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Flashbacks and the past tense

The flashback is a technique in film that is unique to the medium; in fact there is some speculation that the notion of the flashback in human psychology - as a recurrence of trauma, for example - didn’t exist before cinema. Flashbacks enable language teachers to explore how the past is represented in other media, such as comic books and radio drama, and to make connections with tense structures in language.

The imminence of a flashback is signalled to us by specific markers - either a change in colour tone or film quality (using 8mm or 16mm for ‘past’ footage, for example), or more often, using a cross-fade or dissolve. The gradual nature of a ‘fade’, as opposed to a ‘hard cut’, has become a convention for saying time has passed.


Can you give some specific examples of flashbacks in films? What effects do these flashbacks create?

For the second part of this step, we’re introducing a new short film, made by a group of 8 and 9 year old children with their teacher in a school in East London. It was made as part of a whole school filmmaking project, in which every class chose a topic and made a film around it. Turquoise Class chose the topic of ‘Humour’, and used a set of simple filmmaking and editing tricks. Watch the whole of the film - it’s around 4 minutes long. How did the class use flashbacks in the film? How could flashbacks be used in the languages classroom?

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Short Film in Language Teaching

The British Film Institute (BFI)

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