The film project got off to a flying start with the children at a primary school in Cape Town this afternoon. It was wonderful to be invited to work on this research project into migrant children’s perspectives on inclusion in schools.
Last week, the lead researcher discussed inclusion with a group of six children from Grade 4 – a mixture of migrant and local children. To make this topic accessible, the researcher had used The Arrival by Shaun Tan: a wonderful picture book that follows the journey of a man and his family who leave their home to build a life in a new country; the story explores the challenges and surprises that await them. The book has no words and the fantastic illustrations make the book part graphic novel, part photograph album.
Last week, the lead researcher worked with the children to take their own photographs around school to enable the children to identify things that showed that the school was including them (or not) in the life of the school. With this insight, I was asked to help the children turn these ideas into a film based on The Arrival showing the arrival of a new migrant child to the school.
Overall, my aim for this film-making project was to incorporate as many of the children’s ideas as possible rather than impose my own plan. As much as possible, I wanted this project to be directed by them. This is often an issue I grapple with in my teaching – how can you enable children to be creative whilst still offering them guidance? When does the line lie between enabler and enforcer? As someone who enjoys being creative, it is hard not to want to join in! The key challenge in this case was that film making was an entirely new experience for them. Pedagogy, curriculum and practical issues such as large class sizes and lack of resources means that drama, technology and more free-flow methods don’t feature much. In this sense, I have something to offer but I realised they would need a lot of guidance from me in how to fit a plot together, use camera angles and so on. We are going to follow the same formula in our next session, however, so I was happy to use this session to model the storytelling process, so they could take more ownership next time.
On meeting the children, I planned to discuss the story that they had read and ask them to find parallels with arriving at school. For the children, this was a challenge. Although this was something they do every day, it was tricky for them to put into words something so prosaic. It could have been the arrival (no pun intended) of a tall British man with a funny accent that spirited away their tongues! One boy however had a lot to say – a Grade 4 boy who had recently migrated from Zimbabwe who I will call Tinashe*.
Arriving at school for the first time was a fresh experience for Tinashe, so he had quite a lot to contribute. Letting him take the lead, I drew the other children in to the discussion about the plot of our film by directly asking them by name what they thought could happen next. This seemed to get some of the other children talking. I showed the children some different camera angles using photographs I had taken of the researcher prior to the session and we discussed how using a high angle can make the subject look small or intimidated whereas using a low angle could make them look taller or more menacing. This was useful as it helped them visualise what they might look like on screen. So far so good.
The filming outside was much more engaging for the children and largely they seemed to become more confident with acting and performing. Tinashe volunteered to play the lead role of the new arrival and he seemed to flourish in the spotlight. It was almost like this was something he really wanted others to understand – maybe us being outsiders helped.
The filming today centred on what an unwelcoming school would look like and I was really satisfied that the ideas we used came from the children’s experiences; being ignored for not speaking their language and being confused by a new place were important migrant experiences while stealing, bullying and gangs were some of the local children’s worries.
Although it was their first time filming we both felt that the children took something from the experience and seemed to grow in confidence in the role of storyteller, especially when they could see their ideas were valued and listened to. Hopefully tomorrow, the children will be able to take more of a lead behind the camera.
A short trailer will follow!
*Not his real name.
*Not his real name.