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A Classic Cinematic Education

Independent Film Channel this week will launch its first long-term public-affairs initiative, an educational program that will use film and film commentary to aid English teachers as they instruct students in classic literature.

While IFC’s past public-affairs efforts were developed on a project-by-project basis, the network decided to extend Film School, a 2004 docudrama reality series from filmmaker Nanette Burstein that followed New York University film students as they competed for a movie-making award, said Evan Shapiro, IFC’s executive vice president and general manager.

The curriculum for the upcoming “IFC’s Film School” was developed with the input of teachers to meet the standards of the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association.


In this iteration, English teachers will be able to access teaching materials via a Web site ( The curriculum is heavy on Shakespeare, said Donelle Blubaugh, vice president of Topics Education, the firm that helped draft the materials.

For instance, one module focuses on a soliloquy from the Bard’s Hamlet. Students will study the text for ways to visually depict its meaning. That leads into a project in which students write and film their own soliloquies.

“With this, no one has to stop teaching Hamlet or The Scarlet Letter in order to embrace technology,” Blubaugh said.

Shapiro noted that IFC didn’t really set out to provide an English-centric curriculum, but through meetings with teachers, network executives realized just how close the filmmaking experience could parallel literature and creative-writing classes. By integrating the IFC materials into core classes, teachers wouldn’t have to find time for a separate subject area, they told the network.

Students who make films will be able to use broadband connections, provided by local operators, to upload video files of their films to IFC’s Web site.


In January, IFC will announce details of a competition inviting Film School participants who have made their own film interpretations of classic literature to upload their work to, where Web surfers can view it and vote for their favorites. Top vote-getters will be featured on the cable network.

IFC will also work with cable affiliates to create area student short-film festivals on local channels.

“This program uses two-way [capability] and the local nature of cable … it becomes a viral marketing tool for promoting digital cable,” Shapiro said.

Friends and relatives of the student filmmakers will need digital cable to watch the film festival, or high-speed data service to best view films from IFC’s main site. In addition to the program’s focus on literature, students can learn about aspects of screenwriting, film production and criticism, according to Shapiro.

As it was creating this program, IFC awarded scholarship grants to three students in a summer filmmaking program run by New York’s Ghetto Film School. These students now serve on the Film School steering committee.

IFC is scheduled to introduce elements of the program at the annual National Council of Teachers of English convention in Pittsburgh on Nov. 19.