Final Assignment Prompt Oral history report

101C Final Assignment Prompt
Oral history report:
Students will interview an elder about personal experiences of theatrical film-going before home
video, cable, multiplexes, and the world wide web—approximately before 1980. Some of these
were introduced in the 1970s but only widely adopted in the US in the early-mid 1980s; popular
adoption of the Internet occurred in the mid-1990s and after. These periodizing dates may differ
for contexts outside the US.
There are two parts to this assignment, the interview itself and the essay about the interview. You
will turn in both your list of PREPARED questions (10-12) and a 1000-1200 word oral history
essay explaining who your interview subject was and reporting on the interviewee’s responses,
contextualizing them in relation to the period and the version of film history presented in class.
The goal of this assignment is both to humanize the historical period we are learning about in
class and to get a sense of audience reception practices in contrast to the formal and industrial
histories we are learning about in class. Students are encouraged to interview subjects who were
living and going to movies outside the U.S. Interviews may be in languages other than English as
applicable, but students will need to translate questions and quotations into English for the
assignment. Keep in mind that the film movements we are studying were not all “popular” and
that your interview subjects may not have seen the specific films from this course. There are
many forms of cinema, and people remember or consider important different films. Students are
responsible to find their own interview subjects. Interviews may be done via phone, Skype,
email, etc—although talking in-person is ideal.
Student grading rubric:
Total points possible: 30
Questions prepared for interview: 5 points possible
Personal context for interviewee in report: 5 points possible
Communicates a sense of or reflection on film history in report: 10 points possible
Tells a story and captures a sense of the person (form/style): 3 points possible
Clarity and focus: 2 points possible
Communicates what you learned: 5 points possible
Grammar and spelling mistakes: at least -1
Not citing sources where relevant: at least -1
Late submission: at least -1
Finding Your Subject
Your interview subject can be a relative (for instance, a grandparent or parent), a neighbor, or
anyone else, as long as they can speak about going to the movies before changes in movie-going
ushered in by home video and cable. It is fine—even encouraged—for you to choose an
interview subject who lived outside the US during this time. Part of the assignment is to find an
interview subject.
If your interview is conducted in a language other than English, that is fine, but the questions
should be translated into English for submission of your assignment, and your essay should
indicate which language was used for the interview. Also, note if certain concepts or terms were
difficult to translate.
Oral History
Oral histories help us to retrieve and clarify aspects of history that are usually not accessible or
made available to us in published history books and articles. While it is easy enough to obtain a
sense of “major events” occurring in the film world by reading newspapers, searching online,
and consulting trade and critical journals, none of these sources provides us with a sense of what
it was like to experience cinema as a creative participant, theater owner, film technician, or
movie spectator during the period we are studying. Although oral histories provide us with a
“subjective” account of events in the past, they can help us to pose fruitful questions regarding
film culture and politics, as well as provide immediate insight into how film culture affected
people at different locations in different ways. Occasionally, they yield important facts that have
been forgotten or overlooked by public and institutional discourse, as well as by historians. So, in
conducting an oral history, you are contributing to the public history of cinema during the first
sound era.
If your interviewee worked in the film industry, that is great. The interview should address both
production and film-going. You are not expected to find someone who worked in the industry.
(There are no required questions, and you are encouraged to come up with your own. But these
will provide a good basis. Again, you will likely talk beyond specific questions and beyond the
10-12 you prepared)
If your subject was not residing in the United States during any of this period, you will likely
want to ask the following: Did s/he primarily see films from the country in which s/he lived?
Was s/he able to see US movies where they lived? If not, why was s/he not able to see American
movies? If yes, what kinds of films (genres)? If yes, what were his/her favorite actors, genres, or
directors? Did s/he receive any information about American movies (photos, news clippings,
etc.) even if they couldn’t watch the films? What kinds of information? Did they go to see other
national cinemas at movie theaters? What kinds of films? What languages? How did those
national films compare to Hollywood films (if they had access to US cinema)?
For all respondents, ask if any particular movies stand out in his/her memory. What were the
movie theaters like that s/he attended most of the time? Where were these theaters located (city,
downtown/ neighborhood)? Did s/he have any favorite genres, directors, or stars? (Please have
him/her identify these.) Did s/he read fan magazines (which ones?) or write fan letters? Is there
anything special that they think you should know about the movies before 1980ish? How did
film going differ then compared to now?
PREPARE ahead of time.
• Prepare ten to twelve questions that you would like to ask the subject about her
experience (you will probably not get to ask all of them).
• Arrange enough time for the interview (at least half an hour to talk). Make sure you
arrange the interview well ahead of time.
• The interview is not about you, or what you think. The whole point of the interview is to
get the subject to tell her story.
• Don’t ask yes/no questions. Rather, ask why/how/where/what do you remember about …
• Ask one question at a time.
• Ask brief and focused questions.
• Have patience. Silence is okay. Some people like to take time to think before answering a
question – give them the time.
• Listen, and don’t interrupt. You should prepare follow-up questions as you listen, but
don’t interrupt with them.
• If your subject does stray into topics that are not pertinent, try to refocus the interview.
Say, for example, “Before we move on, I would like to ask you a little more about X…”
If your interview subject gave short, one-word responses to your questions, it is my hope that
you intuited the need to ask FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS and/or to rephrase the original question
in order to get a more fleshed out response. Obviously your written report will be difficult if you
didn’t get full answers during your interview. Leading an ineffective interview does not let you
off the hook for the written component, and you should not blame your interviewee for
incomplete answers when you should have asked for clarification or more detail. If you are
concerned that you don’t have enough information to write a report, there may yet be time for a
The bulk of your written report will come from your interviewee’s accounts, and you are
encouraged to make direct quotations (verifying that they are accurate). However, you are also
expected to contextualize your interviewee’s experiences by identifying where and when these
experiences took place. Additionally, you are expected to make connections between the
accounts your interviewee gives you and the historical background we have covered in class
lectures, readings, and discussions.
Do the interviewee’s experiences comment upon a period or film movement we have covered in
Do these experiences confirm, complicate, and/or contradict the “canonical” or film-movement
version of film history as we have covered it?
What new perspectives does the interviewee offer for this period?
What did you learn that we haven’t covered?
The report likely will not have time or space to cover all of your interviewee’s responses.
Prioritize what is most insightful, revealing, or original details that you learned from your
interview. But again, these specific details should be contextualized within a broader
understanding of the period.
Again, the bulk of the written report should rely upon the interview, but you are welcome to
reference course readings or other published sources as relevant for context. Be sure to properly
cite other sources.

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