In 2016 the Scottish Library and Information Council started an innovative film project in partnership with Falkirk Libraries and Her Majesty’s Young Offenders Institution Polmont. Here Lead Practitioner Simon Bateson talks about the Inside Film project and the progress being made.


With funding from SLIC, I’ve been delighted to team up with Falkirk Libraries and Polmont prison library staff to prototype a six month film literacy programme for prisoners called Inside Film

The project aims to develop young male and female offenders’ knowledge and enthusiasm for a more diverse range of films. It is underpinned by the belief that film is often the primary way for people with limited formal education to develop their critical thinking.

We’ve started from where participants are: using games and clips from mainstream Hollywood films to access what they already enjoy, as well as what they know and believe about popular culture and human relationships. Then we start to unpick assumptions, and delve into more independent films which challenge conventional representations of gender, youth, social class and life choices.

Studying Film

The programme celebrates difference and explores issues of empathy and character development, as well as how to read the technical codes of film. For example, how sound, colour or camera framing shape our “reading” or judgements about what we are seeing.

“I enjoyed learning about the origins of cinema, and would like to watch more of those [older] films”, said Nick, following an interactive, clip-based quiz about how cinema has evolved since its inception in 1885.

Paddy said: “The best thing has been seeing there is an underlying theme in most films which you might not realise.”

“I enjoyed learning about film genres, terminology, camera angles - things I didn’t know about before. Also, that a good idea can emerge from absolutely nothing”, said William.

Reviewing Films

Participants now routinely review different kinds of films to develop a rolling library display. They also work with storyboard books and picture cards to imagine “If my life were a film, what story would I tell?” This builds on discussions about whose voices get heard the loudest in mainstream culture. For example, we learn about the Bechtel test - which asks if a film has more than two female characters talking to each other about something other than a man - and how many films fail to meet this benchmark!

“I’d love to do more storyboards in the future,” said Jordan. “And I really appreciated our conversation with [Oscar nominated screenwriter] Paul Laverty” (pictured - whose work includes the social realist comedies The Angel’s Share and Looking For Eric).

Hannah Colston, Librarian at Polmont Prison added: "The participants have really appreciated the Inside Film experience. While some started off unsure, they came with positive attitudes and engaged well. Their minds are immersed in the joy and stories various types of films bring. And as staff we are more aware of the social messages, good and bad, that mainstream movies convey. All films, including short films, give voice to different levels of society."

Find out more about SLIC's Film Education Project and the other film clubs being piloted throughout Scotland.