History of the cinema is important to teach like teaching any other art is, and film IS an art, make no qualms about it. There are bad examples as well as good examples, but understanding the history of film helps us, yes, understand the development of the art, but also lets us see another time and place. Any story lets us see the world through someone else's eye, and we should never be so limited in what we see in our world. Foreign and independent films are important to see as well as the mainstream (in other words the only films you will see at the Cheri here in Murray). Look at Rashômon, directed by Kurosawa in 1950, and see how many sides you can see. How perspective changes everything or how seeing different perspectives can truly enlighten.
You have to see Casablanca, directed by Michael Curtiz in 1942; Citizen Kane, directed by Orson Welles in 1941; The Wizard of Oz, directed by Victor Fleming in 1939; It's a Wonderful Life, directed by Frank Capra in 1946; etc. and etc. There are certain classics of that era we all feel are the musts for anyone to understand cinema. But you should go further back, to The Great Train Robbery, directed by Siegmund Lubin in 1904; Nosferatu, directed by F. W. Murnau in 1922; Metropolis, directed by Fritz Lang in 1927; to Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and even to D. W. Griffith and his 1915 Birth of a Nation. It is important history and perhaps an even further enlightening experience to see Griffith's 1916 Intolerance.
You have to see The Apartment (1960) (or anything Billy Wilder), The Philadelphia Story, directed in 1940 by George Cukor; and more that move from comedy to drama, then we get into an era where color became bigger in the 1950s, the more cheesy invasion of sci-fi flicks and the hope against film going just that way. The Searchers, directed by John Ford in 1956; High Noon, directed by Fred Zinneman in 1952, or other westerns that show the western is an important genre. To Kill a Mockingbird, directed by Robert Mulligan in 1962; The Elephant Man, directed by David Lynch in 1980; Schindler's List, directed by Steven Spielberg in 1993; The Man Who Wasn't There, directed in by Joel Coen in 1991, make us see how black and white is another way we still can tell a story. In the gritty 70s, stand outs were The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (2004), both directed by Francis Ford Coppola; The French Connection, directed by William Friedkin in 1971, and to the advent of Spielberg and Lucas. Also there was the genius of American Graffiti, directed by George Lucas in 1973, who also directed the great Star Wars in 1972; Jaws, directed in 1975 by Steven Spielberg, who also directed Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981…the modern blockbuster.
During the indie boom, Richard Linklater, Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, and more moved us to a culture where the blockbusters could be the little movies and not just a studio-run system. We have to look at a modern culture that creates commentary of all sorts, be it Spielberg's 2005 Munich or 2005 War of the Worlds or any number of different films now, from United 93, directed by Paul Greengrass in 2006, to the documentary Loose Charge, directed by Jules Irving in 1978; or even Fahrenheit 9/11, directed by Michael Moore in 2001. What is a documentary? See the 7-Up Series, directed by Phil Joanou in 1991 and 2001; and Hoop Dreams, directed by Steve James in 1994. Understand film is an art with examples of Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Luis Bunuel, Darren Aronofsky…but why just call certain types "art?" Is that not a limited view of art? And art should show us the world-show us things through others' eyes-make us see through the eyes of an angel, Wings of Desire, directed by Wim Wenders in 1987, or through the eyes of a pig, Babe, directed by Chris Noonan in 1995. We have many types of films, live action or animated. Look at Bambi, directed by David Hand in 1942; Tarzan, directed by Chris Buck and Kevin Lima; The Prince of Egypt, directed by Phil Joanou in 1998; The Nightmare Before Christmas, directed by Tim Burton in 1993; Monsters, Inc., directed by Peter Docter and David Silverman (co-director) in 2001; The Incredibles, directed by Brad Bird in 2004; or even craziness like Waking Life, directed by Richard Linklater in 2001.
I feel that I have barely scratched the surface, but that is part of it. There are many ways to express, to feel, to see, to understand; and cinema is just one way we might be able to do that.