Are You Missing Out on the Power of Foreign Films for Homeschool History Studies?Hillary Moore
Do you remember sitting in a darkened classroom, watching a movie — or if you are old enough — a filmstrip? Movie days were a treat, a day when the books were put aside for a more relaxing way to learn. When I was in school, we watched history reenactments that made the events more than just names and dates.
Especially for visual learners, video is an effective way to gain an overall understanding of a topic.
No History Curricula Can Cover Every Historical Event
We are longtime users of The Mystery of History. But there are some time periods or peoples that are not fully represented in the lessons. No history curricula can cover every historical event; it just isn’t practical.
One of the ways we fill in these gaps is through movies. My husband grew up watching kung fu movies. From this has grown our family’s interest in subtitled foreign films, especially Asian ones. What may be mentioned in a line or two in the lesson, can be further explored in a movie.
One of our favorite foreign films that enhances history is (affiliate link) Red Cliff. This battle takes place near the end of the Han Dynasty in China, 208-209 AD. The film by John Woo is taken just as much from history as from a romanticized traditional novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong. The novel is considered to Chinese tradition what Shakespeare is considered to English literature.
The Point of View Makes All the Difference
It is important to note that we treat these films as historical fiction. The producers and writers may be representing facts, but details are often embellished for the sake of the story. Just as in any historical film, you are only seeing one side of the story. In the words of Ben Kenobi, “So what I told you was true, from a certain point of view.”
The point of view makes all the difference.
We have looked at one battle and the surrounding political struggle from two points of view. In the first movie, the bad guy was leading one group and the other group was lead by a group of good guys. A few years later, we find the same event featured in another movie shown from the bad guy’s point of view; he was the good guy in this version. We had many interesting discussions as we watched the second film and contrasted it with the first.
Not only can we explore two points of view from within the foreign country, but from other countries as well. There is more than just our western viewpoint to history. Foreign films are a way to explore and learn more about this. We do more than just watch the film and take it at face value. We research what we learn. We look up the main characters, the places, and the battles.
Sometimes a film is based on a story that is told not about a specific person or event, but a composite of a multiple historical figures. This is the case with (affiliate link) Taras Bulba. The films, both 1962 and 2009 versions, are based upon a story written by Nikolai Gogol. To make this more interesting, the Russian national government was involved in the editing and revisions. This brings us back to point of view. Knowing that this story, in both film and book versions, has been influenced by the government brings up a discussion of propaganda.
What Do We Gain By Watching These Foreign Films
If they are historical fiction, what do we gain by watching these foreign films? We are being immersed in all points of the setting. We are seeing how these people dressed, what their homes were like, what the cities and villages were like, and what customs they had. We are learning about the character of the historical figures (and comparing it to what our historical sources tell us). We are also being exposed to the language. None of us speaks or reads an Asian or Russian language, but it doesn’t sound so foreign after our time with the movies.
We have many discussions concerning not only the content of the movies, but also their purpose. When the governments become involved, how does the story, and its purpose change?