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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Miss Kiet's Children is a subtitled European documentary about a Dutch grammar school teacher whose class is made up of young refugees to the Netherlands. The entire documentary takes place in Kiet's classroom or the surrounding school and follows the 6- to 10-year-old kids of various ethnicities (but mostly Syrian) who are navigating a new country, language, expectations, and friendships. Kids get into some playground confrontations, and one student shares his trouble sleeping, how difficult things were for his family in Syria, and how often he experienced the sound of explosions and gunshots. There's no narration or interviews, but this slice-of-life look at the class should interest tweens and up who can understand the context of the story.
What's the story?
MISS KIET'S CHILDREN is a cinema verité-style documentary that takes place in a small Dutch village's elementary school, where the titular teacher has a class full of refugee children. There isn't a strict plot, but the filmmakers follow a few of the children more closely than others, like Haya, who shows her friendship to younger new arrival Leanne by bossing her around, or brothers Jorj and Maksem, who struggle with sleep issues and anxiety. Subtitled in English, the documentary offers a close-up look at how these refugee kids engage with their loving, patient teacher.
Is it any good?
Touching and evocative, this Dutch documentary from married filmmakers Peter and Petra Lataster beautifully captures the nuances of teaching -- and being -- refugee children. The kids aren't native Dutch speakers, and the English subtitles capture the difficulties some of them have communicating with their extraordinarily kind and patient teacher. Miss Kiet is unflappable. She makes sure the kids know she values them by saying things like "all these differences help make the world a more beautiful place." In addition to teaching Dutch, writing, and arithmetic, Miss Kiet also teaches the kids how to relate to one another (Haya in particular has impulse-control issues), listens to their fears (Jorj can't sleep, has headaches, and remembers scary aspects of his family's homeland), and encourages them to play well with their Dutch schoolmates, too.
While Miss Kiet is the protagonist, the kids are the real stars. Watching them write in their workbooks, do their daily exercises, have class meetings, and play in the schoolyard is odd at first if you're expecting backstory or interviews, but it soon becomes riveting. American school kids (and parents) will get a kick out of comparing and contrasting their own school activities with Miss Kiet's Dutch school; even the giant erasers are amusing. The kids misbehave a bit and have interpersonal challenges, but it's extraordinary to explore how they eventually open up to Kiet, sharing bits and pieces of their lives. A lesson in empathy and compassion, this documentary is sure to delight viewers.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about different documentary styles. How does Miss Kiet's Children compare to documentaries with narration, interviews, or a filmmaker who's on-camera or part of the story? Which style do you like best?
What do you think Miss Kiet means when she says that all of our differences "help make the world a more beautiful place"? Do you agree?
Is this documentary socially relevant? Talk about how your own family feels about the treatment of refugees in your country or community.
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