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  • Evidence suggests that humans in all ages and from all cultures

  • create their identity in some kind of narrative form.

  • From mother to daughter, preacher to congregant,

  • teacher to pupil, storyteller to audience.

  • Whether in cave paintings

  • or the latest uses of the Internet,

  • human beings have always told their histories and truths

  • through parable and fable.

  • We are inveterate storytellers.

  • But where, in our increasingly secular and fragmented world,

  • do we offer communality of experience,

  • unmediated by our own furious consumerism?

  • And what narrative, what history,

  • what identity, what moral code

  • are we imparting to our young?

  • Cinema is arguably

  • the 20th century's most influential art form.

  • Its artists told stories

  • across national boundaries,

  • in as many languages, genres and philosophies

  • as one can imagine.

  • Indeed, it is hard to find a subject

  • that film has yet to tackle.

  • During the last decade

  • we've seen a vast integration of global media,

  • now dominated by a culture of the Hollywood blockbuster.

  • We are increasingly offered a diet

  • in which sensation, not story, is king.

  • What was common to us all 40 years ago --

  • the telling of stories between generations --

  • is now rarified.

  • As a filmmaker, it worried me.

  • As a human being, it puts the fear of God in me.

  • What future could the young build

  • with so little grasp

  • of where they've come from

  • and so few narratives of what's possible?

  • The irony is palpable;

  • technical access has never been greater,

  • cultural access never weaker.

  • And so in 2006 we set up FILMCLUB,

  • an organization that ran weekly film screenings in schools

  • followed by discussions.

  • If we could raid the annals of 100 years of film,

  • maybe we could build a narrative

  • that would deliver meaning

  • to the fragmented and restless world of the young.

  • Given the access to technology,

  • even a school in a tiny rural hamlet

  • could project a DVD onto a white board.

  • In the first nine months

  • we ran 25 clubs across the U.K.,

  • with kids in age groups between five and 18

  • watching a film uninterrupted for 90 minutes.

  • The films were curated and contextualized.

  • But the choice was theirs,

  • and our audience quickly grew

  • to choose the richest and most varied diet that we could provide.

  • The outcome, immediate.

  • It was an education of the most profound and transformative kind.

  • In groups as large as 150 and as small as three,

  • these young people discovered new places,

  • new thoughts, new perspectives.

  • By the time the pilot had finished,

  • we had the names of a thousand schools

  • that wished to join.

  • The film that changed my life

  • is a 1951 film by Vittorio De Sica, "Miracle in Milan."

  • It's a remarkable comment

  • on slums, poverty and aspiration.

  • I had seen the film on the occasion of my father's 50th birthday.

  • Technology then meant we had to hire a viewing cinema,

  • find and pay for the print and the projectionist.

  • But for my father,

  • the emotional and artistic importance of De Sica's vision was so great

  • that he chose to celebrate his half-century

  • with his three teenage children and 30 of their friends,

  • "In order," he said,

  • "to pass the baton of concern and hope

  • on to the next generation."

  • In the last shot of "Miracle in Milan,"

  • slum-dwellers float skyward on flying brooms.

  • Sixty years after the film was made

  • and 30 years after I first saw it,

  • I see young faces tilt up in awe,

  • their incredulity matching mine.

  • And the speed with which they associate it

  • with "Slumdog Millionaire" or the favelas in Rio

  • speaks to the enduring nature.

  • In a FILMCLUB season about democracy and government,

  • we screened "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

  • Made in 1939, the film is older than most of our members' grandparents.

  • Frank Capra's classic values independence and propriety.

  • It shows how to do right,

  • how to be heroically awkward.

  • It is also an expression of faith

  • in the political machine as a force of honor.

  • Shortly after "Mr. Smith" became a FILMCLUB classic,

  • there was a week of all-night filibustering in the House of Lords.

  • And it was with great delight

  • that we found young people up and down the country

  • explaining with authority

  • what filibustering was

  • and why the Lords might defy their bedtime on a point of principle.

  • After all, Jimmy Stewart filibustered for two entire reels.

  • In choosing "Hotel Rwanda,"

  • they explored genocide of the most brutal kind.

  • It provoked tears as well as incisive questions

  • about unarmed peace-keeping forces

  • and the double-dealing of a Western society

  • that picks its moral fights with commodities in mind.

  • And when "Schindler's List" demanded that they never forget,

  • one child, full of the pain of consciousness, remarked,

  • "We already forgot,

  • otherwise how did 'Hotel Rwanda' happen?"

  • As they watch more films their lives got palpably richer.

  • "Pickpocket" started a debate about criminality disenfranchisement.

  • "To Sir, with Love" ignited its teen audience.

  • They celebrated a change in attitude

  • towards non-white Britons,

  • but railed against our restless school system

  • that does not value collective identity,

  • unlike that offered by Sidney Poitier's careful tutelage.

  • By now, these thoughtful, opinionated, curious young people

  • thought nothing of tackling films of all forms --

  • black and white, subtitled,

  • documentary, non-narrative, fantasy --

  • and thought nothing of writing detailed reviews

  • that competed to favor one film over another

  • in passionate and increasingly sophisticated prose.

  • Six thousand reviews each school week

  • vying for the honor of being review of the week.

  • From 25 clubs, we became hundreds, then thousands,

  • until we were nearly a quarter of a million kids

  • in 7,000 clubs right across the country.

  • And although the numbers were, and continue to be, extraordinary,

  • what became more extraordinary

  • was how the experience of critical and curious questioning

  • translated into life.

  • Some of our kids started talking with their parents,

  • others with their teachers,

  • or with their friends.

  • And those without friends

  • started making them.

  • The films provided communality across all manner of divide.

  • And the stories they held provided a shared experience.

  • "Persepolis" brought a daughter closer to her Iranian mother,

  • and "Jaws" became the way in which one young boy

  • was able to articulate the fear he'd experienced

  • in flight from violence

  • that killed first his father then his mother,

  • the latter thrown overboard on a boat journey.

  • Who was right, who wrong?

  • What would they do under the same conditions?

  • Was the tale told well?

  • Was there a hidden message?

  • How has the world changed? How could it be different?

  • A tsunami of questions flew out of the mouths of children

  • who the world didn't think were interested.

  • And they themselves had not known they cared.

  • And as they wrote and debated,

  • rather than seeing the films as artifacts,

  • they began to see themselves.

  • I have an aunt who is a wonderful storyteller.

  • In a moment she can invoke images

  • of running barefoot on Table Mountain and playing cops and robbers.

  • Quite recently she told me

  • that in 1948, two of her sisters and my father

  • traveled on a boat to Israel without my grandparents.

  • When the sailors mutinied at sea in a demand for humane conditions,

  • it was these teenagers that fed the crew.

  • I was past 40 when my father died.

  • He never mentioned that journey.

  • My mother's mother left Europe in a hurry

  • without her husband, but with her three-year-old daughter

  • and diamonds sewn into the hem of her skirt.

  • After two years in hiding,

  • my grandfather appeared in London.

  • He was never right again.

  • And his story was hushed as he assimilated.

  • My story started in England

  • with a clean slate and the silence of immigrant parents.

  • I had "Anne Frank," "The Great Escape,"

  • "Shoah," "Triumph of the Will."

  • It was Leni Riefenstahl

  • in her elegant Nazi propaganda

  • who gave context to what the family had to endure.

  • These films held what was too hurtful to say out loud,

  • and they became more useful to me

  • than the whispers of survivors

  • and the occasional glimpse of a tattoo

  • on a maiden aunt's wrist.

  • Purists may feel that fiction dissipates

  • the quest of real human understanding,

  • that film is too crude

  • to tell a complex and detailed history,

  • or that filmmakers always serve drama over truth.

  • But within the reels lie purpose and meaning.

  • As one 12-year-old said after watching "Wizard of Oz,"

  • "Every person should watch this,

  • because unless you do

  • you may not know that you too have a heart."

  • We honor reading, why not honor watching with the same passion?

  • Consider "Citizen Kane" as valuable as Jane Austen.

  • Agree that "Boyz n the Hood," like Tennyson,

  • offers an emotional landscape and a heightened understanding

  • that work together.

  • Each a piece of memorable art,

  • each a brick in the wall of who we are.

  • And it's okay if we remember Tom Hanks

  • better than astronaut Jim Lovell

  • or have Ben Kingsley's face superimposed onto that of Gandhi's.

  • And though not real, Eve Harrington, Howard Beale, Mildred Pierce

  • are an opportunity to discover

  • what it is to be human,

  • and no less helpful to understanding our life and times

  • as Shakespeare is in illuminating the world of Elizabethan England.

  • We guessed that film,

  • whose stories are a meeting place

  • of drama, music, literature and human experience,

  • would engage and inspire the young people participating in FILMCLUB.

  • What we could not have foreseen

  • was the measurable improvements

  • in behavior, confidence and academic achievement.

  • Once-reluctant students now race to school, talk to their teachers,

  • fight, not on the playground,

  • but to choose next week's film --

  • young people who have found self-definition, ambition

  • and an appetite for education and social engagement

  • from the stories they have witnessed.

  • Our members defy the binary description

  • of how we so often describe our young.

  • They are neither feral nor myopically self-absorbed.

  • They are, like other young people,

  • negotiating a world with infinite choice,

  • but little culture of how to find meaningful experience.

  • We appeared surprised at the behaviors

  • of those who define themselves

  • by the size of the tick on their shoes,

  • yet acquisition has been the narrative we have offered.

  • If we want different values

  • we have to tell a different story,

  • a story that understands that an individual narrative

  • is an essential component of a person's identity,

  • that a collective narrative

  • is an essential component of a cultural identity,

  • and without it it is impossible to imagine yourself

  • as part of a group.

  • Because when these people get home

  • after a screening of "Rear Window"

  • and raise their gaze to the building next door,