We live in a global world which means we need powerful connection points. Without a doubt, compelling media offers one such opportunity. Moreover, children across the world can easily connect to others through film.
As a filmmaker and teaching artist, I often use film with my own children and with students. Certainly, an engaging film pulls viewers into the world of another. Additionally, film builds empathy and exposes viewers to experiences and places they are unable to visit.
Journeys in Film is an organization committed to empathy, inclusion and culturally responsive teaching through film. Their resource library features FREE curricula and discussion guides for a wide array of films. Furthermore, many of these films take children around the world as they step inside the experiences of other children. Here are some of my favorites.
Films to Explore the World
- Beat the Drum Young Musa lives in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa and is orphaned at the hands of HIV/AIDS. To help his grandmother, Musa sets out for Johannesburg with his father’s last gift, a tribal drum. The journey tests his spirit as he seeks community.
- Queen of Katwe, This true story takes viewers to Uganda to follow Phiona Mutesi’s unexpected rise as an international chess star. Mira Nair is the director, and Lupita Nyong’o plays Phiona.
- The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind This film tells the inspiring story of William Kamkwamba, a Malawian boy. Against all odds, William finds an unexpected way to help his village as it faces severe drought and starvation. The film was inspired by a memoir of the same name.
- The Cup This film highlights a true story about Tibetan monks living in a Buddhist monastery in the Himalayan foothills. The story centers on a 14 year-old’s recent arrival. A soccer enthusiast, the teen is determined to see the finals of the World Cup. His attempt to rent a TV set for the monastery becomes a test of solidarity, resourcefulness, and friendship.
- He Named Me Malala Inspired by the book I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, this film explores the events leading up to the Taliban’s attack on her. Malala, a Pakistani schoolgirl, insisted on her right to schooling. She also bravely spoke out about the value and importance of girls’ education.
- Please Vote For Me Democracy exists in this primary school in Wuhan, China, where a grade 3 class gets to vote on who will be class monitor.
- The Way Home A seven-year-old South Korean boy, accustomed to the comforts and conveniences of modern Seoul, is left temporarily with his grandmother in a traditional village. Their relationship unfolds in this beautiful film.
Middle Eastern Films
- Children of Heaven Set in Iran, nine-year-old Ali accidentally loses his sister Zahra’s only pair of shoes. The children know their parents cannot afford new ones, so they embark on a quest to find new ones themselves.
- Wadjda Wadjda offers something too rare in the traditional media landscape: a thoughtful look at a girl’s life in Riyadh, Saudia Arabia. The Guardian named it one of the 10 Best Films of 2013.
- Whale Rider This film follows the story of a Maori girl intent on fulfilling her destiny, despite challenges from her family.
I love all the films on this list. However, one of my favorites is Wadjda, which is available on Netflix.
Too often, the Middle East is underrepresented in the international media landscape. This is especially true in the United States. Additionally, representations often focus on damaging stereotypes. Wadjda counters that. It is a funny, romantic drama about a 10-year-old girl’s simple quest to buy a bike so she can race against a friend. The film’s director, Haifaa Al-Mansou, is the first woman director of Saudi Arabia. The Journeys In Film curriculum for Wadjda includes a lesson focused on Haifaa Al-Mansou. As youth learn about Haifaa, they will certainly find inspiration. Like the film, Haifaa’s is a story that highlights the value of pursuing one’s dreams, even against challenging odds.
Many films in the Journeys In Film library are based on memoirs or novels. This offers additional opportunities for learning and exploration. For example, my 11 year-old watched the film The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. Then, he read the book that inspired the film. After that, he researched William Kamkwamba’s real life. Finally, we explored the similarities and differences between these three media representations of William’s experience.
Through film, the expanded curricula, and the discussion guides that Journeys provides, youth can increase their understanding of various cultures and places around the world. Additionally, films can improve media literacy and facilitate an appreciation for storytelling. These are invaluable qualities in a world full of both media saturation and global connection.
Please share your favorite media resources to explore global learning.