Documentary Watchers

We’ve been really enjoying documentaries lately.  Obviously documentaries can be a nice way to break up teaching of a subject, but they can also just be interesting films in their own right and don’t have to align with what you’re teaching.  They can be a nice diversion or a way to learn about something completely different.  A few that have graced our TV in recent weeks…

Cheng Cheng, Xiaofei Xu, Luo Lei, in front of class, Wuhan Evergreen No. 1 Primary SchoolPlease Vote for Me
This documentary is in Chinese, so I was a little unsure about putting it on our queue.  However, both the boys have an odd fascination with student government, which apparently is strong enough to extend to Chinese primary schools and BalletBoy in particular really took to this documentary, wanting to see it a second time.  It follows a third grade class in China as they choose their class monitor through an election for the very first time.  Three kids vie to for the title: the previous monitor who is a bit of a bully, a middle class boy who knows how to manipulate emotions, and a girl who is unsure of herself.  It’s a very sweet look at the first fumblings of democracy in another country.

This movie is about industrial design and the way in which the objects around us have all been designed, even though we often think of them as just being that way.  It interviews several designers and talks about their creative process.  For Mushroom, who is always talking about things having “good design,” I am hoping it was a nice spark, but the content was drier than I had hoped.  We enjoyed it, but it wasn’t the hit I hoped for.

The Story of 1The Story of 1
This Terry Jones documentary about the history of the number one is exactly what you would expect from the elder British comedian and filmmaker.  Cute animations of the number one through history intersperse the show as it shows the birth of counting back in caves, past cuneiform marks and Roman numerals, through the introduction of the zero, and into binary code.  Jones narrates the program with interesting anecdotes about math and the ways in which numbers influence our lives.  This one was definitely a hit.  The Husband paused his day to watch it with us.

Paper Clips
We chose this documentary to go along with our study of World War II, but it’s such a moving story with so many layers that it’s worth watching even if it doesn’t coordinate with content subjects.  A small, homogeneous southern town begins a project on the Holocaust, collecting paper clips to represent the six million Jewish victims.  As the project continues, the prejudices of the people in the town are confronted as well as the prejudice of people in the rest of the country toward a small, mostly white southern town.  It’s a moving story that somehow is about the Holocaust and yet is hopeful because it shows a group of people trying to fight intolerance.

4 thoughts on “Documentary Watchers

  1. AH! The Story of One. I’ve been trying to remember the name of that movie for so long. Thank you! And re: Paperclips – I hope to preview it before watching with my kids, but out of curiosity, how much knowledge of the holocaust did your boys have/need before watching?

    1. Like I said, WWII is our history topic at the moment, so they had some. Basically, they knew it happened, and we had read a few children’s books about it. David Adler has a number of good picture book biographies and children’s books about the topic. BalletBoy says reading about it makes him sad and was hesitant to watch the documentary, but about twenty minutes in, he turned to me and said, “Oh, I see what you mean, it really isn’t a sad story because it’s about the school and the project. It’s a happy movie.” And it really is. Even when the survivors are telling a little of their stories, it’s in the context of this very hopeful moment of these kids in this kind of hick town having this very touching meeting with people they usually would not have had the opportunity to meet.

  2. Thank you again for more ideas to use–The Story of 1 & Paperclips are going on our watchlist, too (the latter for the grownups).

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