-up of Pittsburgh changes, it will become increasingly important for the students at Oliver to have some basic understanding of Latino culture, and how it is both similar and different to their own. I believe it is important to provide the young people in my Spanish classes with an alternative view of Latin culture and Latin Americans.  I hope that through this unit my students will come to see Hispanic-Americans as more than dirty, lazy, poor, and undereducated people holding down poor jobs and acting in an overly sexual manner; but rather, as productive citizens with a rich culture.  I would also like for my students to be able to recognize the stereotypes, where they stem from, and understand that the stereotypes are just that, stereotypes.


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What Americans Think They Know about History: How Hollywood Films Have Replaced History Books
by Elouise E. White-Beck
Taylor Allderdice High School

The influence of Hollywood films on the American public and their depiction of history is the basis of this unit which uses William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar as an example to explore how fact and fiction intermingle to tell the truth—or not.  While the target for this four-week unit is tenth grade English, the lessons can easily be adapted for any grade level for which there is a film version of a book, novel, or historical event.


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Chatham University
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IMGALTTAG Pittsburgh Teachers Institute
Jointly sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham University and the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
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