Yesterday, an email dropped into my inbox which grabbed my attention. It was the link to a film short which, although not intended as a film with an educational purpose, is one that I really want to write about. It’s called simply Mum and is written and produced by talented duo, James and Christopher Norton for Monkey Dribble Films.
At first it all seemed quite simple. The synopsis said it was about a mother and son relationship, about memories and road trips. But nothing quite prepared me for the expression of the deeper theme – the urge to cling to life and those we love; how to say goodbye and what to do when time has run out. The film lasts for just under seven minutes, but they are seven minutes packed with such thought provoking poignancy that I reckon this would be a very powerful film to use in the classroom.
It’s great strength lies in its understatement; I was almost half way through the film before I actually realised that it was a retrospective. Then the images and symbols suddenly made sense – I was being given a poignant glimpse into the suffering of someone who had just lost his Mum and she was clearly a very special person in his life.
There are all sorts of ways that this film could be used as part of a PSHE programme, for example on relationships, memories, special places or bereavement. Although the film itself doesn’t give any answers, Mum does remind her son to ‘love, cry, laugh, share, give’ after she has gone. So in one sense, it provides a positive framework for dealing with death, but it also poses plenty of questions to promote discussion about a topic which is often avoided in contemporary society.
But I think this film also has potential as a stimulus to creative writing. For example, what genre is suggested by the first 15 seconds of the soundtrack alone? And what is suggested by the first 15 seconds of sound and vision? How does this view change by watching the first 29 seconds? How is relationship portrayed by the use of camera close-ups on the faces of the actors? There’s no better way to get children writing in close descriptive detail than to ask them to think about the effect of camera close-ups on their perceptions.
Then move on to consider plot structure. What, for instance, is the effect of all the open, empty space around the son when he gets out of the car and starts walking? Contrast it with the much more enclosed shots of the scenes with his mother. How do the two settings portray contrasting emotion? How can the alternating time shifts be portrayed in a story (children, by the way, automatically understand where to paragraph if they think of a new paragraph as a camera cut)?
Think about setting. What is the special place of this film? How do special places contain meaning for us? How could this be used to create a story setting?
Think about language – how can less say more? How can emotion, which can be seen on screen, be represented in words? One particular aspect on which to focus (and which children usually miss) is sound - it can be useful to listen to the soundtrack without any visuals, particularly with the emptiness of the howling Dartmoor wind.
Whether you decide to use this film for a factual discussion or to stimulate story writing, it will be a powerful tool. And I hope that there are plenty more such films to come from the Norton brothers!