Using film in English

This resource is a conversation between the English Curriculum Team from the NSW Department of Education and the 'Film by' team.

Audience: Stage 4 and 5 teachers

Watch 'Using film in English' (13:46)

This interview discusses the limitless benefits of incorporating film into your English program.

(Duration: 13 minutes and 46 seconds)

Karen Beutler: Hi. This is the Department of Education “Film By” interview.


[The speakers appear, they are on a video call, the screen is split 4 ways and shows their faces for the duration of the conversation. Karen lifts a film clapperboard and closes the hinge, creating an audible clack to commence the video.]

Amanda Banks: Hi, everyone. I'm Amanda Banks and I'm here with my colleague, Dionissia Tsirigos, the Secondary English advisor and we have the pleasure of Glenn Carter and Karen Beutler from Film By. Now Film By is a department run project that sits within every era or area of our curriculum, but especially English and they are an overnight success, they've been 10 years in the making. So, we thought we'd get them in to have a chat to us, and Glen, can you tell us about Film By and what are the benefits for our students and for our teachers?

Glenn Carter: Okay, so, Film By started just over 10 years ago, Karen was making movies in the classroom, and we decided to do a little film festival. We ended up with 17 schools our first year. Come forward 10 years, we're approaching 25 film festivals just prior to the COVID, as far west as Broken Hill, as far north as the Tweed and as far south as Merimbula, and everywhere in between.

We do 3 things at Film By:

  • we run a 15-hour registered NESA course on visual literacy in filmmaking
  • we help to set up autonomous film festivals in your local community
  • and the third thing is special projects, which could be a film for a specific purpose, and you can see some of those on the Film By website, or we do film camps out into rural and remote areas, and they are a whole lot of fun we take film-maker teachers out with us, and we instruct teachers, and we make movies. It’s great.

Karen Beutler: In our registered course for teachers, that looks at how to embed visual literacy and filmmaking into the classroom and across the curriculum, and we look at how visual interest is an important and key literacy for kids to engage with and that it can go on to allow kids to develop so much of their potential across the 6 C’s and it's project based and it's one of those things that just ticks all the boxes.

Glenn Carter: I think, Karen, too, one of the things that we see as a by-product is that this switches kids on to learning and sometimes it's that quiet child at the back of the room that you don't think is really engaging that all of a sudden wants to be behind the camera, not necessarily in front and it switches them on, but it switches them on to other parts of learning. It really does ignite the fire for them to want to learn more.

Amanda Banks: I was just going to say, it seems to have something for everyone.

Glenn Carter: Absolutely. There's a role for everyone in film.

Karen Beutler: It's very inclusive. You can, we at our school have 2 special needs classes and an autism class and all of those kids produce films. We've had SSP schools that create films and the gains that those students achieve are just like the mainstream, they collaborate, they become creative, their technological expertise increases. It's very empowering. It's very much a level playing field, and it provides for all learners.

Dionissia Tsirigos: That sounds spectacular and fun, of course. Always and fun and usually fun for the teachers just as much as it is for the students and so in saying that, what connections are there? Not just we know that there are really amazing interconnections in the English syllabus, but what about the other syllabi and what connections might there be for other subject areas with your work?

Karen Beutler: Well, you find that it's very much embedded into STEAM. So, with right across all of the arts, creative arts, right across to science and technology, it would be almost impossible to teach history or geography without some form of digital input and if the kids can create their own digital input, then you cannot fudge that knowledge. You have to have an incredible understanding of your topic before you can create a film about something. So, it exhibits your learning in a most profound way. Anything you want to add? Glenn

Glenn Carter: Well, look, I would jump into a couple of films we've done in special projects, one that a lot of people have watched is Jack and Tom, which is rolled out every Anzac Day.

The research that the children went to in order to make Jack and Tom by-products.

They found out that the Duke came over from Hawaii just prior to the Anzacs going to Gallipoli and demonstrated surfing, and so we were able to put that into the movie in a very powerful way to show that there was a whole generation of young guys that never, ever got to experience surfing, just that little detail.

The history that we went into in the making of that film and the subsequent film we made, which is called A Parcel from My Sister Kate, which looks at women's role during the First World War. That movie was actually picked up as a Stage 5 history resource and sits firmly in that area. There's so many elements within that movie that were brought forward from Parcel from my sister Kate.

So, film, you know, sometimes I'll have principals especially will say, “Oh, you know, it's an overcrowded curriculum.” We don't want to add this in, this is a way of simplifying your curriculum, this is a way of bringing all the different aspects into one part and it ticks all the boxes and allows you to do all the things you want to do, but still, you're able to really immerse yourself in the 6 Cs.

So, it's a winner on every level and that's why as a principal of 20 years, I was excited about this. So, yeah.

Dionissia Tsirigos: I think that it's really great because it will sit, like you can actually sit it in the framework of other work. So, as you were saying, it sort of sits within the curriculum. When I think about it from an English perspective, it's like the product of all of this other work, it could be the product. Or it could be as part of, as you said, the special projects that you have. So, the films that have been designed for the curriculum specifically. So, then it sits within the other work frames and kids can be creating things that may be beyond the film spectrum as well.

It's very exciting and there's so much space and scope and capacity within this project.

Karen Beutler: I think also one of the great things we've seen is high schools using this as a learning tool to develop with their feeder schools and how the kids collaborate across stages, and to create and to bring together their knowledge, that's really powerful.

But you also see it within the high schools when they are working across curriculum areas. We've seen films in high schools that are being created right across the English, the arts and the STEM categories and all of the teachers in those areas have worked together with their kids to create amazing films.

Amanda Banks: And we are able to access those to see them some way?

Absolutely, Kellyville High School, if you go on to their website, I think they would probably have a link, I know that their films are on there. They just released a full over one-hour feature movie that was premiered earlier this year at Event Cinemas in George Street. So, yes.

Glenn Carter: In fact, Karen, it was the number one selling movie that night in George Street, which was a Friday night. Yeah, so, there you go. The power of film. On the Film By website, you can go and see examples of different types of films and film making.


Karen Beutler: And Glenn you mentioned something before about the power of digital media and we said there’s these stats that you wanted to revisit, and there was over 500 million hours of video that are uploaded to YouTube every minute of every day and there's over 1 billion hours of YouTube that are watched each day. And we find that a high percentage of people who are watching video are watching it, watching YouTube for instructional purpose, to learn how to do things, so, it's important that the kids know how to engage with this and see its applications across so many areas.

Amanda Banks: And it beautifully ties in about purpose and your audience, taking those into consideration. It's all about purpose.

Dionissia Tsirigos: And you know, it just makes me think about authority Amanda,

So, we work within our, within our framework of the English syllabus we have this really amazing resource called the English Textual Concepts. It’s that conceptualizing frame and film actually fits beautifully in there because the student themselves become the authority voice, it's their perspective, it's their understanding of text and it can work so well in that space. It’s very exciting for teachers.

And as I guess we were talking [about] beforehand is, the other thing is, now in the post-COVID world, there would be many capacities to use the online spaces that all these amazing teachers, secondary and primary teachers across the state have flipped really quickly into, and using all of this knowledge that they have to make this a synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunity where students can do these and then upload.

Karen, would you like to elaborate on that a little because you had some great examples of that previously?

Karen Beutler: Oh, well, I think that when you see kids in a classroom, we see quite often that there are certain students that will take a lot of the focus in the room and when we taught film and filmmaking, what happens is all the students rise. We see kids, because it has something for everyone and everyone's level of expertise and everyone's special talents. So, when they all rise up, it is so inclusive, and it is so empowering and we've seen it every time, haven't we, Glenn? When we look at this, I didn't know that kid could do this and they are brilliant.

Dionissia Tsirigos: And as the senior executive member, Glenn, you know, being in your position as a principal, as you said, for 20 years, there's some really great capacity for this to even become little, short films for staff, like there's a lot that's come out over the last 10 years that has changed, you know, like where you started 10 years ago to what's available now tech wise. There's so many different things that could probably be seen.

What are some of the suggestions or ideas that you've seen, or you would recommend?

Glenn Carter: You know, one of the great directors that I love is a guy called Spike Lee and if you read anything or listen to anything, watch anything that Spike Lee talks about, he says that the future is in with mobile phones because they're in your hand and when we started Film By, you didn't have a camera in your phone and the cameras in phones now are more powerful than the SLRs that we were making with kids ten, 11 years ago.

So, the ability to be able to capture the moment, it lies within mobile phones and then it's how you build onto that mobile phone and so it's a very accessible thing for any child, any school, you don't need to go out and spend a lot of money on equipment.

We're actually putting lots of info on our website that actually shows you how you can do this on a on a minuscule budget, which is what we started off with when we started Film By. So, I think that's probably one of the most exciting things is the development of the mobile phone. And you're going to see more and more major motion pictures actually shot on mobile phones. It's going to be the way of the future.

Amanda Banks: And where will people go for more information?

Glenn Carter: Look, we have lots of info on the website, we've got links to things like MediaWeb. MediaWeb sits within the AFTA’s website, and we've got lots of partnerships with different groups, so, there are lots of information points there on the website, which is easily to obtain.

We also have three competitions running at the moment, one for World Environment Day that's currently running, where we're asking kids to have a voice and tell their story in in a post-COVID world where we've actually given the environment a reboot. So, you know, what excites me as a principal is the fact that we're giving children a voice and we're giving them the ability to be able to tell story through film and it's the modem that they see. This is their world and as teachers, we want to latch onto everything that we can do to engage kids and I've never seen anything engage kids more than using film to tell a story and if you want kids to write well, get them to make a movie and they will exceed at every level.

Amanda Banks: We were talking about the reciprocity yesterday, weren't we, Glenn? Between reading and writing and creating, it's just amazing on that note, we will put all of the links to the website and your contact details on the Statewide Staffroom.

So, thank you for taking the time to talk to Dionissia and I today.

Glenn Carter: Thank you very much.

Karen Beutler: Thank you.

[End of transcript]

Related resources

The ‘Film by’ team run professional learning, set up and support film festivals and support the development of specific film projects. The 'Film by' website contains a wealth of useful resources that support the exploration and engagement with film in schools.


This accredited professional learning is connected to the domains:

  • Professional engagement – Standard 6 – engage in professional learning
    • 6.2 – engage in professional learning and improve practice.


Please note:

English K-10 Syllabus (2012)

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