Audiences will fall in love with the documentary On the Way to School. It illustrates the struggle of four completely different groups of children, crossing large distances and some serious dangers to ensure they get an education. After watching this, no child will have an excuse for not wanting to go to school.
Director: Pascal Plisson
Screenplay: Marie-Claire Javoy, Pascal Plisson. (Documentary)
Runtime: 77 minutes.
Cast: Noura Azzagagh, Zahira Badi, Carlito, Zineb Elkabi.
Reviewed by Drew Ninnis.
Plot: Many children around the globe struggle to get a basic education, overcoming great obstacles for a fundamental right. On the Way to School documents four such struggles; in most cases, where the children have to cover a literal distance to get to school, and in some cases overcome certain prejudices or judgements to realise their right to be there. The documentary follows a girl in Morocco, a disabled boy in India, two spirited African children, and an isolated Argentinian family.
Festival Goers? See it.
Viewed as part of the Canberra International Film Festival.
Review: Jackson and Salome change the way they go to school every day to avoid elephant attacks. Just remember that fact for the next time a child complains about having to go to school; because as the cheeky documentary On the Way to School illustrates, access to a basic education is a fundamental right that children around the globe struggle for every day. The documentary doesn’t preach, or present a political position, or urge a particular action (although I challenge audience members not to be moved), but simply presents the journey of four groups of children to get to school. In doing so, the film accomplishes something unique and uplifting – carefully, quietly documenting the struggles of the poor and disadvantaged around the world, but also illustrating their progress in improving their lot with a humble hope that is truly inspiring.
It is also a film that is perfect for children; showing them how their friends around the world live, and how perhaps thinking of them every now and then will enrich the opportunities that they are so lucky to have. For the adults in the audience, it is a call of conscience to try and do any little thing to help the less advantaged in the world. This year’s Canberra International Film Festival programmers deserve a lot of praise; as that call of our consciences is an experience I’ve had several times now in viewing the documentaries they have selected.
The film follows, among others, Jackson and Salome who live in rural Africa and must journey fifteen kilometres every day to get to their school. That path runs through the territory of highly protective elephants, and the documentary captures some beautiful shots of the herd in the background. Unfortunately, they do not stay in the background; and at one point the children must run and hide from an elephant that may have spotted them, and seeks to challenge their presence. They also have to avoid a beautiful tower of giraffes on their way, too. It also shows the fine balance they navigate in living; as Jackson digs a hole in a dry river bed to wash his school uniform, and collects water in two improvised plastic jerrycans to take along in his journey. Jackson is anxious because he must get to school on time to raise the flag; a duty he is very proud of.
The very different struggles of Zahira are also documented, as she travels from a small community in Morocco over the Atlas Mountains to a local town. Her plight is particularly moving, as the distance is twenty two kilometres of hard climbing and with little assistance or company except two classmates and a rather placid hen carried along like a fashionable dog in a handbag. Needing a ride to the town, the girls are initially rebuffed before being picked up by a local goat herder. Unique too is the story of Carlito and his sister, who ride their horse across rugged terrain of Argentina to get to school – stopping to pray to a local saint at a shrine among the mountains. Finally, the film illustrates the struggles of Samuel in India, who is wheelchair bound and pushed by his young brothers the few kilometres to the local school. What all of these stories have in common is their extraordinary determination; as vignettes of children who must work so much harder to realise something that we take for granted every day.
It is a truly uplifting tale, beautifully shot; reminding me of the wonderful ¡Vivan las Antipodas! that featured in 2012’s festival, and which similarly showed scenes of individuals separated by thousands of kilometres, yet with so much in common. A crowning touch is the director’s interviews with the children, where they are asked what they want to be when they grow up. On the Way to School is a film not to be missed; gentle, beautiful, inspiring, and a true reminder of our duties to others.
Rating: Four stars.