Film Festivalette

Empathy & Activism for Social Responsibility

Through Film we Educate, Inspire and Make Change. The seventh edition of the CIES 2021 Education Film Festivalette, created and funded by the Open Society Foundations’ Education Program, showcases films from around the world that explore the connections between empathy, activism and social responsibility. It includes award-winning content from the Middle East, North Asia, West Africa, Europe, North America, and South America. While the program reflects a broad understanding of education as an undertaking that goes beyond formal schooling, these films raise questions relevant to teaching empathy and activism including: How can we promote empathy through our pedagogies? Should educators be activists?

The Film Festivalette has been extended, it will continue till May 23rd!
To access, enter the Conference Hub and click on the Festivalette image in the “more to explore” area. This will lead you to our virtual cinema on the Festival Scope website. Even if you only registered for one day, you can still access through the Hub. 
Access is for CIES Members. If you didn´t register for the Conference this year, please request access by writing us at



Film Festivalette Live Panels (AFTER the Conference, May 4 – May 7)

Join us to meet the filmmakers and to discuss the film’s relevance for education!

Stay tuned for updates.

Tuesday, May 4th:  Live Panel Rural and Community Education in Mexico and Finland (Films “The Sower” and “When School Broke out of Prison”)
8am-930am PDT

The Sower (El Sembrador)
Film Director- Melissa Elizondo
Educator- Carlos Ornelas, Professor of Education and Communication, Metropolitan Autonomous University, Mexico

When School Broke out of Prison
Film Director- Päivi Kapiainen-Heiskanen

Zsuzsa Millei, Professor Faculty of Education and Culture Tampere University, Finland.

Wednesday, May 5th: Live Panel Refugee Education in the USA and beyond (Films “This is Home: A Refugee Story” and “Mayor”).
8am-930am PDT

This is Home: A Refugee Story
Film Producer- Lindsey Megrue
Lesley Bartlett, Professor Educational Policy Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Vidur Chopra, Postdoctoral Fellow Columbia University’s Teachers College

Manar Marouf, Family Education Coordinator, International Rescue Committee

Film Director – David Osit
Educator- Karen Ross, Assistant Professor of Conflict Resolution, University of Massachusetts-Boston.

Thursday, May 6th: Student Activism and Education (Films “We are the Radical Monarchs” and “Espero tua Revolta”)
8am-930am PDT

We are the Radical Monarchs
Film Director, Linda Goldstein Knowlton
Supriya Baily, Associate Professor of Education at George Mason University, Vice President of the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES).

Your Turn (Espero tua Revolta)
Protagonist from Film and Student Activist, Marcela Jesus
Camilla Croso, Director of Education, Open Society Foundations

Friday May 7th: Empathy and Education (Films “Hikari” and “Wallay”)
8am-930am PDT

Film Director, Berni Goldblat
James H. Williams, UNESCO Chair in International Education for Development and Professor of International Education & International Affairs at George Washington University.


Hikari (Radiance), 2017
Feature Film: Fiction Drama, Japan. Directed by Naomi Kawase [101 minutes], in Japanese, with English subtitles. French subtitles are also available.

Renowned Japanese auteur Naomi Kawase’s lyrically beautiful film reawakens our sense of wonder at our human experience and our human connection to one another in a moving love story. The story revolves around the relationship between Misako, a young video transcriber of films for the visually impaired who meets Nakamori, a famous photographer who is losing his eyesight. She struggles to put herself in his shoes, and of those she writes for, failing often and having to try harder. He cooks for them in his apartment, and, as she grabs his salt and pepper shakers, she asks him: “How do you know which is which?” To which he replies: “Don’t touch them!” Their relationship becomes closer as he pushes her towards deeper empathy and as they both struggle with loss and the challenge of reinventing their worlds. Kawase delicately encourages us to see and experience life in a different way. It’s also an ode to impermanence, loss and love. While sand slips through her fingers, she thinks: “Nothing is more beautiful than what disappears before our eyes.” This film escapes the confines of a traditional review. It is truly hard to describe and must be experienced. A film to see and resee.

FRIDAY MAY 7 – 8:00 A.M. TO 9:30 A.M.

This Is Home: A Refugee Story, 2018
Feature Film: Documentary, United States., Directed by Alexandra Shiva [91 minutes] in English and Arabic, with English subtitles.

How long would you need “to acclimate” if you started over with your family in a new country with a new language and new customs? This masterfully crafted documentary takes us into the fascinating day-to-day intimacy of the “re-education process” of four Syrian refugee families from their arrival in Baltimore, Maryland, through their eight-month journey to “self-sufficiency” with assistance provided by the International Rescue Committee. Though movingly conveyed, the trauma they bring with them is not at the centerpiece of their at times difficult, at times humorous, struggle to adapt. A female IRC worker tells them (stretching out her hand): “In America we always shake hands.” To which one of the Syrian men replies (in Arabic, to his friend): “I can’t. It’s forbidden.” The relearning of cultural norms needed to adapt and survive in America tests their hard-won resilience. The kids, too, must adapt and do well in their new school despite their nightmares (the school provides therapy support). This film offers us a bridge into the humanity of refugee families and, ultimately, reminds us of the power of friendship and community across cultural divides. The American dream is built from the ground up. Don’t miss it!

WEDNESDAY MAY 5 – 8:00 A.M. TO 9:30 A.M.

Wallay, 2017
Feature Film: Fiction Dramatic Comedy, Burkina Faso. Directed by Berni Goldblat [84 minutes], in French and Dioula, with English subtitles. French and Spanish subtitles are also available.

In this fictional, documentary style coming-of-age story, Ady, a rowdy, rule breaking 13-year-old growing up in France, is sent on vacation to Burkina Faso, his father’s homeland. In this unique West African, rural and Muslim cultural context, Ady’s expectations of daily life (like electricity and hot water) are challenged. His beliefs of what becoming a man entails are deeply shaken and he is pushed to repair past wrongs to his own family. His grandmother’s love is a comforting and transformative haven from his uncle’s severity. His attractive cousin of similar age, translates into French what his grandmother says in Dioula: “She wants to throw the cowry shells for you, look into your heart. You have to think about what you want, real hard.” His grandma continues: “My Little Hubby, one day you’ll be a man of your word. And you’ll shine like the sun.” This film provides a perceptive, often humorous, window into the dynamics and tensions of a multicultural, multigenerational family and its crucial role in shaping character and responsibility. Swiss director Berni Goldblat’s admiration for his adopted homeland, Burkina Faso, comes alive in every frame.

FRIDAY MAY 7 – 8:00 A.M. TO 9:30 A.M.

El Sembrador (The Sower), 2018

Feature Film: Documentary, Mexico. Directed by Melissa Elizondo [85 minutes], in Spanish and Tzeltal, with English subtitles.

Melissa Elizondo’s beautifully observant first feature film follows Bartolomé, a Tzotzil teacher who runs a multigrade one-classroom rural school by himself in Monte de los Olivos, in the high mountains of Chiapas, Mexico. The preschool to sixth grade Tzeltal kids, study mostly independently, with help from each other. “The bigger ones support the little ones… the best teacher for a child is another child, not the teacher. The teacher is there for the most difficult, or for what’s new” (Bartolomé says). But it’s not academics that matters most here. “The most important thing to me is that whatever they learn, they do so enjoying it and playing.” It’s this teacher´s love for his students autonomy and his respect for them that fosters their integral development and connection to nature (they harvest, swim, hike). His inspired philosophy and, more importantly, his day-to-day practice is brought to light with lovely cinematography. This beacon of hope, however, is surrounded by a community in poverty and social decay. Worrisomely, we’re not sure if the kids at his school will continue to graduation after possibly transitioning to the “telesecundaria” (high school in which they are educated by video programs). The children’s testimonies are especially endearing and their desire to keep studying is a heartfelt call for support.

FRIDAY MAY 7 – 8:00 A.M. TO 9:30 A.M.

Kun Koulu Vapautui Vankilasta (When School Broke Out of Prison), 2017

Feature Film: Documentary, Finnish. English subtitles available. Directed by Päivi Kapiainen-Heiskanen [60 minutes], Finnish, with English subtitles.

What would you do if the school close to home was closing because there weren’t enough students? This inspiring, suspenseful documentary immerses us in a rural community in eastern Finland as it tries to save its 100-year-old school (many traditional rural schools were being closed in Finland in the early 2000s). One of the first steps the community takes is to put an ad in the paper asking families to help save their school by moving to their town. The ad notes that “families with under four kids need not apply.” Many large families do respond, with interest in moving. This story exemplifies the Finnish “talkoot” tradition, meaning working together for the common good without pay. Experienced educator Juha Juurikkala, becomes the principal and a teacher at the Halmeniemi Free Village School, without remuneration, accepting to do this during his paternity leave, only “if someone can take care of my daughter”. He applied a model of pedagogy of joy leading to a more experiential and participatory learning experience for the children, families and community members. But for how long can the community succeed in keeping their school—run on goodwill and no salaries—open? An extraordinary tale of small community activism carried out by ordinary people to fight to preserve their vanishing way of life. Don’t miss it!

TUESDAY MAY 4 – 8:00 A.M. TO 9:30 A.M.

Espero tua Revolta (Your Turn), 2019

Feature Film: Documentary, Brazil. Directed by Eliza Capai [99 minutes], in Portuguese with English Subtitles. Versions with Spanish, French, German and Italian subtitles are also available.

This vibrant, explosive documentary follows the Brazilian student movements from 2013 to 2018. Their struggle is narrated by three high-school students who are key activists within the movements. The movie narrative structure and footage is inspired by the language of the student movements (decentralized, without hierachy and leaders, organic and self-organizing) and gives it a unique visceral energy. As we jump back and forth in time, the narrators connect student protests to various social issues (from high fees for public transport, to budget cuts in public education, to the shutting down of schools, o connections between schools and prisons, and systemic racism). One of the narrators reflects: “I realize that schools don’t teach us how to organize ourselves politically. Schools don´t teach about social movements. Schools don´t promote debates on how to question, how to transform society. And I don´t think it’s random.” The movie also provides a unique inside view of the internal decision-making process of the student movement with its tensions and complexity. Throughout, we are witness to the often brutal and violent responses by the police and Brazilian state. As the movie ends, Jair Bolsonaro is elected president in 2018 and declares that all activism in Brazil will end. And yet, the students’ fight for a free, quality, and critical education must go on; we are inspired by their political energy, courage, and dreams.

THURSDAY MAY 6 – 8:00 A.M. TO 9:30 A.M.

We Are the Radical Monarchs, 2018

Documentary, United States, Directed by Linda Goldstein Knowlton [86 minutes], in English and Spanish, with English subtitles as well.

Martinez and Marilyn Hollinquest, two women of color in Oakland, California, didn’t feel the traditional Girl Scouts organization spoke to their experience. Anayvette wanted another path for her daughter: “I wanted her to have a troop that centered her identity around a girl of color. It was like, no, you are at the center of this conversation. You know, beyond service learning and volunteering, what does it mean to be radical and actually stand up for something.” They created “The Radical Monarchs,” a girls of color troop that they led to defy social stereotypes (such as what is “appropriate” to teach young women), create opportunities for empathy with marginalized groups (such as transgender people) and empower young girls. Award-winning filmmaker Linda Goldstein Knowlton follows the first troupe since its beginnings, taking us through three years of the troop’s development, and demand for rapid expansion. The troop meets regularly to discuss controversial subjects organized around “social justice thematic modules” (such as disability, the environment, black lives matter), take camping trips and even travel to meet the legislators in Washington, D.C., as “the marches they’ve participated in aren’t enough.” This energetic, groundbreaking documentary is unforgettable.

THURSDAY MAY 6 – 8:00 A.M. TO 9:30 A.M.

Mayor, 2020

Feature Film: Documentary, Palestine. Directed by David Osit [89 minutes], in Arabic and English, with English subtitles.

How do you run a city when you don’t have a country? Musa Hadid, Christian, is the Mayor of Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinian people (10 miles from Jerusalem, but they are prohibited from going there). Through verité seeped in absurdity and at times suspense, American director, David Osit immerses us in the day-to-day humor, challenges and risks the charismatic Musa traverses running this city occupied by Israel.  For several months in 2017, we witness deliberations on questions the mayor of any city could face (such as improving school infrastructure), to very specific issues unique to Palestine today such as sewage overflowing due to lack of land ownership to build processing plants. He faces mounting unrest when Trump announces his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (discounting Palestinian’s fight for recognition). Musa asks David (the director): “Do you think people in America, know or hear about what’s happening here?” David isn’t sure. The tensions in Ramallah escalate to new levels of danger. Osit succeeds in putting us in the daily shoes of a leader who fights for dignity, humanizing the Palestinian struggle. A must see to reflect on social responsibility across national lines.

WEDNESDAY MAY 5 – 8:00 A.M. TO 9:30 A.M.

Previous Festivalette Editions
2020: Transformation, Resistance & Resilience (vFestivalette)
2019: Reflections on the Meaning of Human Progress (San Francisco)
2018: Representations of Education in Latin American Film (Mexico City)
2017:  Problematizing (In)Equality (Atlanta)