October 2017 (Volume 68, Issue 1)
By Emma Patz, Entertainment Editor
Over the past few years, Film Studies has become an increasingly popular class to take at Needham High School. The course naturally attracts students who enjoy watching and examining various short and feature length films, ranging from the early 1900s to present-day. The study of this important visual medium is essential in today’s society, as entertainment stems from television, and movies. However, a major deterrent to students taking the class is that it does not count for art credits, but for English credits instead. Mr. Hekler, a former Film Studies teacher, expanded on this issue, stating, “It [enrollment in the Film Studies course] kind of capped out between 50 and 60 students and my theory is that it hits a certain wall when it comes to Fine and Performing Arts credit; because the course does not count towards that, students will take courses that do count towards that because they have to”. He continued to elaborate, explaining, “So that also changes the culture of the course where you have a lot of freshmen, a few sophomores, a few juniors, and a couple seniors. So that changes how willing students are to take the kind of risks in discussing difficult films”. Furthermore, Mr. Hekler’s feelings reveal that if film studies were made an art credit, students would be able to have vibrant discussions regarding the films that they watch.
Despite the fact that Mr. Hekler is primarily an English teacher, he refuted claims that film is not an art, arguing, “[Film] has all of the components of an art that makes art art. The classical definition of art meaning that art imitates life going back to the ancient Greek philosophers, I think it goes a step further even than static art because it is not just a pictorial image, but an image in context of other images and it’s a form of communication that I think expands the boundaries of what art can be given….I’m convinced cinema is our contemporary opera”. So if film is an art, why is it not considered an art credit at Needham High School?
Ms. Sutton, Director of Fine and Performing Arts for the Needham Public Schools, expanded on this issue. She clarified, “The Fine and Performing Arts courses are really focused on the production of an art form, so we’re really focused on studio production and performance… For example, if there were an art history course at Needham High School, that would fall under the history department, and actually wouldn’t even be taught by our department….Any class that is in the Fine and Performing Arts department is taught by a licensed Fine and Performing Arts educator”.
Not only does Mr. Hekler approve of the notion that a film study course at Needham High School should include more production components, but vehemently discussed his thoughts on the matter. “We read novels less and less. We watch films more and more. We don’t just watch films, we watch serial television programs. Our cultural artifacts have adapted to a new medium, and that is the visual medium… You don’t need a million dollar studio to make simple and compelling short films”. He further commented, “There is a rich film community around us, we don’t have to be in Hollywood. It doesn’t have to be a magnet school for the arts for us to have a very important and thriving and critical film studies program”.
With new streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, and other, film and television are a huge part of students’ lives, and potential futures. Mr. Hekler echoed this idea, stating, “I think to not have a more vibrant film curriculum at Needham High School is doing our students a disservice. Not just in their academic potential or futures and not just in terms of the world of work out there and potential for careers that are engaging and fun and filled with art, but then also just in our private lives as citizens and consumers. I think it limits us as well to not have a thriving film studies program. …When we talk about the connections between what we do here in school and what we are eventually going to be asked to do in our careers in the world it seems like film is a natural bridge, and it’s a missing link right now”.
Could perhaps this “missing link” be mended with a transferral of the current English course to the Fine and Performing Arts Department? Could they revise the curriculum, making it more conducive to a production-focused atmosphere? Although the answer to these questions is uncertain, one point is obvious. The current Film Studies course has immense potential to increase the value and culture of film at Needham High School. Thus, the fate of this essential class, and its categorization as either an English or Fine and Performing Arts course, will have a significant impact on the ability of Needham students to discuss and relate to films.