The Story of Movies is a program of The Film Foundation


Julia Wayne, Educational Project Manager


The Story of Movies Senior Advisors:

Jeanine Basinger, Film Scholar
Wesleyan Cinema Archive

Robert Rosen, Professor Emeritus
UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television


The Story of Movies Curriculum Author:

Catherine Gourley


The Film Foundation Staff: 

Los Angeles

Jennifer Ahn, Managing Director
Kristen Merola, Project Manager

7920 Sunset Blvd., 6th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90046
phone: 323-436-5060
fax: 323-436-5061


New York

Margaret Bodde, Executive Director
Rebecca Wingle, Executive Assistant

110 West 57th Street, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10019
phone: 212-258-0860
fax: 212-258-0861

For what grades are the movies and materials of the core unit intended?

The Story of Movies is designed for middle school, students in grades 6 through 8. However many teachers of high school and upper elementary have adapted the lessons for their classrooms. 

What print materials are included in The Story of Movies program?

The core curriculum for The Story of Movies includes multiple print components that educators can download and incorporate into their lessons, maximizing students’ immersion in meaningful film study.

The components for the first three SOM units (To Kill a Mockingbird, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and The Day the Earth Stood Still) are:

Teacher’s Guide. The teacher’s instructional book includes learning objectives, “engage” or warm-up activities, “explain and explore" guided discussions with recommended answers, and prompts for extension and/or enrichment activities. Also included in the Teacher's Guide are lesson quizzes and chapter tests.

Student Activity Book. This book includes graphic organizers, screening sheets, and recommended reading, writing and research activities.

How do I get The Story of Movies materials?

All print materials are available online at no cost to educators who have registered on The Story of Movies website. At this time, the supplemental curriculum DVDs for the first three units are no longer available. The feature films can be purchased on DVD or streamed through distributors such as Amazon or Netflix or in many cases, borrowed from a local library.

I’m not a film expert. Can I still teach The Story of Movies?

Teachers need not be experts in film or the filmmaking process in order to teach The Story of Movies. Because of the interdisciplinary approach, much of the content will be familiar to educators—methods of characterization, the link between history and culture, the function of music, and principles of artistic composition. All of the Teacher’s Guides, including those for the online Film Lesson Library, provide overviews and background information to assist educators in facilitating discussions and presentations, as well as recommended student responses. The Teacher’s Guides for each of the three core units—To Kill a Mockingbird, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and The Day the Earth Stood Stillalso include suggested quiz and chapter test questions with recommended answers.

Is there a specific scope and sequence to teaching The Story of Movies lessons? Or can I just select the lessons I like best and teach those?

The Story of Movies has a specific sequence intended to maximize students’ understanding of the film as a work of art as well as a historical and cultural document. Each chapter is a building block. The lessons and activities in one chapter prepare students for the concepts they will learn in subsequent chapters.

In the core teaching units, jumping around from chapter to chapter may result in poor student performance. For example, asking students to identify and analyze film depictions (an activity in chapter 4) will be difficult unless they have a basic understanding of composition (an activity in chapter 3). Likewise, students must first understand a film’s story (chapter 1) before they begin interpreting the use of light, camera angles and sound in telling the story (chapter 3). 

How much classtime will I need to cover the material?  Is there a difference between the lessons in the Film Lesson Library and the Core Teaching Units?

The core teaching units explore three classic films from three different decades—the 1930s, 1950s, and 1960s.  Each core unit provides in-depth knowledge of both the film itself and the historical period in which it was made. When studied together, the units cover a wide range of cinematic and visual literacy skills. Generally, teaching one of the three core units will take two to four weeks to cover all four chapters.

The Film Lesson Library provides a selection of study topics based on genre, historical, and cultural themes. These lessons can be covered within a few class periods.

How does the curriculum meet national standards for teaching English or history?

Both the core curriculum and the film lesson library units are designed to meet National Film Study Standards (NFSS) while at the same time reinforcing standards established by the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Center for History in the Schools and the National Council for the Social Studies. Additionally, selected lessons dovetail with national standards for the arts and sciences.

Can I show clips or selected scenes from a film for class study instead of screening the entire film?

Films, like novels, have a narrative structure that creates meaning. Films, like history, have cause-and-effect relationships. To understand a film narrative, therefore, students must watch the entire film rather than snippets from it. What happens in Act I affects what happens in Act II and that, in turn, determines the outcome in Act III.  That said, The Story of Movies curriculum units often do provide short film clips to illustrate key principles of film language, historical/cultural context, or narrative storytelling concepts.

Many of the films in The Story of Movies are black-and-white.  How can I interest my students in watching a full-length film that they think will be “old” or “boring”?

Most educators happily discover this is not a problem. Once students become involved in the story and the challenge of reading the film as a historical and cultural document, they typically don’t complain about or even notice the lack of color. The use of camera angles and lighting, the pacing and transition of scenes, the soundtrack—these become the elements on which the students focus.