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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that I Am Eleven is a poignant documentary that follows 11-year-olds from around the world as they share their thoughts, triumphs, and challenges. The kids, who hail from Australia, Bulgaria, China, France, Germany, India, Morocco, Japan, Sweden, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, openly share everything from their experiences with bullying and discrimination and their ideas about love to the passions and pastimes that make them happy. Sometimes the kids discuss upsetting issues -- like the boy in the UK who talks about feeling suicidal after being bullied or a kid from his council estate who was shot; or the girl from Morocco who's being asked by a relative to talk about how poor her family is on camera; or the immigrant kids who talk about being different or picked on for not being native to their countries of residence. But middle-elementary kids, particularly older tweens, should be able to handle this thought-provoking documentary about what Australian filmmaker Genevieve Bailey considers a magical age.
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What's the story?
I AM ELEVEN is Australian documentarian Genevieve Bailey's labor of love, a tribute to the magical year of childhood when she was happiest: that great tween year when you're old enough to understand just enough about your world but still enough of a kid to play and be optimistic about the future. Bailey traveled to 15 countries (including France, Germany, Japan, Morocco, Thailand, and the United States) interviewing 11-year-olds, many of them immigrants or low-income kids, asking them about their interests, hobbies, friendships, and philosophies about life. What she wound up with is a bit like Babies meets 7 Up -- a global look at how, no matter where they live or what their parents believe, 11-year-olds have so much in common.
Is it any good?
This is a special documentary, particularly to watch with tweens. I Am Eleven is a loving celebration of the triumphs and tragedies of being 11 the world over, and any young viewer will learn a lot about the similarities and differences of living anywhere from the United Kingdom to the Czech Republic to Bulgaria. It will come as no surprise that each of the featured 11-year-olds has dealt with or witnessed bullying, the challenges of maintaining close friendships, and even discrimination. But it's so poignant to see how open and willing to talk these tweens are, no matter how shy they might seem at first. Bailey coaxes them to reveal their innermost thoughts about love, the future, and what makes them unique; the result is a powerful reminder of the optimism of youth.
Bailey is so committed to the global nature of the project that she's sometimes a bit too eager to jump from kid to kid. The stories she captures are all compelling, but each kid is only on screen for a few minutes (some more than others), making you wish she'd lingered longer on some of them. While deeper background or context about the kids' home lives would have been helpful, it's understandable why Bailey maintains the focus on the kids at a certain age, rather than their families or personal situations. They're all interesting (or "fascinating," as Jamira from Australia would say), but some of the kids emerge as real scene stealers -- like Billy, the autistic boy from England who isn't shy about anything (like the fact that his favorite movie is Dirty Dancing); Osama and Sahin, the Muslim Swedes who love to rap; Remi, the wise-beyond-his-years pacifist who lives off the grid in the South of France; and lovely Jamira, who's half-Irish, half-Aborigine and thinks it's awesome to be of mixed heritage. At the end, Bailey reconnects with some of the kids as teens, which underscores her message that 11 really is an awesome age.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the themes and opinions that emerged among the various 11-year-olds in I Am Eleven. What do these kids have in common? How are they different? Kids: How do they compare to you and your friends?
What does Remy mean by saying that he's not a citizen of France, he's a citizen of the world? Do you agree with his idea of global citizenship?
Which kid(s) do you wish you learned more about? Why do you think the director kept moving from kid to kid? Do you wish she had spent more time exploring some of the kids' lives, or do you prefer the way she kept moving on to show different kids?
Did any of the kids' stories make you curious about their part of the world? If so, which kids and places?
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