Screen It cinema students
Photo credit: Phoebe Powell
Stories & Ideas

Thu 31 Aug 2023

Building screen culture at ACMI

Susan Bye

Susan Bye

Senior Producer, Education, ACMI

Never underestimate the impact of a school excursion to the cinema.

this is just like a real cinema


Students enter ACMI cinema

Photo credit: Mark Gambino

Most days during term-time, if you drop into an ACMI cinema, you will encounter an audience of school students. Often they will be very serious senior students making the most of the opportunity to view their set film text on the big screen; on other days we might be screening Studio Ghibli’s exquisite Arrietty, Martin Scorsese’s paean to cinema Hugo, or Wayne Blair’s dynamic The Sapphires.

We offer a curated program of films for each year level and are always fascinated to see, first of all, which films hit the spot with teachers and, then, how they connect with students. The tears coursing down students’ cheeks at the end of Big Hero 6 and Lion are undoubtedly a sign of engagement, as are the intense conversations that follow Spider-man into the Spider-verse, Coraline and the perennial favourite Gattaca.

The ACMI museum building at Fed Square does not resemble any multiplex the students may have visited previously. So, when entering one of ACMI’s prestige cinemas, we often hear comments such as: ‘this is just like a real cinema’. (The ACMI cinemas are, of course, definitely real cinemas, albeit better maintained and equipped than the average multiplex.)

Students in ACMI cinema hear educator tell them about mise en scene with images of Coraline on screen

Photo credit: Mark Gambino

For adults, it can be easy to dismiss or, at least, forget how special it is for young people to watch a film in the dark with their classmates in a cinema. There is always a sense of occasion, with even senior students relishing the change of scene and the chance to immerse themselves in the cinema experience. For some primary students, it may even be the first time they’ve watched a film in a cinema – so we leave the lights on for the very young ones.

Students wearing school uniform sit in rows watching film with great concentration

Photo credit Mark Gambino

We host a range of student cohorts, with different levels of social privilege and familiarity with screen culture, but some things never change: they all want to sit at the back of the cinema, respond riotously to any kind of kissing scene and applaud enthusiastically at the end of the movie.

Films can be a powerful gateway to new ideas, diverse perspectives and creative thinking. In combination with our classroom resources, our educator-led film intros and discussions highlight themes and ideas, showcase the creative filmmaking process, and build analytic skills. Yet, for us, the animated conversations that begin as the credits start to roll are just as important as any formal learning program.

Senior students in ACMI cinema applaud and chat

Photo credit: Jeff Hann

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