About us
Croatian film


Educational Film — Its Scope and Distinction (dedicated to the Vjekoslav Majcen’s book Educational film)

Vjekoslav Majcen’s empirical research of the history of educational film in Croatia (Vjekoslav Majcen, 2001, Obrazovni film. Pregled povijesti hrvatskog obrazovnog filma/Educational Film. A Historical Survey of Croatian Educational Films, Zagreb: Hrvatski državni arhiv — Hrvatska kinoteka) raises some speculative analytic questions that were touched upon but not dwelled on by Majcen in his path breaking book.

The basic speculative problem is — how to define educational film when any film may be used for this or that educational purpose. Contemporary reviews of the first film shows in Croatia highlighted the educational potential of movies — it was pointed out that movies may be effectively used to widen the audience’s knowledge about the world by documenting faraway world vistas and customs.

But, if each fact film could be educational, and each feature film may have moral educational impact, is it justified to consider educational films as belonging to a structurally specific film kind?
In order to answer the question some distinctions have to be drawn. The first important distinction is between the (a) educational use and (b) educational intent of the movie.

The standardized educational use context (lecture context, classroom context, special learning context) is obviously highly important in ’making’ a movie an instrument of education. That is the reason why Majcen so caringly surveyed all different attempts in Croatia to establish specific educational contexts for the educational use of film (e. g. the establishment of the scientific society Urania with the educational use of films; attempts to institute special school film theatres for children, or different attempts at organizing special lecturing shows of films); and he also presented a history of pedagogical discussions in Croatia (and in the world) on the topic of the modes of the educational use of film.

However, there is an important difference between using an existing film for educational purposes, and making a film with educational purpose in mind. In the latter case there is a formative attempt to set the film in such a manner that its educational impact is heightened. Some characteristics are favoured over others in order to fulfil the educational aim more effectively. For example, Majcen is pointing out the insistence on the didactic principles of simplicity and gradualness in the subject presentation. Educationally minded films favour single line of exposition (leaving out complications, and side lines), bring out only typical and characteristic aspects of the presented phenomena, they keep illustrations and presentational style strictly functional.

However, educationally useful features do not necessarily mean that the film in question is a specific kind (genre) of film — educational film. Namely, basic didactic features are actually features of the classic presentation style. They characterize classic narrative film (only simplifying it), classic documentary, and classic animation film alike. Feature films, documentaries and animation can be used in education, and can posses educationally purposeful features, but they are not specific — educational films.

Further distinction has to be made between films made with educational intent, i. e. between films with (b. a.) educationally useful characteristics (i. e. educational features) and those with (b. b.) specific, predominantly educational structure.
Films made according to the described didactic principles of simplicity and gradualness may be labelled as films »with educational features«, but not necessarily as educational films. Educational films would be those that can be recognized as educational on the basis of the specific structure without regard to the actual context of use. But what would be the specific structure that would give a generic distinction of ’educational film’?
The proposed answer is — as suggested in Majcen’s discussion of a single concept film production in Filmoteka 16 that educational films are characterized by a discursive (argumentative, expositional) structure. We are faced with expositional structure when the point of individual shots and shot sequence is not in getting acquainted with their idiosyncratic nature, but when they are used as exemplifications (illustrations) of some general (generic) concept, idea, or category.

Film is educational in kind when it is structured as an exposition of general (identifying, characteristic) features of some phenomena in order to make our concepts content-full, and to enable us to apply the concepts adequately to a class of particular experiential instances. It is this ’perceptually applied’ concept analysis that characterizes prototypical educational film. When we are faced with a film that forces us to use particular images just as exemplars for something more general — we are justified to make a hypothesis that we are dealing with educational film, and we are motivated to look for other expository strategies that would support (or question) the hypothesis. Many standard features of educational films can be functionally explained as concept-expository devices (e. g. frequent use of verbal commentary as a ’conceptualising device’; use of different diagram forming devices — mostly of graphic schematisation and animation).

Thus, educational film is an important phenomenon not only because it exists (and by its existence requires to be examined), but also because it is a field where discursive — argumentative, expositional — potentialities of film are explored, established and evolved. In spite of Ian Jarvie’s categorical statement that »The film medium is not especially suited to the discursive mode of address.« (Jarvie 1987: 250) educational films (and educational, and specifically instructional television programs) demonstrate how powerful and varied are film’s abilities at ’discursive mode’. Majcen’s research opened up a field for serious film theoretical account of the educational film practices, and generally toward discursive discourse patterns in cinema.


1. The concept of educational film as a speculative problem; 2. Problem of moral-education; 2.1. Moral education and knowledge education: films as moral-educational problem; 2.2. Are moral educational films a subset of propaganda films?; 2.3. Do moral educational films belong to a special film kind?, 3. Generic specificity of (knowledge) educational film; 3.1. Functional characteristics and characteristics of a film kind; 3.2. Historical introduction of educational purpose for films; 3.3. Do educational films have a specific structure? 3.4. Information as relevant criterion of thematic choice in educational films; 3. 5. Noted presentational characteristics of educational film; 4. Discursiveness of educational film; 4.1. Discursiveness as an answer; 4.2. Discursive functionality of a concrete image — image as an exemplar, illustration; 4.3. Image conceptualising devices; 4.4. Discursive composition of discourse; 5. Conclusion: Film is a powerful discursive vehicle.

Hrvoje Turković

Colour and Light

View other articles in this edition...


new edition

Web Statistics