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Going to the Movies for Class, When Class is Remote Online class is connecting students during challenging times

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The Maltese Falcon

The power of a good film is to engage you and draw you into its world.
Actor and director Nandita Das

For artsy film lovers, movie buffs, or anyone who just needs an escape for a few hours, it might be one of the best class assignments of all time.

Associate Professor of Literature Jeff Middents has taken “Critical Approach to the Cinema,” his Creative-Aesthetic Inquiry Habits of Mind class, online in a brand-new way. The assignment: to watch at least four films from home, write a critique of each, and explain why each film helped get you through this challenging time. Students are also encouraged to share their favorite films with peers (and others) on Twitter and Facebook.

The Rules

First, Middents set some parameters, a combination of elements that would allow for some favorite comfort films, but would also encourage students to stretch into less familiar territory:

  • At least one movie should be from before 1970.
  • At least one movie should be from after 2015.
  • At least one movie should be in the English language.
  • At least one movie should not be in the English language.
  • At least one movie should be black-and-white.

“Yes, sequels are allowed. Yes, dumb movies are allowed. Yes, TV movies are allowed. Yes, movies that we don’t usually talk about in a film class are allowed. Whatever is helping you get through this period of time is allowed,” Middents told his class.

“The point here is that there are thousands of movies out there to pick from, all vying for our attention,” he explains. “Not everyone gravitates to the same thing – but what inspires or comforts us might also do the same for someone else.”

Movies Connecting People

After he sent out his film assignment, Middents set up a public cinephilia project on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. It carries the hashtag #CovidVids, and  students, alumni, and the general public are using it to post their movie critiques – from Roma, “a beautiful story and a great pick for this assignment,” to Maltese Falcon, “the film seems to miss some of Spade’s angst,” to Spring Breakers, “I’m pretty convinced it’s brilliant.”

“Particularly these days,” Middents says, “we watch movies alone – but in class and in the theater, it’s actually a communal activity. The hashtag idea was really an effort to build that sense of community and encourage discussion about all kinds of movies.”

Students have embraced the idea, watching different types of films that they haven’t seen before. “Some have also let me know that they want to tackle some genres that we normally don’t get a chance to do too much in depth in the classroom, such as animation or horror,” Middents says. “I have encouraged them to not be afraid of trying this with any movie that they want to explore.”

Middents has been overjoyed by former students joining in as well, using the hashtag #CovidVids. “Several work in the film industry, but not all,” he says. “A professor from Middlebury has also joined the fray, and so have a few neighbors. I meant it to be something that didn’t need to be confined to just students or academics. Folks are learning more about some movies they may not have heard about – and from each other, not just from me, which is the best part.”