GUIDELINES FOR WRITING FILM RESPONSE PAPERS

 

(1) Do not retell the story.  That is not what you should try to do in these response papers.  You don’t even need to write a synopsis—in fact, it is better if you don’t. What you should try to do is to write an essay about the major theme or themes in the movie.

      If you merely retell the story, it would be impossible for a reader to tell what the movie is about, even though they might be able to figure out what “happened.”  The point of any good movie is not the action.  It is the message.

      Your first paragraph should be an introduction to your topic—that is, the issue or issues on which you are going to focus.  It should be a brief paragraph—maybe four or five sentences.  Be sure to say that you intend to discuss your issue as it is revealed in a particular film.

      The main body of your essay should be your exploration of your theme or themes, using characters, scenes, symbols, and situations in the movie to show how the movie addresses basic points.  Be thorough!  Use all of the relevant elements of the film, and describe characters and scenes briefly but adequately.

      You should weave the reviews (or other relevant articles) into your text.  You can use the reviews and other articles to substantiate your argument, or you can use them as counterpoint—that is, you can argue your point against them.

 

(2) You need to provide a bibliography in a standard (ASA, Chicago, MLA or APA) format.  Do not include copies of entire reviews.  The bibliographic reference is all you need.  If you get your references from the web, be sure to note that and provide a URL.

 

(3) You should cite references in the body of your essay, also using a standard format.

 

(4) Use paragraphs.  If you don’t, your paper will be very disorganized, even though you follow the story line, because you will simply run your ideas together in a jumble.  Use headings if they would be useful to demarcate separate sections of your essay or emphasize your basic points.

 

(5) Pay close attention to basics like grammar and punctuation.  Proofread your essays.

 

(6) Although you may want to emphasize and discuss issues that are only secondary in the movie, be sure, at least, to note the movie’s central theme or themes.

 

(7) Do not try to be a film critic.  Do not worry about the actors’ performances (except insofar as they might be relevant in evaluating the film’s success in making its point) or the subtleties of direction and editing.  The issues are what count.  This course is about Latin America and the historical, social, and ethical problems faced by Latin Americans, not about filmmaking.

 

(8) The minimum is three pages.  Ordinarily, if you write three pages and adhere to the first seven guidelines, you can expect a grade of C+ or B-.  If you are a very good writer with a penchant for parsimony and succinctness, you can get a better grade than that on three pages.  Ordinarily, you will have to write more in order to make solid points and cover the issues thoroughly.

      But if you don’t write clearly and develop your arguments well, writing more pages will not reap a better grade.  Among my major criticisms of students’ writing is that arguments are not completed, implications are not spelled out, and relevant (and easily available) information is not provided.  Film reviewers write like that, mainly because they have to submit reviews in a limited number of words.  But you are not writing film reviews. You are writing essays about issues, using the films as your basic references.