Sci-fi films project aims to get students talking physics

23 October 2014

Classic science fiction films such as Flash Gordon and A Grand Day Out will be used as inspiration for discussing physics in schools and colleges in a collaboration between the British Film Institute (BFI), the education charity Into Film and the IOP.

Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder

The Institute is developing teaching and enrichment resources linked to several of the films featured in Into Film’s annual festival from 4-21 November, which takes place during the BFI’s larger season of science fiction films, Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder, running from 20 October to 31 December.

The resources are designed for use by teachers and film club coordinators and examine some of the ”science” content of the films – accurate and inaccurate, comic and serious – as a basis for practical activities and discussion. The BFI and other partner organisations are providing resources to support other curriculum subjects such as film studies and English or running events linked to the film season.

The IOP’s education resource will also explore a set of three short silent films: Mister Moon (1901), The Motorist (1906) and A Trip to the Moon (1906). Bryony Dixon, curator of silent film for the BFI national archive, visited the Institute on 26 September to explain the background to these early productions. Very little survives from this period, she said, when films were often shown in fairgrounds, music halls or church halls, before the number of commercial auditoriums expanded rapidly to around three or four thousand by 1914.

Early “shorts” were often based on stage entertainments and incorporated tricks from the theatre, she said. These frequently mixed sci-fi and fantasy, but by the 1910s a more serious proto-disaster movie about Halley’s comet, The End of the World, was being shown. Between then and the arrival of sound in the late 1920s, familiar sci-fi themes such as invisible men, gigantism, cryogenics, robots and aliens began to appear. There were also serious non-fiction films about science or natural history, which were aimed primarily at children, she explained.

The silent film session at the Institute was one of several in which IOP staff were invited to give their input on ideas to be used in the education resources. The IOP’s project coordinator for teacher support, Manchi Chung, said: “This is a unique collaboration between the BFI, Into Film and the IOP. The resources being developed will enable teachers and film club coordinators to explore with their students the physics found in a number of classic sci-fi films, including A Grand Day Out, Flash Gordon and 2001 A Space Odyssey.”

The IOP’s resources will be available from November onwards from the IOP and TES websites. The BFI is screening a wide range of classic sci-fi films nationwide in Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder from 20 October onwards.

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