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Films in teaching about migrants' lives

The use of films as teaching material has been discussed since the appearance of television. The first scientific debates on this topic were very critical and they marked the supposed lightness of the medium and the lack of deeper cognitive processing of the information as evident problems. Despite scepticism about this “new medium”, the use of television and video in courses has increased steadily and nowadays it is widespread in all scientific disciplines and subjects. This primarily has to do with the simplicity of the presentation options, which can be done easily using laptops or even smartphones and beamers or screens in seminar rooms. Especially when presenting complex facts, the potential of audio-visual media is seen in the fact that different communication channels can be used for their description. Therefore, films are known to be effective tools for teaching social subjects and explaining social concepts. They are powerful to bring remote worlds closer to the hearts of student audiences. Films activate discussions and critical thinking, and encourage further research and study.


Rationale of methodologies using arts-based community:

Generally, there is an extreme range of subjects that can be covered by films, but actually, the topic of culture and in connection to migration is one of the most popular ones you can focus on. There are two ways to make it into an object of investigation: On the one hand, films – whether feature or documentary can always be seen as a product of special culture. Even if the film producers belong to various cultures and the film cannot be attributed to one cultural context, the culture-relatedness of films remains a fundamental factor. In fact, feature films represent a more specific cultural view than films with an artistic background. On the other hand, the film itself, its plot and characters describe artificial images of culture that can offer insights into the specific life environments.

Our purpose in DEMO was to implement the vast and constantly expanding field of documentary and feature world cinema for teaching and exploring the phenomenon of global migration. The project is directed at and serves diverse student audiences from different disciplines and through the film medium, we aim to deepen students’ understanding of the complexities of migration and cultivate their sensitivity to migrants' experience.


Organizational requirements, equipment and materials:

As it is an open and flexible concept, that more or less requires standard equipment you can find in every college or university classroom. Only one main thing has to be prepared: the choice of the film. Although we are in the “online-age” for years now, the challenge of using films is the identification and procurement of a suitable film material as there are only a few systematically ordered media libraries for teaching in higher education. Below we will suggest some ideas for films.


How to secure access to students and their collaboration:

The use of films to teaching rests on the popularity of cinematographic medium among wide groups and particularly young people. Films serve a powerful tool to draw students’ attention, engage their interests and concerns. Working with films in a course on migration affects student’s prejudices and images on culture as well as their views on different ethnic groups and their own cultural identity. It is important therefore, to offer enough time for self-reflection and processing of personal responses and sensations.


Implementation process:

In my teaching practice, I often use films, documentary and feature, to teach and study topics of migration. The Israeli film "Igor and the Cranes Journey" is one of them. The film tells the story of 11- year old Igor whose mother decides to leave Russia and immigrate to Israel. This is a story of a child that leaves behind the familiar world and good friends and faces a difficult encounter with a new country, a new language, and a new school. Analysing Igor’s story, the students explore the experiences of migrant children and those of their families and deal with questions of inclusion and exclusion of migrant children in educational system. Mathew Kassovitz’s film ‘Hatred’ (La Haine) is another film I use in my teaching. Presenting the story of the Paris suburbs, this film is a powerful tool to explore the situation of immigrant youth (first and second generations) around the world, and discuss the topics of social inclusion and exclusion, poverty, alienation and marginalization. In both cases, I use film materials in combination with theoretical materials and readings.



Student group projects (5-6 student participants) implementing cinematographic material:

  • study and explore different facets of culture and migration

  • presented their understanding and insight to fellow students

  • analyse, discuss and learn the topic of migration in class discussions

  • create personal essays based on the analysis of a film on migration




Lafferty, G. (2016). Opening the Learning Process: The Potential Role of Feature Film in Teaching Employment Relations. In: Australian Journal of Adult Learning, 56(1),  8-28.  

Leblanc, L. (1998). Observing Reel Life: Using Feature Films to Teach Ethnographic Methods. In: Teaching Sociology, 25(1), 62-68.

Scanlan S. J., & Feinberg, S. L. (2000). The Cartoon Society: Using "The Simpsons" to Teach and Learn Sociology. In: Teaching Sociology, 28(2), 127-139.

Tagsold, J. T., & Decuir-Gunbym, J. (2012). Film in the College Classroom: Using "Twilight" to Examine Adolescent Development. In: Journal of Effective Teaching, 12(3), 87-93.

Tan, J. & Ko, J.C. (2004). Using Feature Films to Teach Observation in Undergraduate Research Methods. In: Teaching Sociology, 32(1), 109-118.



Igor and the Cranes Journey. 2013. Director: Ruman E. Israel.

La Haine. 1995. Director:  Kassovitz M. France.


Name of the Workshop: Implementation of films in Migration studies. 

Facilitator of the Workshop: Dr. Sveta Roberman.

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