Lights! Camera! Learning?
Students travel the world through Journeys in Film
By Andrea Baillie
TORONTO (CP) – On a recent wintry day, a group of Grade 7 students from the city’s east end took a field trip – to a Tibetan monastery.
They were back by the time the afternoon bell rang thanks to Journeys in Film, a new initiative that brings foreign films into the classroom to spark discussion about language, geography, history and culture.
About 100 students at St. Maria Goretti Catholic School took part in the Canadian launch of the program when they sat down on a recent Friday afternoon to watch a Bhutanese movie calledÂ The Cup.
For a crowd of young people more used to Hollywood action flicks, the slow-paced, subtitled film – about life at a monastery and World Cup soccer fever – got a receptive response.
“You get to feel like you’re in another culture,” said 12-year-old Anika Rego.
“It makes it fun and it brings it to life.”
“I never knew how, really, monks lived,” added Nathan Gezahegn, also 12.
“Just seeing how they lived, it was kind of interesting, I wanted maybe to go to the library and check something out about it.”
The unique program is the brainchild of Joanne Ashe, an Albuquerque, N.M., resident who watched foreign films at the Palm Springs Film Festival and left feeling like she had traveled the world.
She subsequently devised a plan to bring such films into schools and managed to enlist the support of actor Liam Neeson. She also pitched the idea to a Canadian friend – Deenah Dunkelman Mollin.
“I said ‘I want to do this in Canada,”‘ says Dunkelman Mollin. “(Toronto is) the most culturally diverse city in the world.”
About a year ago, Dunkelman Mollin began contacting Toronto school officials to sell them on Journeys in Film. She also put together a team of education experts who devised ways to incorporate the movies into the curriculum.
Administrators at the multicultural St. Maria Goretti immediately thought the program would be a good fit.
“You’re trying to get away from the cut-dried method of textbook teaching,” said Nayana D’Costa, who teaches math and language to Grade 7 students at the school.
To prepare for The Cup screening, students spent a couple of weeks learning about Asian geography, the history of Tibet and discussing cultural differences.
Then, on the day the movie was shown, they gathered for a giant multicultural feast.
“Everybody in Grade 7. brought different kind of foods that they would have in their culture with their family and friends,” said Gezahegn. “Everybody got a chance to taste.”
Finally, it was showtime. Teachers admit they were nervous about the initial reaction of students.
“The film – I found it sort of slow moving,” said Grade 7 teacher Eugene Omelan. “I was worried they might show disrespect for it, but they came through with shining colours. for most of the movie you could hear a pin drop.”
“They were dead quiet,” Mollin says of the rapt student audience.
“Everybody is coming together to read those subtitles. it really helps them focus.”
Despite the positive response, some students admit that the subtitles – often a deterrent even for adult audiences – took some getting used to.
“Later on in the movie, I understood,” said Gezahegn. “I liked it, but if it was in English it would have been a little better.”
Students at St. Maria Goretti will now start planning to see the Iranian film Children of Heaven in the spring. Six other schools across the city are about to begin Journeys in Film screenings as well and Dunkelman Mollin says she has fielded queries about the program from across the country.
Upcoming titles include New Zealand’s Whale Rider and a Korean movie called The Way Home.
Paula Chambers, vice-principal of St. Maria Goretti, says the program helped encourage students to talk about their own backgrounds. She believes that’s had a positive impact on the school.
“It gives children ownership of the culture, they have something to contribute from themselves,” she said.
“If each person feels comfortable bringing themselves to the table knowing that other people will exchange with them . . . it makes a much stronger school community.”