Film Study Mississippi Burning

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Film Study Mississippi Burning

  • AS 90381 - Investigate a language or literature topic and present information in written form. 3 (Internal)

  • AS 90379 - Analyse a visual or oral text. 2 (External)

Visual text, what you need to know.

  • Learn

    • The title
    • The name of the director.
    • The names of the characters.
    • The set: where and when the text is based.
    • The plot – the beginning and the ending and key events in between
    • The themes.
    • The techniques used in the film, and what effect they have.

By the end of this unit, you should be able to:

  • Identify and analyse film language accurately;

  • Analyse film image and sequences in detail;

  • Analyse and discuss the use of narrative techniques, including motifs, transitions and editing;

  • Analyse the way visual and verbal film techniques are used to reveal plot, setting, character;

  • Use film terminology accurately and with confidence;

  • Discuss the way the film presents themes;

  • Write an essay about an aspect of the text

Film techniques

  • Montage – A fast moving sequence in which many shots are combined – can be used to sum up a long process.

  • Special effects – Very important in this film. Computer programming and trick photography used to show things are not always as they seem.

  • Mise en scene – How a shot is put together. What can you see, what is in focus, where is everything in the shot.

  • Zoom – Zoom in, Zoom out – can move closer or further away from an object.

  • Pan – camera movement either right to left or left to right.

  • Sound effects – sounds other than words.

  • Sound mix – combination of dialogue, music and sound effects to make up the sound track.

  • Camera angles and shots

Film techniques

  • Extreme long shot or establishing shot

  • Long shot

  • Full shot

  • Medium or mid shot

  • Close-up

  • Extreme close-up

  • Overshot or overhead shot

  • High angle shot

  • Low angle shot

  • Undershot

After first viewing

  • I liked/disliked this film because… 

  • This film made me think about… (3 themes/ideas)

  • My favourite character was…because…

  • My least favourite character was…because… 

  • I was shocked when/that….

  • Is there one pivotal scene in this film? Discuss.

  • The ending of the film is/is not satisfying. Explain.

  • Choose one word that you think describes this film and explain why you have chosen that word.

How does this film link to our theme?

Prejudice – Presentation of segregation in Southern America. Racial violence and hatred. Prejudice was taught from childhood in Mississippi.

Standing up for your beliefs – Can have consequences. Standing up for your beliefs can change lives. Make sure what you believe in is the truth. Standing up for your beliefs may be hard, but will give you some self respect and dignity.

What did we find out? How did we know?

  • About Character

  • About Plot

  • About Theme

  • About Setting

Opening Scenes

Opening Scenes

Closing Scenes




Discussion Questions

1. Examine the opening images:

• the white man drinking from one tap, the black boy drinking from another,

• the burning wooden house,

• the sound of gospel singing,

• the car on the road at night,

• the car being followed.

What do you learn from these images?

What sort of film are/were you anticipating at this stage?


2. When FBI agents Anderson and Ward drive into Jessup Town, Mississippi, what do the visuals tell you about the town?


3. Sheriff Stuckey’s character is established through his appearance, his speech and what he says. Explain.


4. Who were the boys who were killed at the beginning and what was their history?


5. When Special Agent Ward eats in the area of the diner reserved for the blacks, we learn several things. Explain.


Discussion Questions

6. The film makes great use of editing. That is, excerpts from two separate scenes are shown side by side so that they comment on each other. For example, the scene where the FBI agents are interviewing in the black household cuts to the scene where the white thugs go into the black area looking for Hollis. Why do you think the director uses this technique on this occasion? What effect does it have?


7. Explain what you think is meant by Ward’s comment to Anderson: “Some things are worth dying for” and the reply, “Some things are worth killing for”.


8. Of what significance is Anderson’s story about his father and the mule?


9. This film makes use of the convention of the mismatched duo who end up learning from each other. Keep a record of the changing and developing

Discussion Questions

10. In the barber’s shop scene the mayor and sheriff try to frighten Anderson off. Examine the camera angles and show how they emphasise the power relationship between the men.


11. What is the effect of the image of the FBI men in suits wading through the swamp? What comment do you think is being made?


12. Comment on the way in which the film makes use of sound-bite interviews with the locals while the search continues for the bodies of the civil rights workers. Why are these included? (Sound-bite interviews are quick comments from individuals who are involved in some way in a particular event)


13. Why does the director include the scene with Pell’s wife and Betsy’s child? Note the close-ups of Pell’s face and Mary’s face. What do you think one of them is thinking?


14. List the various races that Clayton Townley of the Ku Klux Klan says he stands against.


15. What is the effect of the shot in which Pell’s wife gives Anderson the information he has been wanting? Why do you think the director used this technique?


Discussion Questions

16. Two events mark the turning points in the film. The first one is the result of the court case. What is the second one? What change does this second event cause in Ward, in particular?


17. This film uses various methods to create tension. Choose a scene and explain how these techniques add to their tension:

• cutting/editing

• music

• lighting.


18. If asked, Anderson would probably say that the end justifies the means. What are the things that he, Ward or other FBI men do that could be said to be wrong in themselves but which are done for good reasons. What is your response to this particular philosophy; do you think that the end can justify the means?


19. Ward says of the mayor who hangs himself, “Anyone’s guilty who watches this happen and pretends it isn’t” Is he only talking about the mayor? Explain.


20. How are the final images of the film meant to be optimistic ones? Do you feel optimistic at this stage?


21. What is your response to the film and the issues raised by it? Does it have relevance to your life? To New Zealand?

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