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CCNMTL Uses Big Screen Classics to Teach Film Fundamentals


Many film clips in the Glossary are graphically annotated as well as having commentary tracks provided by Columbia faculty.

You may be well versed in all the latest movies as well as cinema classics; but how is your filmmaking vocabulary? Do you know what it means for a scene to dissolve? Can you judge "depth of field"? Can you hold your own when the conversation turns to a filmmaker's chiaroscuro technique or the film's diegetic sound?

Explanations of these, and many more, cinematic terms are now available in the Film Language Glossary, an online teaching tool created by Columbia's Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL), in conjunction with the Libraries and the School of the Arts (SOA). The site offers a glossary of 67 film terms and 83 clips from legendary films depicting a range of filmmaking techniques.

The glossary covers the major categories of film studies: technical, historical, critical and theoretical. It ranges from commonly known terms such as "3-D" (film that has a three-dimensional, stereoscopic form, creating the illusion of depth) and "aerial shot" (a shot that is typically made from a helicopter or created with miniatures, showing a location from high overhead) to advanced techniques such as "chiaroscuro" (strong contrasts between light and dark) and "diegetic sound" (any sound that emanates from the story, or narrative, world of a film).

"There are some moments when multimedia allows a unique, before impossible, solution to a standing problem," says Frank Moretti, executive director of CCNMTL. "The Film Language Glossary represents an eloquent and novel response to a previously unaddressed educational need."

Film clips span cinematic history, from the early days in 1894 to 2005. Approximately half of the film clips offer a faculty commentary, similar to the commentary section of a DVD, where SOA faculty members including Larry Engel, David McKenna, Richard Peña and James Schamus, help direct the viewers attention to the technique in reference, a camera angle, a lighting technique, etc.

"It seems that each semester there are not only more courses that center on film being offered on campus, but even more importantly there is an increasing number of courses that use or refer to film," says Richard Peña, associate professor of film. "This project could be an essential aid to students in these classes who have not had a chance to study film formally."

Nancy Friedland, media services and film studies librarian adds, "Students have a better understanding of a film when they understand film language and how the film was made. The films clips in the Film Language Glossary enhance the definitions. It is one thing to read the definition of 'close-up,' and another to see a clip of how a close-up works. It enhances viewing."

The Film Language Glossary was created as a resource for any class using film in the curriculum and is available to anyone on-campus. (Off-campus a password is required.) To learn more about the Film Language Glossary, visit http://ccnmtl.columbia.edu/projects/filmglossary.

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Published: Oct 31, 2005
Last modified: Nov 01, 2005

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