competencies that comprise film literacy

Film literacy refers to ability to critically evaluate all aspects of filmmaking as a consciously articulated art form. More specifically, film literacy involves the ability to apply critical thinking to such aspects of filmmaking as core content, digital storytelling, and a film’s narrative structure. It also includes understanding the various stages of production (preproduction, production, and postproduction), such as the director’s vision, the nature of the screenplay, the roles of actors and cinematographers, the editors’ roles, and even the role of the music director and composer. What is central to film literacy is the understanding that every aspect of filmmaking is conscious and purposeful. Another important component of film literacy is understanding genre from both a contemporary and historic perspective.

The introduction of photography and other still images into mass media content was gradual over decades. Motion pictures dawned explosively in the 1800s and early 1900s, and techniques for creating motion pictures were subject to immediate exploration and critique as an art form. Audiences learned, for example, not to be frightened by bigger-than-life heroes and heroines on screen. It took a while, but audiences eventually overcame confusion about visual clues to flashbacks and symbolism, such as white hats being shorthand for “good guys,” black hats for villains. There are countless other techniques for conveying deep subtleties that aficionados recognize, and film literacy deepens the experience of watching and better understanding the entire process of filmmaking as an art form.

Media Counterpoints Literacy and the Internet

Nicholas Carr, a widely published technical writer, thought maybe he was suffering from “middle-age mind rot.” At 47 he realized he couldn’t pay attention to one thing for more than a couple minutes. Back in college at Dartmouth, Carr loved books and spent hours in the library. So what was happening now, almost 30 years later? Indeed, was it age?

No, Carr says, he doesn’t believe his inability to concentrate is age-related, but rather, how he uses his brain has changed drastically—and not necessarily for the better. He blames the Internet.

In his book The Shallows, Carr notes that the brain is a creature of habit. Just as a rut in a road deepens with traffic, so do the channels of connectivity in the brain. The more he was using the Internet over the years, picking up often fragmentary and scattered bits and pieces of information, the less his brain was working as it once was trained to do. Before the web, he read linearly as the author had intended, going from beginning to end looking for facts and ideas, making connections, following plots, and assessing rationales.

Carr’s history as an Internet junkie goes back to 1995 with Netscape, the first web browser. A dozen years later, he recognized that the Internet had come to exert a strong and broad influence on both his professional habits as a writer and his personal habits. He wanted information in quick, easy chunks, the more the better. It was addictive, he says, and destructive.

Once Carr had enjoyed deep reading. He recalls getting caught up in an author’s prose and thinking about twists in plot lines. He would spend hour after hour immersed in a book. No more. Now, he says, his mind drifts after a page or two. He gets fidgety. Deep reading, he says, has become a struggle.

Even so, Carr acknowledges the wonders and efficiencies of the Internet. As a writer, he has immediate access to unprecedented stores of data. What once took hours in a library now takes seconds or a few minutes—but at what price? The Internet, he says, has been chipping away at his capacity for concentration and contemplation. This worries him.

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