21st Toronto Jewish Film Festival | May 1-11, 2014


FilmMatters   Screenings   Study Guides  


One of the most difficult tasks for teachers of younger students is introducing them to the subject of war. While many of the films in the FilmMatters programme relate to the Holocaust, it is difficult to find appropriate films for younger without overwhelming them. This year, two of the films in our student programme deal with WWII in a manner that offers teachers an entry point to discussing such dark material.

For his film adaptation of Belle and Sebastian, director 
Nicolas Vanier has reset it to 1943 in a remote village in the French Alps. Young Sebastian lives with his adopted grandfather and aunt. The tranquillity of the town is threatened with the arrival of the Nazis charged with

capturing the Resistance fighters who have been secretly smuggling Jewish refugees to Switzerland. Soon Sebastian has a secret of his own, a wild dog that he shelters. When the grandfather is injured, Sebastian and his dog are recruited to help smuggle the refugees. Without explicitly addressing the atrocities from which the Jews are escaping, the film focuses on acts of bravery and moral courage in the

face of danger.

Secrets of War
not only explores WWII through the eyes of children but also alludes to the fate that awaited the Jews. Tuur and Lambert are best friends living in a Dutch town whose friendship is tested with the arrival in town of Maartje, as both boys vie for her affection. This sets off a dangerous chain of events that culminate in Maartje and the family protecting her, being arrested by the Nazis. What happens to them is never stated, but it provides a springboard for teachers to discuss what will inevitably occur.

Finally, Once in a Lifetime addresses the Holocaust 
through the perspective of contemporary teenagers living in a working class suburb of Paris. Self-absorbed and angry at a society that discriminates against minorities, it is only when their history teacher enters them in a national competition about children in the Holocaust that they start to realise that their experiences are not unique.

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