Sunday, October 16, 2016

Teaching, learning & The Holocaust in Ahmed Dramé & Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar's inspiring, moving ONCE IN A LIFETIME

The kind of movie that should thrill and invigorate school teachers everywhere -- and I mean the sort of teachers who will do just about anything and everything to help their students learn, cooperate and think for themselves --  ONCE IN A LIFETIME (Les herétiers), the 2014 French film finally being released here in the USA, should leave audiences moved, chastened and with their faith restored in possibilities present in both education and young people.

Yes, that is a very tall order, and the fact that the film succeeds as well as it does is testament to the strength of its based-on-reality narrative, the skill of the filmmaker (the very lengthily-monikered Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar and the young man,
Ahmed Dramé (shown below), who does triple duty as actor, co-screenwriter, and one of the actual classroom students whose real-life story this is.

The tale told here is of a classroom of adolescent kids who attend Léon Blum High School in the Paris suburb of Créteil, and their history teacher (played by that exceptional actress Ariane Ascaride, below, whom you may remember from some of the fine films of Robert Guédiguian). The kids are pretty typical: generally uncooperative, more interested in their cell phones than in studying, and all too willing to treat some of their peers as "lessers."

So how do you "reach" a class like this? The teacher, Anne Gueguen, tries various things, with some marginal success. But it is not until she comes up with the idea of having the class engage in a national competition, the theme of which involves the treatment of children -- both Jews and Gypsies -- in the Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust that something very special begins to happen.

How and why this happens -- slowly and in small increments -- becomes the meat of the movie. What the kids learn and what this means to them is shown us via tiny but important details that slowly build and lead to an evolution in terms of understanding of what The Holocaust means, as well as what their cooperation among themselves can mean for both individual and group success.

The kids are diverse -- of color and religion, but not so much of economic class. They are also perceived by the head of school as not worthy of this extra help and push because of their behavior (a scene of that behavior vis-a-vis a substitute teacher is typically appalling). So what happens here is doubly encouraging in terms of the importance of not allowing perception to override the possibility of change,

While we don't probe too deeply into the lives of any of these students individually (not even of Malik, the character played by M. Dramé), we see enough to clearly differentiate between them and appreciate these differences. Ditto their teacher, of whom we learn little more than that her mother dies along the way and the fact of her extreme dedication to the idea of learning and cooperation.

But this is plenty, and it is enough to make Once in a Lifetime memorable and important. Experiencing how education can work for the benefit of the individual and society is so rare in movies that this one -- based on truth and executed with intelligence and passion -- immediately takes its place in the pantheon.

A word should be said about the use of The Holocaust in this film. It certainly makes a fine teaching tool, as would, I suspect, other Holocausts, too -- the one that took place in the former Yugoslavia, or in Rwanda, both of which the movie brings up. The film also is quick to differentiate between out-and-out genocide and murder of "the other," though it seemed to me to fudge a bit regarding its mention of a current hot-button issue, Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. (The Holocaust as teaching tool is also a fine way of countering Holocaust deniers, such as the one seen in Denial, which TrustMovies covered only a few days ago,)

From Menemsha Films and running 105 minutes, Once in a Lifetime is having its U.S. theatrical premiere here in South Florida this Friday, October 21, in Broward and Palm Beach Counties at The Last Picture Show in Tamarac, Cinema Paradiso in Hollywood, The Living Room Theaters in Boca Raton,and the Movies of Delray and the Movies of Lake Worth.

Personal Appearances in South Florida 
by writer/star Ahmed Dramé!
Once in a Lifetime's charismatic and talented co-star will be making personal appearances and Q&As at several South Florida theaters over this coming weekend: Oct 21, 22 and 23. Click here and then scroll down to see the latest information regarding which theaters and which screenings he will attend.

To launch the theatrical release of Once in a Lifetime in South Florida, Menemsha Films has developed and provided study guides for teachers. Additionally, the film's writer and actor Ahmed Dramé, will travel from France for classroom discussions at several Broward and Palm Beach County High Schools, scheduled by FAU’S Center for Holocaust and Human Rights Education (CHHRE) and at international middle and high schools in Miami scheduled by the Consulate General of France in Miami.

Dramé was a 10th grade student in the 2009 classroom of a dedicated history teacher, who rallied her rebellious class to participate in the National Contest for Resistance and Deportation competition portrayed in the feature film, Dramé, now an actor (Made in France, which recently opened South Florida theaters) co-wrote the screenplay with director Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar, as he wanted to honor the teacher who changed his life and the lives of other students in the class. In 2015, Dramé was nominated for the Cesar Award for most promising actor for his performance as Malik in Once in a Lifetime. He will be meeting with educators in South Florida on the following schedule:

Monday, Oct. 17 in Broward, 10:50 AM – 12:26 PM & 1:05 PM -2:20 PM at Everglades HS, 17100 SW 48 Ct, Miramar, Fl 33027 Ph: 754 323-0500
Tuesday. Oct. 18 in Broward, 9:20 AM-10:50 AM at Cypress Bay HS, 18600 Vista Park Blvd, Weston, FL 33332 Ph: 754-323-0350; 12:00 Noon – 1:00pm at Flanagan HS, 12800 Taft Street, Pembroke Pines, FL 33028 Ph: 754-323-0650
Wednesday, Oct. 19, in Palm Beach County, 7:30 AM – 8:20 AM Santa Luces HS, 6880 Lawrence Rd, Lantana, FL 33462 Ph: 561 642-6200
Thursday, Oct. 20 in Palm Beach County, 8:00 AM – 9:00 AM John I. Leonard HS, 4701 10th Ave North Greenacres, FL 33463561 641-1200  10:00 AM-11:30AM Riviera Beach Preparatory Academy, 7071 Garden Rd, West Palm Beach, FL Ph: 561 881-4740
Friday, Oct. 21 in the Miami-Hollywood area, between 8:30am-11:00am (exact times TBD, check with each school, please),  International Studies Charter High School, 2480 SW 8th St, Miami, FL 33135 Ph: 305 643-2955 & George Washington Carver Middle School, 4901 Lincoln Dr, Coral Gables, FL 33133 Ph: 305-444-7388; 3pm-4pm at the International School Of Broward, 3100 NW 75th Ave, Hollywood, FL 33024 Ph: 954-987-2026

The photo of the filmmaker, 
shown second from top, comes courtesy of
 photographer/journalist, Bernd Sobolla

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