If part of our task is to challenge students to weigh pros and cons, especially in their writing, discussing the idea of sponsorship and documentaries can be a powerful tool. Have students examine just this concept via some of the trailers and shorts below.
Begin with Morgan Spurlock. My recommendation? Start with The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. Now I know what you’re thinking. It’s ninety minutes. The same length as Food Inc. which I’ve already admitted I struggle to show in its entirety. So, instead use the trailer, a Spurlock interview and some source material from the film’s website as a starting point. This week is about making documentaries work in the classroom. Sometimes spurring a class discussion and allowing students to explore on their own offers some well needed exposure without overtaxing your classroom time.
Have students begin by examining some of the following resources. Spurlock gave an interview with Forbes Magazine detailing his thinking in creating a film about product placement. Or consider having students use Ebert’s review of the film itself as a warm-up. Better yet have them watch Spurlock’s interview with Tavis Smiley. At around 11 minutes it’s a good way to see him in action and hear his point of view. Questions below can be used to accompany the interview.
- What is Sprulock’s argument against product placement in TV programming?
- What Spurlock’s purpose in creating the film?
- Identify Spurlock’s argument about schools and advertising. Defend, challenge or qualify his point of view.
- Spurlock argues that modern films rely on product placement because they need money to fund their creation. Explain the moral/ethical dilemma in such decisions.
- Is entertainment that’s a “commercial” such a bad thing?
- Identify one question that should be posed to Spurlock that Tavis Smiley omits. Explain your reasoning.
Then have students watch the trailer. Ask that they consider examining it as a condensed version of the film. Several examples have been included below.
- Identify how Morgan Spurlock incorporates humor.
- Describe how Spulock’s pitches appear.
- Describe the trailer. What stands out in the way it is produced?
- Identify the purpose of the trailer itself. How might this differ from the film?
- Identify Spurlock’s argument. Defend, challenge or qualify Spurlock’s point of view in regards to marketing.
If you’re looking to give them even more exposure to documentaries sponsored by businesses have them checkout GE’s Focus Forward, an initiative to highlight great ideas and filmmakers. Included below is an example documentary from Focus Forward. Ask that students consider whether or not big business sponsorship changes the purpose of any documentary.
Heart Stop Beating
- What message does the film convey? What seems to be its purpose?
- Identify two elements that strike you from the film itself. Explain what make them interesting/remarkable.
- What has been omitted from the film that you as a viewer would like to see? Explain your reasoning.