Film discussions can spark meaningful conversations, even when you can't meet in the same room.
Nearly as ubiquitous to libraries as book clubs, film discussions can spark powerful conversations and build community. That engagement doesn't have to end because of COVID-19.
We spoke with Juan Rubio, program manager for digital media and learning at the Seattle Public Library, for a step-by-step guide to hosting your first virtual film discussion.
Get familiar with the film. Watch it in advance and identify themes that will help you lead a meaningful discussion. Ideally, the conversation will flow naturally, but it's a good idea to have a list of questions to guide you.
Also consider tech: Allow plenty of time prior to the scheduled discussion and make sure your platform is working and everyone knows how to use it. For film discussions, the online platform Discord is a good fit; other options include Zoom, Google Meet, Netflix Party or Slack.
You will also need to consider whether to do the film screening itself synchronously or asynchronously. Asking people to watch a film on their own time before a discussion is one way to format a program; this allows you to spend your time together focused on just the discussion.
While it’s a bit trickier logistically, you may prefer to host a live viewing party. Netflix Party is one possible platform for this, although participants must have their own Netflix accounts and interactions are limited to a chat box. YouTube Premiere allows for viewing parties of content available on YouTube. It is also possible to host a screening via Zoom or other video platform by sharing your sound (under Advanced Settings) — but make sure you have the proper public screening permissions before you do.
Do an icebreaker
Once your participants are logged in for the virtual program, offer an easy introductory activity. Depending on the size of the group, it can take the form of a question. One of our favorites: What film would you take with you to a desert island? If the group is very large, ask a few volunteers to respond and continue with the next portion of the activity.
Ask who has watched the film
Do an informal poll to see how many people have watched the film already. Ask them to type a yes or no or give a thumbs-up on the screen.
Ask for a recap
Begin by asking someone to summarize in two or three minutes the film watched. You can present this exercise by explaining how any media text can be summarized with a famous example: “Dorothy takes flight during a tornado with her dog, Toto, and enters a magical world. She learns about human characteristics such as courage, intelligence, and love. She battles evil and later discovers that it was all an illusion.”
Start the discussion
Begin with general questions such as: What stood out to you in the film? Is there anything that surprised you? Did you learn anything new by watching the film? If so, what was it?
Continue with more specific questions
What was the message of the film? Was there more than one message? What were some of the creative choices the filmmaker used to deliver the message?
If you viewed a documentary or a film related to current events, the end of the discussion is a great opportunity to talk about moving to action. Ask: Is there anything you might do or say differently as a result of viewing this film? Are there any specific actions you’re planning to implement? Present a list of organizations doing work in your area where the participants can learn more, get involved, or advocate with elected officials.
Funding for this article series has been provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as part of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act economic stabilization plan.