Menu of Media Choices
We know that the everyday lives of our students are inundated with media. This often-overwhelming menu of media-rich entrées gets served up at a rate that seems to value overconsumption more than proper and meaningful digestion. As educators, we may be left wondering, how do we beef up (or tofu up , if you prefer) our students’ appetites for media-literacy so that they can skilfully navigate our ever-changing, media-saturated landscape?
A media-literacy program with an animated twist offers an almost perfect combination of elements for deconstructing media texts, as well as opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning and participate in the creation process. Animation is not limited to a specific style or formula, but rather provides the same degree of multimodal possibility as the media du jour found in the pockets of many of our students.
The five NFB films selected for this post demonstrate the diversity of expression in animated texts can be integrated into a variety of curriculum subjects. These films are powerful examples of stylized, illustration-based texts that offer symbolic portrayals of important societal issues. On the surface, animation is an accessible form of media, but it often requires educator guidance to uncover the deeper, hidden messages underlying the highly engaging visuals.
The Fake Calendar might appear to be an amusing, stylized film that pokes fun at those of us who would rather stay home and watch Netflix than begrudgingly leave comfort for more social settings. Digging into the film a second time (easily done with animated shorts), it’s easy to see how Indigenous artist Meky Ottawa dabbles in the tension between being real and using technology to create false representations of ourselves in order to fulfill social expectations. This film, which is part of the latest crop of shorts in the Hothouse animation apprenticeship program, sets up interesting opportunities for Grade 9–12 students to discuss “fakeness” within media and how, depending on your point of view, there may be times when it seems socially acceptable to falsify facts to protect ourselves. Little moments in the film, such as the swapping of the classic mouse pointer for something a little more edgy and the clear statement written in the sky at the end, speak volumes about the artist’s views on social norms and the power of subtle (and not-so-subtle) imagery.
As an educator, my lesson design rests heavily on the premise that literacy skills are integral to student engagement, regardless of the subject. The composition of media texts—through lines, shapes, colours, and words—is a powerful instrument for meaning-making that we (students and educators) need to be consciously aware of at all times. I Am Here, directed by Eoin Duffy, is an incredible journey into the relationship between various forms and conventions in media texts and their role in creating meaning for the audience. Duffy takes the audience on a trek through time aboard a stylized, minimalist canvas of images, while telling a story of deep emotional despair.
Howie Shia’s BAM is a highly violent modern adaptation of the myth of Hercules that can be used to explore the relationship between composition and audience engagement. Grade 9–12 students can analyze Shia’s creative choices, such as the role of colour within the film, the implied violence versus the use of overtly violent imagery, and the impact of the voiceless soundtrack on the overall storyline.
Classroom technologies have made capturing and animating student ideas easier than ever, blending real-world photography with 2D illustration, printmaking, and/or paper cutouts. Films such as Orange by Sylvie Trouvé can help students as young as the Grade 4 level recognize that their ideas are not limited to a single mode of expression.
Printed manually on a vintage tabletop press using hand-carved linoleum blocks, this very short animation is about a new parent who learns about free expression and the power of letting go. Inspired by the filmmaker’s new baby boy and found sound.
Produced as part of the 11th edition of the NFB’s Hothouse apprenticeship.