The National Youth Film Festival


The first National Youth Film Festival kicks off later this month when film screenings, industry workshops and a range of other activities will take place – all with key educational themes. Sam Wilson explains.

“Film is engaging, no matter what the subject is. It is instantaneous, user-friendly and crosses the curriculum from creative writing to the sciences.” Phil Hardwick, English teacher and Film Club leader at the BBG Academy, West Yorkshire.

The advantage of film as a learning tool is that it appeals to all, from disengaged pupils or those with SEN to the most gifted and talented. The inaugural National Youth Film Festival, taking place from October 21 to November 8, will enable young people from all walks of life and all areas of the UK to understand, watch, create and enjoy film in new and challenging ways. 

For teachers it provides the opportunities and tools to extend learning beyond the classroom and bring the curriculum to life through the medium of film. Building on the legacy of National School Films Week, supported by the British Film Institute, Cinema First and the UK-wide film industry, and delivered by FILM NATION UK, the event is an ambitious and stimulating film festival for schools that is entirely free.

A packed, three-week programme of more than 1,600 screenings, previews, Q&As and workshops, all with an educational remit, offers young people the chance to experience a wide variety of films, learn about film-making and meet film industry professionals. 

Running the breadth of the UK, the festival will take place annually; 412 cinemas are confirmed to take part this year. More than 130 quality films have been carefully selected to encourage young people to better appreciate and understand the world around them, and reflect upon who they are and how people treat one another. 

Screenings will support the festival’s six main themes which range from “What on Earth?” to “Heroes and villains” to “Who are we?”. Diverse films from around the world have been included alongside mainstream blockbusters to provide young people – some of whom will be introduced to their local cinema for the first time – with access to a wide range of thought-provoking stories and an insight into different cultures.

A highlight will be premiere screenings of new release The Selfish Giant, adapted from the Oscar Wilde classic children’s story by award-winning British director, Clio Barnard, with an associated, in-depth teaching guide, developed specially for the festival, linked to English, literacy and media studies. 

We will be hosting a Q&A at the National Media Museum in Bradford and beaming it live to multiple venues across the UK. 

Another strand, Childhood favourites, will enable teachers and pupils to explore the favourite childhood films of the stars, including Dame Helen Mirren (Cinderella), Sir Ian McKellan (Treasure Island) and Stanley Tucci (Oliver!) with, prior to each screening, a short piece from each on their choice. 

Pupils will be invited to actively engage with film by reflecting upon certain themes and thinking critically about the films through post-screening discussions and continued work back in the classroom. 

Many screenings will be supported by talks to contextualise the film, from film-makers or representatives of organisations including Oxfam, Friends of the Earth and Stonewall, who will encourage young people to consider topical issues such as climate change, child poverty, equality and sexuality. 

Linked to the programme are more than 100 teaching resources including subject and curriculum-linked resources ranging from a beginner’s guide to French films, resources placing films in a historical context and others suggesting activities related to science, geography, drama and politics. 

Literacy and English are particularly well catered for, with an entire strand of the festival devoted to film adaptations of books and plays such as Much Ado About Nothing, The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mocking Bird, Great Expectations and Rebecca. 

These and other screenings, along with guides to review-writing, script-writing and resources to enhance the teaching of GCSE and A level texts, will provide numerous opportunities for teachers to use film to engage more children with literature and help those who find certain texts challenging. 

For languages teachers or those simply seeking something different, the programme contains more than 30 foreign films in languages including French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, Arabic and Hindi. 

There will be a wealth of resources on offer to teach young people about film and film-making, from guides to copyright and classification, and basic how-to guides for young film-makers, animators and documentary-makers, to a resource about breaking into the film and television industries. 

Visitors to the festival will also have the chance to interact with film-makers, and learn about an industry which many consider to be beyond their reach, at a series of Q&As, workshops and masterclasses in which experts will share their experiences and knowledge, with speakers ranging from Peter Lord, the co-founder and director at Aardman Animation, to an underwater cameraman, costume designer and acting talent. 

Access to creative professionals is widely regarded as an important element of youth development in terms of raising aspirations and providing information about potential career opportunities. For many young people, particularly those in disadvantaged or rural areas, this festival will make such encounters possible for the first time.

There will be a strong emphasis on youth voice and film-making, with short films made by young people shown at every screening during the festival, and programming by young people to highlight films that have particularly resonated with a young audience. 

Film-making workshops, competitions and awards will be offered giving young people the opportunity to showcase and develop their skills. The National Youth Film Festival has also produced a free, downloadable In-school Festivals “how to” guide to encourage schools to run their own mini-festival.

Independent reports like The Henley Review of Cultural Education and Lord Smith’s Review of British Film, research into the impact of school film clubs, and feedback from teachers, pupils and parents have provided much evidence to suggest that watching, discussing and reviewing films with their peer group under the guidance of a teacher can deliver educational and social benefits. 

These range from boosting students’ literacy, creativity, critical and communication skills, all of which are linked to wider academic attainment, to increasing empathy and tolerance, and integrating isolated pupils. 

The accessible and inclusive nature of film also renders it a powerful tool to promote discussion about complex topics. Yet for many youngsters opportunities to explore film and film-making are extremely limited. 

The festival’s rich and varied programme will provide thousands of young people with novel learning experiences that could help them academically and socially, and inspire a life-long passion for film. 

I hope teachers all over the country will embrace what this ground-breaking festival offers and, with their pupils, enjoy a school trip to remember.

  • Sam Wilson is project manager for the National Youth Film Festival.

Further information
The National Youth Film Festival takes place at venues across the UK from October 21 to November 8. For full details and to book free tickets and access resources, visit

CAPTION: Film education: Among the films showing at this year’s National Youth Film Festival are the premiere of The Selfish Giant (middle), based on the children’s story by Oscar Wilde and Frances-ha, a comedy/drama about friendship and dance (bottom)



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