Empathy—the ability to understand and share the feelings of another—is a vital skill for students navigating the diversity and conflicts inherent in the 21st century. Through this playlist, educators at the secondary level will find unique Canadian resources exploring the role empathy plays in our world of divergent and often clashing points of view.
At the most basic level, empathy allows students to experience the emotions and perspectives of another person. Yet the repercussions of that ability are far reaching. Empathetic students respect the diversity of cultures, abilities, and orientations found in today’s classrooms, without denigrating themselves or others. They look for common ground or possible solutions when disagreements arise. They are sensitive to issues of injustice and inequality.
The NFB films in this playlist can be incorporated into many areas of the curriculum, including social studies, language arts, Canadian and First Nations studies, gender studies, health, sexuality and family issues. Students are challenged to think critically and communicate opinions, ideas, and feelings on perspectives that may be far different from their own. The films address questions relevant to young people as they move into adulthood: Who am I and what is my role in a world that is far from perfect or just? What is empathy and how is it useful or powerful in my life?
To scaffold the learning process, educators will find discussion questions and a KWL Table. These tools help develop the ability to respect diversity, accept oneself and others, resolve conflicts peacefully, and address society’s inequities.
The playlist films tackle numerous subjects from a variety of perspectives. Educators can utilize these films as a tool for imparting valuable insights into the role empathy plays in our lives. When watching a film, students often place themselves in the position of a character, protagonist, or group depicted onscreen. This makes film an excellent vehicle for accessing empathy. As students observe a character’s experiences, they inevitably begin to understand what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes and see the world through their eyes.
In 1963, Lena Wandering Spirit became one of the more than 150,000 Indigenous children who were removed from their families and sent to residential school. Jay Cardinal Villeneuve’s short documentary Holy Angels powerfully recaptures Canada’s colonialist history through impressionistic images and the fragmented language of a child. Villeneuve met Lena through his work as a videographer with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Filmed with a fierce determination to not only uncover history but move past it, Holy Angels speaks of the resilience of a people who have found ways of healing—and of coming home again.
This animated short tells the story of an epic basketball game between kids attending Jewish camp and students of a notorious local Holocaust denier. Nine-year-old Hart is attending Jewish summer camp for the first time. He is both curious and afraid. What awaits him on the basketball court?
Flawed is nothing less than a beautiful gift from Andrea Dorfman's vivid imagination, a charming little film about very big ideas. Dorfman has the uncanny ability to transform the intensely personal into the wisely universal. She deftly traces her encounter with a potential romantic partner, questioning her attraction and the uneasy possibility of love. But, ultimately, Flawed is less about whether girl can get along with boy than whether girl can accept herself, imperfections and all.
This film is both an exquisite tribute to the art of animation and a loving homage to storyboarding, a time-honoured way of rendering scenes while pointing the way to the dramatic arc of the tale.
In this personal documentary, award-winning photographer and filmmaker Nance Ackerman invites us into the lives of a determined family for a profound experience of child poverty in one of the richest countries in the world. 20 years after the House of Commons promised to eliminate poverty among Canadian children, 8-year-old Isaiah is trying hard to grow up healthy, smart and well adjusted despite the odds stacked against him. Isaiah knows he's been categorized as "less fortunate," and his short life has seen more than his share of social workers, food banks and police interventions. His parents struggle to overcome a legacy of stereotypes, abuse and dysfunction. More than anything, they want Isaiah and his siblings to have access to opportunities they never had. Ackerman spent 2 years with Isaiah and his family. As her portrait of the family unfolds with the help of Isaiah's creative input, curiosity and zest for life, so do Ackerman's own feelings about the responsibilities of Canadians to raise all children as our best investment in the nation's future.
This feature documentary tells the stories of 5 asylum seekers who flee their native countries to escape homophobic violence. They face hurdles integrating into Canada, fear deportation and anxiously await a decision that will change their lives forever.
Using original animation, archival footage and personal interviews, this full-length documentary portrays the multiple relationships Canadian Muslim women entertain with Islam’s place of worship, the mosque. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. In North America, a large number of converts are women. Many are drawn to the religion because of its emphasis on social justice and spiritual equality between the sexes. Yet, many mosques force women to pray behind barriers, separate from men, and some do not even permit women to enter the building. Exploring all sides of the issue, the film examines the space – both physical and social – granted to women in mosques across the country.
Me and the Mosque was produced as part of the Reel Diversity Competition for emerging filmmakers of colour. Reel Diversity is a National Film Board of Canada initiative in partnership with CBC Newsworld.
This short documentary tells the intensely personal story of Namrata Gill – one of the many real-life inspirations for Deepa Mehta’s Heaven on Earth – in her own words. After six years, Gill courageously leaves an abusive relationship and launches a surprising new career.
This short fictional film features high school seniors discovering and battling against homophobic discrimination and stereotypes. Jamie must face up to her own reactions as she realizes that her friend is gay and needs her support. Jamie's boyfriend must decide if he will support Jamie. One of Them focuses on homophobia and discrimination in a human rights context. The dramatization prompts viewers to examine their own responses and promote a safe school environment for all.
The people of the Attawapiskat First Nation, a Cree community in northern Ontario, were thrust into the national spotlight in 2012 when the impoverished living conditions on their reserve became an issue of national debate. With The People of the Kattawapiskak River, Abenaki director Alanis Obomsawin quietly attends as community members tell their own story, shedding light on a history of dispossession and official indifference. “Obomsawin’s main objective is to make us see the people of Attawapiskat differently,” said Robert Everett-Green in The Globe & Mail. “The emphasis, ultimately, is not so much on looking as on listening—the first stage in changing the conversation, or in making one possible.” Winner of the 2013 Donald Brittain Award for Best Social/Political Documentary, the film is part of a cycle of films that Obomsawin has made on children’s welfare and rights.
In this short film, Toronto artist Petra Tolley, who has Down syndrome, performs a soliloquy that encapsulates her distinctive take on the social self. Drawing from her emotional experiences, she illustrates what it feels like to be “in the middle.” Employing rotoscopy, hand-drawn animation techniques and subtle stereoscopic 3D, the film captures Petra as she engages the camera with unflinching directness and dignity.
This short film follows a group of teenage boys eager to emulate the muscle-filled bodies of their media heroes. Revealing the lengths these boys are willing to go to achieve their goal, this film explores the use of supplements and the temptations of steroids. The boys relate their experiences, desires and motivations to the audience, who are left to draw their own conclusions.
The film is designed to provoke discussion among teenagers about body image and where lines should be drawn between healthy and dangerous behaviour.
This short animated documentary offers an intimate glimpse into the exceptional mindsets and emotional lives of four adult artists with Down Syndrome. An artful, four-way essay about ability, film explores how it feels to be a little bit unusual.
In her follow-up to her award-winning film, John and Michael, filmmaker Shira Avni pursues a deeper understanding of esteem and disability by inviting Petra, Matthew, Daninah, and Katherine to consider their pasts, relationships and ambitions.
This short film portrays the experiences of Rhonda Gordon and her daughter, Angela, when a simple bus ride changes their lives in an unforeseeable way. When they are harassed by three boys, Rhonda finds the courage to take a unique and powerful stance against ignorance and prejudice. What ensues is a dramatic story of racism and empowerment.