THE SWEDISH WAY - Film Education

How Europe could treat film education at school
EFA Conference 2002

Rome, December 2002

The EFA Conference 2002 was dedicated to film education at school. Although there is an awareness of the necessity of such education theoretically, there is still a lot to be done practically. While some countries in Europe, especially France, Sweden and the UK have developed advanced training programmes on film and media for both teachers and students; others are only just starting to teach film and media in school. Åse Kleveland, Managing Director of the Swedish Film Institute, talks about her experiences with film education in Sweden.

When did the idea evolve to make film education part of the curriculum in Sweden and what were the reasons?

Cinema has been a part of the educational system in Sweden since the dawn of the 20th century. As early as 1921, the production and distribution company, Svensk Filmindustri (SF) established one of the world’s first departments for educational films, consisting of documentaries and newsreels. Since 1988, the Swedish Film Institute has administered a yearly governmental grant to promote film screenings at local cinemas within the public school system. The aim of this financial support has been to make it possible for school children to see quality films at their local cinema as part of their regular education. The curriculum for the Swedish compulsory schools is very clear mentioning knowledge about the media and their role in society. The syllabuses from the year 2000 stress the use of film in schools as a source of knowledge, as a creative tool for pupils, and as a form of art.

Did the Swedish politicians support the idea from the beginning and how did the teachers react?

The initiative for the school-cinema co-operation programme in Sweden came from the former Minister of Education and Culture, Mr Bengt Göransson. It was in 1985 that he formulated the notion that the best way to counteract the discussions on media violence was not to quench, censor or try to regulate the offensive material. Instead, he outlined a concept where the school would present an alternative repertoire, educating the students about the language of the moving images. At that time, teachers and decision-makers were sceptic about using feature films in education. Today, however, teachers have discovered various ways of connecting with the pupils after a film screening. The experience of the film gives them a possibility to raise questions about how time or place is represented in the picture, i.e. when it comes to stereotypes or moral conclusions - and how the film is put together with pictures, editing and sound. Teachers feel that they become better teachers using film.

Talking about teachers - what do you do for their film education?

The primary responsibility for educating professional teachers lies with the municipal authorities. There are, however, a number of organizations that help and inspire the local authorities in this special area. The Swedish Film Institute, the National Agency for Education, the teacher training colleges, and a network of regionally based resource centres for media education and film production are the most vital supporters. In addition the Ministry of Education has made a big contribution to the development of IT technology and media education in Swedish schools. Every teacher has gone through IT education and been provided with a portable computer for private use. Schools have been equipped with computers and Internet connections. This investment has increased the possibilities for the work in schools with the new media, but also for creating films on computers.

The most important question: How do the children respond to cinema at school?

It is a truism that young people like films but, of course, it can be difficult if the school, in a bad way, tries to educate about “taste” and tries to tell young people which films are good and which are not. A very interesting model, used in several municipal cities with a school-cinema programme, is to have a pupil represented in the working group of teachers and media educators who choose what films to screen. When it comes to the possibility for young people to create their own films in schools on video, the response from the pupils used to be very positive. Teachers are often surprised that their pupils are so motivated, work so well together and that kids, who used to have difficulties in the classroom, show a totally new side of themselves working in front of or behind the camera.

How would you evaluate the Swedish model after several years of experience?

The school-cinema co-operation programme in Sweden has been very successful and very appreciated among teachers and students. But the organisation in the municipalities and in the schools change quickly. You always have to be prepared to motivate and argue for film and other cultural activities in school. It is like cleaning up the mess at home: A woman’s work is never done!

How big is the financial support from both the Government and the private sector, and - is it sufficient?

The major contribution is public money from the government and local and regional authorities. The film distributors and the exhibitors support the school-cinema co-operation programmes by giving the schools discounts. Is it sufficient? No, of course not. There is never sufficient funding in the cultural sector! However, the results show us how much has been achieved and as long as the local communities keep up their present levels and more communities join the programme, we are satisfied.

How do you see the actual situation of film education in Europe and - in an ideal world - how should the future look?

Planning for an ideal world might be fun, but usually produces more papers than practical results. Our challenge is to develop models for our societies as they are today. I see a great need and potential for film education. Thus, the governments have to take responsibility for establishing and maintaining the national infrastructure and to support such programmes with whatever they need to be - both effective and professional.

Any advice for other European countries willing to make film education part of their curricula?

The Swedish Film Institute strategy to stimulate school screenings of feature films at local cinemas has three tools which work together. The first tool is an economic support. The second tool is our educational material. The Swedish Film Institute produces study guides to specific films and publishes a film magazine for teachers. The third tool is the network of the nationwide system of regionally based centres for media education and film production. Well, we have done it our way and, hopefully, “the Swedish way” may be of inspiration to others.