Marie Seton's first book-let-edited version.
The Film as an Educational
Force in INDIA (edited version)
1. Subjects and Films
2. General Reactions to films Appreciation
3. The Educational Value of Specific films
4. Experiments with Children and Villagers
Subject and Films
When this pamphlet was first suggested the proposed title was "The - Film in Education in India". But as I thought it over it seemed that my experiences and the findings resulting from them would fit more exactly into the title "The film As An Educational Force in India."
To begin with, my experiences have been varied for my lectures, which were sponsored by the Ministry of Education as part of experimental Audio-Visual work, have covered a wide range of organisations. I have spoken to schools, agricultural institutes, universities, New Delhi's Sangeet Natak Akademi, Bombay's Theatre Centre and Films Division, associations of film producers and technicians, film journalists, and more than one board of film censors. The lectures were attended by cinema workers, teachers, students and interested laymen, and the talks were given in a number of cities and towns over a wide area of India.
Before giving details of the subjects, and the films upon which opinions were expressed by a number of different people, it is perhaps important to mention the basis upon which the film illustrations were selected.
The films selected represented outstanding examples of international cinema production dating from 1917 to 1954. The criterion for selection was either that the theme, or general content of the film, parallelled some Indian problem; or because all specific technique employed in a particular film offered possibilities of the adaptation to Indian subjects. The idea was to avoid presenting films which were totally remote from the Indian scene.
To illustrate the question of theme: For example, the German cinema was represented by G. W. Pabst's famous film Kamaradeschaft (Comradeship). This film tells the true story of a mine disaster on the Franco-German border and how German coalminers went to the rescue of the French despite the traditional hostility between the two countries. The film was originally produced to show "that if frontiers can be ignored when man needs the help of man, then frontiers which are barriers behind which wars are fomented, are inexcusable". For Indian audiences the moral point of this film is quite clear. Moreover, it is representative of the level of film recommended by the British Film. Institute for use in all types of Secondary schools.
To illustrate the matter of film technique : In Indian story films there are a great many songs, but these are not always integrated into the story. To show what can be done with music in story films Rene Clair's classic comedy, Le Million (The Million) was shown as representative of the French cinema. In this film "Music and songs were important. Sound was balanced against silence; (and) characters were allowed to sing suddenly for sheer enjoyment, this being part of the film's charm and originality." While this film is not specifically designated for children it is suitable entertainment for any group.
In the film producing centres of Bombay and Calcutta I gave six-day seminars consisting of the subjects "Film Appreciation", "Drawings that Walk and Talk," "Eisenstein's Life and Work," "Film Societies," "Documentary Films', and "Eisenstein in Mexico". In New Delhi the lecture "Eisenstein in Mexico" was replaced by the talk "Four Directors". The change was made in order to elaborate on the style of individual directors—Rene Clair, G. W. Pabst, Vsevolod Pudovkin and Alexander Dovzhenko—whose work was not so well known to Delhi audiences.
These six subjects covered the general history of cinematography; the aesthetics of cinema; the development of distinctive schools of cinema in different countries as shown in the three main categories of film production—the dramatic story film, the documentary film and the animated film made without living actors that is, cartoon, puppet and "cut-out" films. The history of the International Film Society Movement was also covered because of its importance in educating the public in Film Appreciation and, thus influencing the production and distribution of films of a higher calibre those of a widely educational character.
The subject "Film Appreciation" was given as a single lecture at a number of Universities including Banaras Hindu University, the University of Patna, Calcutta University, Gaya College and other educational institutions. "Art in Cinema" also constituted a separate subject. "Cinema for Education" and "The Psychological Effects of the Film" were two subjects given to several Social Educational Organisers' Training Centres and Visual Education Committees.
In order that the reader may have the fullest knowledge of the films, and film extracts, shown at various places I will list the films in terms of their seminar use. In a number of cases the extracts are those which the British Film Institute has widely used in its Film Appreciation work. These I will designate as "B. F. I. Study Extracts" or "B. F. I. Study Films". All the other extracts were specially prepared for my lectures in India.
The first subject of the seminars, "Film Appreciation", introduced the audience to the history of cinematic development. It showed how the film medium has been freed from theatre traditions and has developed a technique of presentation which is suited to the artistic possibilities of the motion picture camera. It also presented the cinema from an international point of view and showed that in general a film, like a novel or play, becomes universal in its appeal (a) when it presents an important social or political theme, and (b) when it is nationally true to the country where it is created.
The films shown were :
Charlie Chaplin's The immigrant (entire film), a comedy of an immigrant to the United States who goes into a restaurant with insufficient money to pay the bill. This film embodies all the major elements of Chaplin's art and social philosophy.
Alexander Dovzhenko's Earth, a film of Russian peasant life directed by an artist who was himself born a peasant. This film is widely ranked as a masterpiece in the portrayal of peasant thought and expression of emotion. (B. F. I. Study Extract).
Vsevolod Pudovkin's "Storm Over Asia' was shot as a silent film but shortly before his death the director made a sound tract for it. The film portrays the people of Mongolia during the War of Intervention. The two extracts shown included a documentary ceremonial dance enacted by Mongolian Buddhist priests. This film has been acquired by the Ministry of Education for preservation.
G. W. Pabst's Kamaradeschaft (Comradeship), the last major German film produced before the advent of Nazism. The film shows amity between French and German miners during a mine disaster. (B.F.1. Study Extract).
Rene Clair's Le Million (The Million), a French comedy about a lost lottery ticket. The film blends amusing social satire with an imaginative use of music and singing. It represents engaging and artistic entertainment. (B.F.1. Study Extract).
Luchiano Emmer's Sunday in August, an example of Italian "neo-realist" cinema. The film interrelates what happens to several groups of' people representing different classes in society when they go to spend a Sunday at the seaside. The selected extract shows these different groups having their lunch in contrasting environments. It affords some parallel with India's social classes.
John Ford's They Were Expendable, an entertainment film of high technical merit based on the true account of American exploits in the Pacific during the last war. The extract shows how a factual event can be presented as exciting drama and serve as a vehicle for a dynamic film portrayal. (B.F.I. Study Extract.)
Children of Hiroshima showing two extracts from the Japanese film dedicated to the aftermath of the A-Bomb. The film was financed by a group of Japanese school teachers and produced by Japanese film technicians belonging to the city of Hiroshima. Since its release in Europe this film has been widely shown to religious and educational bodies concerned with the idea of peace. The commentary for the British promotion trailer of the film was written and spoken by the noted educator and philosopher, Bertrand Russell.
The films illustrating 'Film Appreciation" stressed that the feature film at its best is an educational force and that dramatic films can be based upon real situations as in They were Expendable, Kamaradeschaft and Children of Hiroshima.
The lecture "Drawings That Walk and Talk" surveyed the attempts of early artists to convey the impression of movement before the invention of cinematography ; for example, the movements of animals in early cave paintings and paintings of dancers on Greek vases. It traced the origins of cinema and its development in terms of the cartoon film, the puppet film and the ‘cutout' film.
The films shown were:
Drawings That Walk and Talk, the history of the animated film-cartoon which I made for the British Film Institute. This film propounds the idea that the cartoon film is the modern way of telling fairy tales and it includes extracts from the first cartoons made to some of the most representative cartoons of Walt Disney. It has been widely used in education and in art schools.
The Trees and the wind, a Czechoslovakian cartoon film designed to teach while it entertains, the subject being the erosion which results when trees are indiscriminately cut down. This film has been acquired by the Ministry of Education.
"Film Societies", upon which the development of Film Appreciation has depended in Europe and the United States, was discussed in detail, the purposes of Film societies, my own experiences in working with different types of film societies in England, the United States, France, Italy and the Netherlands, finally, the advisability of developing as similar movement in India.
This talk was illustrated with extracts from films which have formed Film Society programmes in various countries. The illustrations were introduced with the British Film Institute discussion film on Great Expectation, David Lean’s adaptation of the Dickens classic.
General Reactions to Film Appreciation
In 1938 Dr. Kamala Kanta Mukcrjee. who now heads Calcutta University's Department of Education, delivered a lecture on "Films in Education" at the Thirteenth Conference of the All-India Federation of Educational Associations in Calcutta. At that time he said: "We can assert that it (the film) is educational even when it entertains and that if a comparable effort had been put into using the film for education in its widest sense as has been put into its use for entertainment, one could almost claim that the cultural level of all peoples would be immensely higher today than it actually is......The great use of films is that they make real, vivid and lifelike the objects they deal with...... Film appreciation is, therefore, the first step towards the provision of films of cultural value."
Despite the views of Dr. Mukerjee, which are confirmed by most thinking people the world over, it has to be admitted that there are still many educated people in India who have the impression, if not the settled conviction, that nothing of value can be expected from the cinema—except, of course, the Documentary Film---because entertainment films are of necessity geared to a cheap and vulgar standard of mass entertainment. They doubt if the cinema has or can acquire the status of a recognized art form.
This false impression, and indeed prejudice, has been built up because relatively few of the outstanding cinema classics have been shown in India. It is also due to the fact that the Indian public, as well as the producers and the technicians of the Indian film industry, have been constantly exposed to the mine run commercial Hollywood films which are frankly produced solely for their quick financial returns. Since these films, for lack of anything better, have proved successful with the public, Indian producers have, for the most part, maintained that their own productions must subscribe to certain preconceived standards of commercial appeal rather than aim at artistic and educational merit. There have, of course, been exceptions. But on the whole producers have claimed that the public will accept nothing better. This assertion is open to question.
There is no doubt that the international Film Festival of 1952 came as a happy revelation to those who saw the films submitted by various countries, especially the Italian and Japanese films. There is every evidence that this stimulating festival has influenced the production of sonic Indian films of a new artistic and social value, or, as, Dr. Mukerjee put it, "the film' for education in its widest sense". The festival certainly prepared the way for a new attitude towards the cinema.
During my first film seminar in Bombay I was greatly surprised by the interest which it called forth. First, there was the response of the film technicians who sought to study many of the film extracts which I brought with me. Outside of my talks—and there were several special ones for technicians associations—we engaged in discussion about these film and also discussions regarding current and recent productions of the Film Division. I was also gratified by the interested attitude of scenario writers like K. A. Abbas and the actor-director, Raj Kapoor. There is- no doubt that directors like Bimal Roy desire to produce films of greater merit.
I gained the impression from my Bombay discussions that many skilled and talented technicians feel handicapped because they have not had the opportunity to follow international film developments. For example, the Bombay technicians voiced the desire to see an extract from the 1919 "milestone" German film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which is generally ranked as the first so-called "art film". I had not thought of including this film because I supposed it was already well known in India. Upon request, the British Film Institute hastened to send an extract to India.
During my weeks in Bombay I formed the definite opinion that film technicians here have a strong desire to produce films of greater artistic and thematic significance.
As to the general audience attending the six-day seminars, I was astonished by the diversity of people who came. It appeared as if the desire to evaluate newly the film medium was best symbolized by the repeated presence night after night in Bombay of a gentleman who is one of Indian's most perceptive critics of the arts and writer for "The Times of India" under the name of "Adib". His concern with the cinema, and the Indian cinema in particular, is that the dynamics of this medium should be understood and used to the fullest extent. Analysis of all aspects of the cinema is the essence of all Film Appreciation.
Appreciation of the cinematic potential was reflected in the New Delhi reaction to my talk "Art in Cinema" given under the sponsorship of the Sangeet Natak Akademi. The films illustrating this subject were The Idea, The Drama of Christ and Three in the Sun. These very different types of film reflective as each is of the influence of the graphic arts, are taken for granted in the West. But in New Delhi they opened up new vistas as expressed by the Delhi film critic of "The Times of India", who said: "Delhi audiences had their first glimpse of 'art films', a new development in the cinema which may one day revolutionise the movie and art worlds".
This lecture led to my being invited to speak at several art museums. It was apparently accepted that the cinema was not simply divided into commercial entertainment films on the one side and strictly educational films on the other; but that there is a third category of films: those which are works of art capable, as any other work of art, of the highest degree of expressiveness.
The outcome of the Calcutta seminar was very concrete. A group of people long interested in promoting better films decided to reinstate the Calcutta Film Society, which was active from 1947 to 1952. Professor N. K. Sidhanta, Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University presided.
A significant comment on the changing attitude towards the film was the request of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, for a seminar on films.
Where there is such a response to discussion of cinema and an interest in films which are not in accord with the conventional entertainment film, it is reasonable to suppose that there is a growing public of a higher and more cultural character. The success of the Bengali film, Pather Panchali, is also indicative of this trend.
The Educational Value of Specific Films
As my lectures branched out to audiences directly concerned with education I realised that it was going to be difficult to draw my listeners into verbal discussion.
I have observed in other countries, for example, England and France, that people are very reluctant to express their opinions about the cinema unless they have belonged to a Film Society or a Chic Club long enough to feel familiar with the subject of films. I tried twice in New Delhi to pry discussion from my student listeners, but without success. So it became clear that here, where Audio-Visual work is in its pioneer stage, some other method had to be devised.
But at first I could not think of a suitable method. However, at the Agricultural Institute at Allahabad, where I could sense that the trainee teachers were very responsive to the films, it suddenly struck me that if I asked the students to Write their opinions of each film I could thereby find out how they viewed the films, and also, possibly, what they thought were the uses for a particular film.
I hope my readers will now forgive me ill proceed to quote many people's reactions to certain films; indeed if I allow my listeners to dissect a selection of films from the point of view of their educational value.
It seems to me very important that the opinions of teachers and students are recorded so that those who lay down the policy as to the type of films to he sent to various educational institutions have a guide as to the kind of films which make an appeal and from which the people on the spot derive some educational benefits, or find ideas which are of a stimulating nature.
Let me first take the case of a simple film, the silent picture Nanook of the North, which stands as a milestone in film history, being the first documentary feature film to me made about the life of remote people—the Eskimos of Northern Canada. This film has been acquired by the Ministry of Education.
The extract which I showed portrays a family—father, mother and three children—building their house of snow, the so-called igloo. While the parents work, the children play.
This extract was shown at Banaras, Hindu University, the Teacher's Training College of Calcutta University and the Social Education Organisers' Training Centre at Allahabad'.
A Research Scholar at Banaras Hindu University said : "it took me to the land of the Eskimos. I enjoyed it. (I forgot the cold !)" A Medical student at the same institution expressed the view "The film was quite suitable for teaching Geography. The students can see how the Eskimos built up their igloo. But the film could not explain the excessive cold which is felt in the Arctic regions.”
Experiment with Children, Villagers
When I first arrived in New Delhi I was asked to speak at the Modern School, the subject being "Films Suitable for Children''. As I am not: an expert on children's films, I was a little non-plussed by this request. However, since I had considerable material on this subject from Mary Field, the Director of the British Children's Film Foundation, 1 prepared a talk which summarized sonic of the important findings in regard to children's reactions to cinema. I presumed that the talk was to be given to the faculty.
The gist of the talk was:
First, that children are very critical and that frequently they do not like those films which film producers assume will be popular with children.
Second, that when films are made especially for children then they must be produced with exactitude or the children will dismiss them as "silly pictures."
Third, that children want to see certain types of characters on the screen such as young and efficient adults or CISC old people who are worthy of respect. They are almost receptive to the activities and adventures of children between the ages of seven and fourteen with whom they can identify themselves.
Fourth, that children like to sec animals in films and that they appreciate stories with interesting backgrounds. That they also appear to respond to films with good music and those which are made with artistic and technical perfection.
Fifth that in one test made with the same film it was determined that the reactions of children to the same scene were exactly alike in London, Calcutta and Melbourne ; this last fact indicating that a well made children's film from any country will be appreciated by children all over the world.
I cited several films which I thought would be of interest to older children. These included two biographical films, The Life of Emile Zola and Dr. Pasteur; also the Hungarian Nature film Kingdom f the Waters. I proposed to show two films which would probably appeal to children. These were Charlie Chaplin's silent comedy, The Immigrant, and a coloured Czechoslovakian cartoon, 'The Trees and the Wind, which I obtained from the Ministry of Education.
But when I arrived at the Modern School in New Delhi I received a shock. My talk was intended for the pupils - boys and girls ranging in age from eleven to sixteen! It was obvious that if I attempted to give my prepared talk the children were likely to be bored to death. So I decided to forget all about my script as fast as I could and rely upon experiment and improvisation.
I decided to sit down and have, as it were, a chat with the audience. I started by saying that anyone who did not understand anything I said should interrupt and ask me to explain things better. The three ideas I wanted to get across to the children were these
First, those good films generally tell their story, whatever the subject, through the liveliness of the images.
Second, that there is a movement afoot today to produce films specially for children. I told them about the productions of the Children's Film Foundation in England and gave them details of some of the six feature films produced each year, and about some of the shorts and travel films which are also produced. I selected those films of the most universal theme; for example, the feature film Skid Kids, which tells the story of London children on the track of bicycle thieves who haunt their bicycle dirt track; also about Kekec, an adaptation of a Yugoslav folk tale about a brave boy who overcomes a savage hunter. Of short films I mentioned Mardi and the Monkey, an Indonesian story of a little boy who has a pet monkey. Of films in the course of production I mentioned The Secret Forest, a detective story set against the background of the excavation of a Viking ship on the-East Anglian Coast in England.
Third, I related how the French have developed Children's Cine Clubs, notably in the towns of Bordeaux,, Lille and Clermont-Ferrond; while in England children's Film Societies, and Film Appreciation as an activity of Youth Clubs, are now a fairly general idea.
I found that the children were attentive and interested by these points, which I tried to put to them in a simple but lively manner. I carefully avoided "talking down" to the children. Then I showed them Charlie Chaplin's film, The Immigrant.
The reactions to this film were very positive. There was a great deal of laughter and it was evident that the humour of Chaplin was universal.
After the showing of The Immigrant, which lasted nearly half an hour, I asked the children if they thought it would be fun to have a. Film Society in their school where films like Chaplin's could be shown and discussed. There was enthusiasm for such an idea, particularly from a group of girls who were sitting in the front and were noticeably forthcoming in expressing their views.
I next explained that I was going to show a film where they would not be able to follow the commentary because it was in Czech. I wanted them to see if they could nevertheless understand what the film, The Trees and the Wind, was all about. They must watch the images carefully. The idea of trying to detect the story by way of the images appeared to appeal to the children. Perhaps it afforded them the same stimulus as a' competition, or a guessing game.
The Trees and the Wind, with its instructional theme of erosion if trees are cut down indiscriminately, has two of the elements which are considered desirable in films for children— child characters with which the audience can identify themselves and also a collection of animals and birds. The climax in this film is that it is a group of children who replant the trees in a reforestation plan.
It was clear that the film held the attention of the audience. After it was over I asked the audience if they had found it difficult to follow without understanding the words. They asserted "No." I then asked them if they enjoyed learning something from a film of this kind and (hey emphatically declared that they did. I asked them it they thought the Chaplin mm and the cartoon were enjoyable cinema.
The majority said they liked this type of film. A minority of boys—those in the area of sixteen years of age said they preferred the films they saw in cinemas. The last question I asked was whether the children would like to see and discuss more films. There was a chorus of "Yes! Yes"
I concluded this film showing for the Modern School with the idea that if the children learned to criticise films while they were at school, then they would grow up to like good films. I left with the impression that these children had a good film sense and also that they were very eager to enter into any discussion about films.
My next experience in showing films to children in India was under quite different circumstances; moreover, it was to an international group of children aged from eight to fifteen. This came about because Mrs. Endira Gandhi askd me to show some films at a children's party she was giving for her two sons at the Prime Minister's House.
We decided that the programme of films should last about an hour. The films selected were the igloo building extract from Nanook of the North, Charlie Chaplin's The immigrant, again the Czechoslovak cartoon, The Trees and the Wind, and finally, the sequence of the Battle on the ice from Sergei Eisenstein's historical film, Alexander Nevsky. This selection of films covered a documentary film and a comedy, both silent; an instructional film and it famous historical film full of action, both films having exceptionally good musical scores.
In the case of Mrs. Gandhi's children's party I gave no introductory talk about films. I sat on the floor in front of the children and merely introduced the films as to where they were produced and who made them.
The film Nunook of the North has several captions concerning the building of the igloo by the Eskimo family. I put it up to the children—roughly half of them Indian and the remainder from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas—whether or not the captions should be read out. The children decided that the captions should be read "for the sake of those who can't read".
The attention of all the children was held by Nanook of the North irrespective of their national origin. I asked if anyone could tell me who the people were whose life was shown on the screen. There was a chorus of "Eskimos."
We then had the Chaplin film and again the captions were read out. Before The immigrant was shown I asked how many of the children had seen, a Chaplin film before and a number of children shot up their hands. There was anticipation at the name of Chaplin. The reactions to the film were virtually identical to those at the Modern School.
It is evident that the cinema is a powerful educational force in India and that people of all classes are responsive to what they see on the screen. From the opinions expressed by teachers and students it appears that the character of the films which I screened and discussed for their educational value were viewed from the point of view of adapting their mode of' presentation to Indian themes.
On the basis or my experience I would recommend that much might be gained if the teachers, trainee teachers and students of various educational institutions could meet with both the commercial producers of entertainment films and with the directors of the Films Division and voice their opinions of a selection of Indian films in the same manner as opinions were voiced in regard to the films discussed above.
During my work I encountered some complaints. One came from an educational, institution requiring films to show in villages. The director of this institution was much concerned because he had been sent thirty-four films; with which to carry on work in villages, but twenty-eight of these films had English commentaries and were, therefore, useless. At another institution the enthusiastic director of Audio-Visual work complained that he wrote to Delhi in November requesting films which he could use in January, but by the third week of January his letter had not been answered. Many people told me of their difficulties in obtaining films and, at one of the universities at which I spoke, a Lecturer in Geography begged inc to put him in touch with anyone anywhere who could assist him by supplying films for teaching.
Everywhere I spoke I had the impression that there was it tremendous enthusiasm for films and for using films for education. All of my lectures were crowded. I can say with certainty that I have never before encountered an interest in films comparable to that in India today. For this reason there is an urgent need to use every suitable film to the uttermost and also to build up carefully planned programmes with appeal to different groups. It would also be helpful to enlist the cooperation of number of people engaged in various branches of cinematography—direction, script writing and camerawork—those, in short, who are working on the production of feature films and documentaries and invite these technicians to visit different towns in India to spread knowledge of cinema and, in return, for them to learn at firsthand what different sections of the public desire in the way of entertainment and educational films.
India today has the third largest film industry in the world It also has excellent technicians and talented artists. But its production would appear to lack sufficient diversity and it is almost certain that at the moment the marked idealism and progressive thinking of a great number of India's youth finds little satisfaction through the incomparably powerful medium of communication, the cinema.
Let me close by quoting from an article by Jean S. Bhownagary, "Today, in India, we are fighting a tremendous war–war against disease and famine and poverty, against ignorance and apathy, against irresponsibility and neglect. There are certain ideals we have accepted on paper ..... .and these have to be kept alive in the old and brought anew to the young......There can be no concept of planning without the concept of participation."
It is more than evident that there are many people eager to express their opinion when asked—even if shyness makes it easier for them to do it in writing. In view of this, let every eager audience that can be found participate in fashioning through their views, the types of film to be produced for direct and indirect education in India and also for the world. Thus, the cinema may not only be a great educational force in India, but also the Indian cinema an educational force throughout the world.