18 Films for Young Viewers About Pollution, Native American History, and More

From adaptations of award-winning picture books to meaty videos about gender expression and social activism, these DVDs offer viewers a range of subjects and topics that will pique their interest and would be useful in library collections.

The Wikipedia Promise ©2021 Video Project

 

“There’s a movie today!” elicits a buzz of whispered excitement, as students pass the word from one class to the next. For the youngest viewers, this could mean a book demonstrating growth mindset (The Little Butterfly That Could/La pequeña mariposa que sí pudo) or encouraging confidence in trying new things (Mel Fell) with animations and personality-filled narration. As audiences age up, movies explore the intersection of science and business (Meat the Future) or look under the hood of Wikipedia. High school videos open doors to discussions of social justice, gender ­presentation (The Grey Area), and overcoming self-harming behaviors (Inner Wound Real).

Recently produced video content gives voice to groups and points of view that print­ ­textbooks may not fully cover, whether due to editorial choices, space limitations, or the time line of emergent situations. As educators continue to move from teaching ­one-size-fits-all responses toward encouraging essential questions and critical thinking, productions ­provide context and background, often delivered directly from the experiences of marginalized populations.

 

Elementary

How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodbye? adapt. from the book by Jane Yolen. illus. by Mark Teague. narrated by Jane Yolen. music by Jon Carroll. Weston Woods. 2021. 9 min. ISBN 9781338837285. $59.95.
PreS-Gr 1–Sometimes goodbyes are unavoidable, whether it’s a date night for parents, going to school for the first time, or moving to a new neighborhood. No need to have a pterodactyl tantrum or be a bitter brontosaurus! Jazzy music, rhyming text, and frequent humor demonstrate more effective techniques for dealing with separation. VERDICT Talking it out with a grown-up, facing fears head-on, and giving hugs and kisses are three effective techniques offered to young dinosaurs (and humans) to help with goodbyes.

The Little Butterfly That Could/La pequeña mariposa que sí pudo. adapt. from the book by Ross Burach. English narrated by Matt Braver et al. Spanish narrated by Christian Barillas et al. music by Bruce ­Zimmerman. Weston Woods. 2022. 10 min. ISBN 9781338822007. $59.95. BL
PreS-Gr 1
–“Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” asks a chipper little migrating butterfly, before getting hopelessly lost when a cloud bank rolls across the screen. The crayon-bright butterfly gathers courage, gets help from a growth mindset–savvy whale, and realizes if he will “Keep trying! Keep flying!” he can make it. There are very brief mentions of the butterfly’s life cycle. VERDICT You can’t keep a good mariposa down, and this vibrant character delightfully delivers a “Believe in yourself” message in English and Spanish.

Mel Fell. adapt. from the book by Corey R. Tabor. narrated by Noah Wall. music by Sarah Hart. Weston Woods. 2022. 7 min. ISBN 9781338837964. $59.95.
PreS-Gr 1–Mel, a woodpeckerlike fledgling, decides to fly. However, her first effort is not a success. Buzzy bees do their best to slow her descent, and the squirrel “missed her by a whisker” on the way down. Luckily, Mel plops safely into a pond, and returns aloft to try again. Hart’s bouncy music and Wall’s varied voices make this sweet and uplifting story come to life. VERDICT A positive message about confidence in trying something new, cheerfully rendered for young viewers.

Watercress. adapt. from the book by ­Andrea Wang. illus. by Jason Chin. narrated by Sunny Lu. music by Ernest Troost. Weston Woods. 2021. 9 min. ISBN 9781338811209. $59.95.
PreS-Gr 3–With the squish of bare feet in the mud, a family stops at the side of the road to gather watercress from a ditch. To the parents, this is a tie to their Chinese homeland; to the daughter, it is an embarrassing, snail-encrusted symbol of poverty. When her mother takes a moment to share growing up during China’s Great Famine, the gift of watercress is put in perspective. VERDICT Beautifully subtle, the story delivers on several levels. The youngest viewers will appreciate the naturalistic illustrations, while those a bit older will infer the reason a young uncle is no longer at the family table.

Wishes. adapt. from the book by Mượn Thị Văn. illus. by Victo Ngai. narrated by Mượn Thị Văn. illus. music by Ernest Troost. Weston Woods. 2021. 8 min. ISBN 9781338822007. $59.95.
PreS-Gr 2–Gentle music accompanies a Vietnamese family as they pack their belongings. Shown in muted colors, a multigenerational family boards a crowded boat for a difficult journey. They are eventually rescued by a freighter that takes them to a U.S. port of entry and the promise of a new life. VERDICT Ocean sounds, the cry of gulls, contemplative music, and the ­author’s soothing voice personalize one family’s journey to a hopeful future.

 

Middle School

Meat the Future. Bullfrog Films. 2022. 88 min. ISBN 19487458013. $350. S
Gr 7 Up–Beef and chicken consumption is on the rise, and fulfilling that desire is arguably cruel and wreaks havoc on the ­environment. Cardiologist Uma Valeti, CEO of Memphis Meats (now Upside Foods) envisions authentic meat from lab-grown cells, eliminating the steps of ­raising and slaughtering cows and chickens. Interviews with Valeti’s family, colleagues, ­employees, ­outside scientists, and representatives from the meat industry, plus site visits to production areas, verify facts, balance input, and personalize the story. Topics abound for science, business, and marketing classes. Consider also for perseverance, innovation, product development, leadership values, and scalability. Includes brief disturbing photos of caged animals and slaughterhouse conditions. Music by Moby is a plus. Education guide available. ­VERDICT ­Fascinating from start to finish.

A Song for Cesar. Video Project. 2021. 85 min. ISBN/UPC unavail. $89, schools & libraries. DVD + digital file $139, school & libraries.
Gr 7 Up–Maya Angelou narrates this music-forward look at the life and times of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union (UFW). Commentary and music from Joan Baez, Carlos Santana, Jerry Garcia, Cheech Marin, Emilio Castillo, and Taj Mahal share time with interviews with Chavez’s sister, granddaughter, wife, and mother and recollections from Dolores Huerta, who cofounded the UFW with Chavez. Archival photos, music, and interviews inform about the Bracero Program, the inhumane working conditions in the fields, and the role of visual arts and music in supporting La Causa, culminating in the idea that there is still room for improvement in working conditions. VERDICT A “just the facts” film might have been shorter, but this ear-friendly presentation honors the facts while saluting Chavez’s love of jazz.

The Wikipedia Promise. Video Project. 2021. 52 min. ISBN/UPC unavail. $89, schools & libraries. DVD + digital file $139, school & libraries.
Gr 7 Up–Wikipedia: love it or hate it, few people are neutral. Director Castella delves into the idealism (“free access to the sum of all knowledge”) that birthed Wikipedia in 2001, along with interviews with cofounder Larry Sanger, who now wants nothing to do with the site. Cofounder Jimmy Wales is still a believer, and his comments are personable, humorous, and in one case, ­four-letter. Valuable points of the site (free; anonymity protects writers in ­repressive societies; ­volunteers write from places of ­passion) are contrasted with shortcomings (article and writer demographics skew white, male, and cisgender; disagreement on what makes a credible source; articles primarily in ­English). ­VERDICT ­Wikipedia continues to be a hot topic in education. Students and faculty will enjoy this ­balanced dive into the ­platform’s history, current strengths, and weaknesses.

 

High School

Crossroads. Video Project. 2021. 40 min. ISBN/UPC unavail. $89, schools & libraries. DVD + digital file $139, school & libraries.
Gr 8 Up–Slightly shabby Columbus, IN, is pushing 50,000 residents, and 80 percent of them are white. Six Black community members of varying ages and professions (engineer, pastor, educator, student) share their experiences of living in Columbus, where progress has been made but the ­n-word still flies upon occasion. They give examples of how some residents talk the talk but don’t change their attitudes, leading to feelings of isolation and being unsafe. Suggestions to bring about community-wide change include admitting there is a problem, helping one another, taking personal ownership of the fix, calling in rather than calling out, and showing up for racial justice. VERDICT Some young viewers (and educators) may think racism is over and done, but these interviews expose its continued presence. Its hopeful message is that change can happen when communities unite and make it a priority.

Five Years North. Optimist. 2021. ISBN/UPC unavail. Limited edition DVD for $29.95, educational license $199. S
Gr 9 Up
–Guatemalan teen Luis, 16, paid a coyote to smuggle him to New York City. Cuban American ICE officer Judy tracks undocumented immigrants in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Luis’s new life means a crowded house, multiple jobs, little sleep, occasional school, and dodging cars on snowy streets while making food deliveries. Judy has an increasing caseload, political pressures, and idealism she puts into play by focusing most of her efforts on deporting undocumented immigrants who commit crimes. Parallels between Luis and Judy include multigenerational families, a willingness to work long hours, and the desire for a better life for their families. Extensive interviews with Luis don’t glamorize his life in the United States, and footage with his family in Peña Blanca shows the poverty barely mitigated by the money he sends home. VERDICT This film presents a balanced view of why a person might come to the U.S. ­illegally, along with showing the human side of ICE. It offers no pat answers. Educational ­material by Duke University is available.

The Grey Area. Good Docs. 2021. 35 min. ISBN/UPC unavail. Streaming options avail. from $129. S
Gr 9 Up–Keagan Anfuso identifies as a woman, is content with her gender, and questions the social norms that give the message that she looks and acts “too masculine.” Anfuso and an insightful group of women discuss what it means to hold back on personal ­appearance preferences for the sake of making others more comfortable. The ­takeaway is that no one should be asked to sacrifice their sense of self to fit into society’s view of what “feminine” looks like. VERDICT This ­documents the experiences of Anfuso and other gender nonconforming people, from middle school years through adulthood, in an accessible way.

Hiding in the Walls. Video Project. 2021. 57 min. ISBN/UPC unavail. $89, schools & libraries. DVD + digital file $139, school & libraries.
Gr 10 Up–Like other cities before the 1970s, Baltimore failed to regulate lead-containing paint, and embraced it as an inexpensive option for public housing. Research about lead’s effects on learning alternate with historic paint advertisements, public service warnings, and interviews with current Baltimore residents who have elevated lead levels. It makes clear the overall physical and mental harm of lead paint, which still exists in older buildings. Conversely, one interviewee says having a higher lead level has not impacted her success. Redlining, the harm in lead leaching from water pipes, the benefits and shortfalls of monetary settlements to ­victims, and the stigma of being known to have elevated blood lead levels are discussed. VERDICT Social studies, social ­justice, and science classes will find topics of interest and learn about a timely and relevant.

Inner Wound Real. Good Docs. 2022.15 min. ISBN/UPC unavail. Streaming options avail. from $129. S
Gr 8 Up–Three young adults share their stories of self-harm and the constructive paths they now use to cope. Vick, who is Indian, struggled with loneliness, and progressed from crying to cutting, before reinventing himself with a new group of friends and positive interactions. Simone, trans and nonbinary, was overwhelmed with ­emotions. They now use writing and drawing for relief. ­Raychelle identifies as a queer person of color. She used the pain of self-harm to deal with overwhelming parental expectations. A wrist tattoo now reminds her not to cut. Teens will likely appreciate the candid stories told from diverse backgrounds in three creative styles of animation. VERDICT ­Counselors and educators can reinforce the film’s concluding message that one can break the cycle of self-harm, and the first step is telling a trusted person and asking for help.

Our Story. Video Project. 2021. 47 min. ISBN/UPC unavail. $89, schools & libraries. DVD + digital file $139, school & libraries.
Gr 7 Up–Fracking and extractive industries threaten the health and environment of people living in the greater Chaco ­Region of the southwestern U.S., along with furthering climate change and destroying ­sacred sites of the Diné and Pueblo people. Due to a hodgepodge of legal jurisdictions, it is almost impossible for individuals to stand against corporations, leading to the formation of the Greater Chaco Coalition, fighting on behalf of over 200 Indigenous, environmental, and community groups to preserve the balance of nature. The film interviews Laguna Pueblo tribal member (now U.S. Secretary of the Interior) Deb Haaland and outlines the hard-won 2021 protections. Despite some protections, the filmmakers believe there is more work to be done. VERDICT Rich with social justice, activism, and climate change topics for political science, environmental science, and social science classes, this is a strong choice.

Powerlands. Good Docs. 2022. 75 min. ISBN/UPC unavail. Streaming options avail. from $129. S
Gr 9 Up
–Resource colonization happens when corporations descend on Indigenous lands, extracting natural resources (water, oil, gas, minerals) for profit and the benefit of outsiders. Navajo filmmaker Tso visits areas primarily in the Americas, where multinational corporations are mining, extracting water, and placing wind turbines in ways that do not benefit the Indigenous populations. Often these companies offer inadequate compensation, have no regard for sacred areas, and implement practices to the detriment of human health and the environment. Colombia’s Cerrejón mining pit, the Keystone XL pipeline, and wind turbines in Oaxaca, Mexico, provide for others but leave locals without electricity. They all come under scrutiny. Study guide available. VERDICT Takes the view that profit and cheap energy must take second place to local health and stresses the necessity for everyone to unite to protect Earth’s natural resources.

Reckonings. Good Docs. 2022.74 min. ISBN/UPC unavail. Streaming options avail. from $129. Study guide available. S
Gr 10 Up
–Tragic footage of concentration camp victims and other World War II crimes make parts of this film difficult to watch. However, its detailed and careful analysis of establishing German reparations to Jewish victims of Nazi persecutions show how dedicated people intelligently deal with almost impossibly challenging questions. Interviews with Jewish Holocaust survivors and members of Claims Conference proceedings, along with recreations of important compensation talks, draw viewers in and aid in understanding. Lawyers, politicians, survivors, and others discuss whether reparations should be paid or accepted, and if so, how much should be paid, for what, and to whom. For educators who explore the question of whether the U.S. owes reparations for past actions (to descendants of enslaved people; for seizure of tribal lands), the film highlights how Germans faced their past. VERDICT A worthy film for mature ­audiences, sure to spark discussion.

Thirst for Justice. Bullfrog Films. 2021. 58 min. ISBN 1948757712. $295. S
Gr 8 Up
–British journalist Leana Hosea follows parent, activist, and community organizer Janene Yazzie’s efforts to pinpoint and end the sources of contamination in Arizona water. Drawing on interviews with scientists, physicians, lawyers, Indigenous elders and others, the film points to uranium mining and lax waste disposal standards, historically and current day, as some of the major culprits. Water mismanagement and diversion, Standing Rock water protection, the Dakota Access pipeline, and lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan, are discussed. Chillingly, the film points out that the increased desire for clean energy may mean uranium mines reopen. VERDICT Presents the sobering view that profit and convenience have negatively impacted protecting human health and ­water resources. Consider for social studies and environmental science classes.

Warrior Lawyer. Visions. 2022. 58 min. ISBN 68475399347. $120. S
Gr 8 Up
–In the 1970s and 1980s, the U.S. recognized trust obligations that returned some tribal governance to Native American communities, giving them jurisdiction of crimes committed by tribal members or on tribal land. Interviews with lawyers, judges, elders, and educators speak to the history of Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools, the loss of cultural memory, and the family effects of historical trauma. The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 gave tribes oversight over Indian children in the legal system, allowing tribes to keep families intact and apply justice values, such as peacemaking and making amends. Peacemaking techniques, such as honesty, taking ownership, listening, and being willing to change are shown as effective methods for dealing with vandalism, truancy, and petty theft, and are now showing up in non-tribal courts. VERDICT ­Combines some history of the treatment of Native Americans by the U.S. government with an optimistic and uplifting alternative for addressing harmful behaviors to foster understanding and healing rather than punishment.


Maggie Knapp is at the Trinity Valley School in Fort Worth, TX.

 

 

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