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The Cinema Intensive Care Units (CICUs) that foster students’ visual sensibility

Contact sheet: In the Mood for Memory (CCHU9082)
“Photography is truth, and Cinema is truth 24 times per second.” This famous statement from Jean-Luc Godard’s film classic Le Petit Soldat (The Little Soldier, 1963) is a curious assertion that, according to David Assmann,1 German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder later reversed to: “Film, that is 25 times per second a lie” which Michael Haneke adapted it to: “Film is 24 lies per second, but perhaps in the service of truth.” Besides the overall disagreement on the film’s speed, the underlying tone hints to the philosophical qualities of film-making. In pursuing different forms of truth, films can be retrospective. While being funny, sad, critical or entertaining, films can also be observational, capturing and preserving present times, or purely fictional, hence speculative and imaginative in nature.

In 24 Frames: Communicating Ideas through Film (CCHU9082), a Common Core Course at The University of Hong Kong, students explore these cinematic capacities in order to reflect on relevant, contemporary aspects of their everyday urban life, and thereby practicing film- making as a communicative tool. In the last few years, students’ personal short films produced visual reflections on pandemic-related loneliness, dangers of cosmetic surgeries, towards topics such as social media-related jealousy and dystopian future scenarios. In 24 Frames, students are eager to learn visual communication skills. This is why an essential part of the course are multi-media assessments in which they work in groups to get inspired by well-known film classics, for example, Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000) in order to translate ideas into present-day Hong Kong. Hence, visualising ideas needs to be trained and nurtured. Thereby, the teaching strategy relies on carefully orchestrated feedback platforms to improve students’ visual competence. In doing so, given platforms range in scale and intensity; ranging from peer reviews on Conceptboard – an interactive presentation platform, to the most notably called Cinema Intensive Care Units (CICUs).

Cinema Intensive Care Units

So then, let’s have a closer look at these various platforms. 24 Frames’ first feedback platform is the conventional seven to eight, small-scaled group tutorials run by our teaching assistant team to help students’ quick improvement of their visual storylines. The second feedback component is at our midterm review by three assigned peer student groups commenting via Conceptboard, along with a lighthearted film poster contest. This feedback is focused on the groups’ progress, which in turn makes them aware of their own learning (Weurlander et al. 2012) in developing a sensibility to recognise which of their visual ideas are approachable – in other words understandable to the audience – and where they need improvement. The last feedback component is individual group discussions – the Cinema Intensive Care Units. The CICUs are individual small-scale consultation sessions with the course teacher to improve students’ learning (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick 2006) to give a customised final input, reflection on previous peer feedback and comment implementations. They are scheduled for the last few weeks before the film submission and help students to gain additional film suggestions, and a further exposure to the vast cinematic discourse. Overall, the focus of these feedback platforms is the development and practice of creative ideas, so retrospectively, the best aspect of this platform format is to see how different students craft their initial ideas into a coherent short film. Along this way, students are asked to submit a film poster assignment, a storyboard layout and an image board visualisation – all relevant to their three-minute short film submission. In parallel to the visual components, the central teaching approach is discursive interaction to ultimately create a learning environment focused on ‘trans-spatiality’ as advocated by Roland Barnett (Barnett 2021), as one student noted: “I love the interactive parts of the lectures, when we get asked about our opinions/outlooks and I love the starting with film reflection and later use what we’ve learnt to produce our own short film.” (2020/21 – CCHU9082).

Conclusively, the Common Core Teaching Development Grant (CCTDG) was essential for the preparation of these different feedback platforms and allowed me and my team to invest time and effort towards carefully crafted, collaborative group work, and multi-media assessments. One successful outcome is a regularly fully subscribed course in which students enjoy the positive “lecture atmosphere and the assignment content” (2020/21 – CCHU9082).

Additionally, this creativity-focused learning environment is positively accepted as mentioned in our midterm survey; “The movies that are recommended are quite different from each other and thus, we can explore and discuss the variety of themes. We also get to produce our own short film which is quite exciting and intriguing! I like how we get to learn about different film genres, styles and techniques in depth.” (2021/22 – CCHU9082). Shifted to an online mode, the CICUs haven’t lost their strength as mentioned in the positive resonances by one of our students: “There are many videos which make the content more vivid and I can have reference to how the technique is used instead of simply knowing the theory but not knowing how to use them practically.” (2020/21 – CCHU9082).

Another milestone is the Communication Intensive Course badge for this course. This is an acknowledgment by the Centre for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning at The University of Hong Kong, which reflects a peer-reviewed process approved by the HKU senate. The badging allows students to easily recognise the focus of their chosen Common Core Course, while the teacher has the opportunity to receive colleagues’ professional views on the visually-based assessment structures.

Finally, a recent peer-reviewed publication “Cinematic Investigations: Short Films as Research Method For Students To Explore Hong Kong’s Urban Spaces” (Sanderson & Stone (eds.) 2021) shares our student’s short films with a wider academic audience. This paper re-negotiates the expanding fields of film-making connected to the overall learning outcome of 24 Frames. So stay tuned for more news on the continuous success story of 24 Frames.

1 Author’s adaption: Lüge im Dienste der Wahrheit by David Assmann. Retrieved on 11 July 2022:


  • Barnett, R. (2021). Planning education and planning the university: a becoming-symbiosis. In A. I. Frank & A. D. R. Pires. Teaching Urban and Regional Planning – Innovative Pedagogies in Practice (pp.39-55). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited.
  • Ettel, N. (2021, December 2-4). Cinematic investigations: Short films as research method for students to explore Hong Kong’s urban spaces [Paper presentation]. AMPS Proceedings Series 22.1 Teaching-Learning-Research: Design and Environments. Manchester School of Architecture, Manchester, UK.
  • Nicol, D.J. & Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199-218.
  • Weurlander, M., Söderberg, M., Scheja, M., Hult, H., & Wernerson, A. (2012). Exploring formative assessment as a tool for learning: Students’ experiences of different methods of formative assessment. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 37(6), 747-760.

Mr. Nikolas Ettel

Mr. Nikolas Ettel

Lecturer, Faculty of Architecture, HKU

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