Friday, January 18, 2013

Period Three Kids think Smoke Signals Good Viewing to Understand Idle No More

A house on fire -- blazing orange, red, yellow and the sound of crackling, spitting, roaring, falling --these sensory details open the movie Smoke Signals. I've never seen this movie but my period three students -- about half First Nations and half Settler descendants -- have convinced me to watch it within the context of Idle No More.

We plan to "go for coffee" and discuss on Thursday. Thanks Sierra for the initial suggestion.

I remember hearing about the movie years ago, but I'd written it off as Hollywood fluff. Within the first few minutes of the movie, I see it's going directly into some harsh reality. Within the first half hour I've shed tears, but I've laughed hard too. I can see why Rolling Stone called it "One of the best films of the year!" and why it was distinguished at the Sundance Film Festival. The fact that it stars Adam Beach is okay, too.

When we finish viewing, the students write conversation starters for us to take the the coffee shop on Thursday. Warning. Spoiler alert.

1. What do you think of when that girl burned the trailer?
2. I wonder why Victor's dad died?
3. What do you think of Thomas?
4. I wonder why Victor was so mad all the time?
5. I wonder why Victor's dad left. Why he ran away?
6. I wonder why Victori's dad never went back to see his family.
7. What did you think of the whole movie?
8. What do you think about Thomas and his stories?
9. My favorite scene was when Victor went to Arizona.
10. I wonder why Victor cut his hair in that trailer.
11. I wonder why Thomas wanted to go with Victor.
12. My favorite scene was when Victor realized who he and his father were because it shows that everyone can move forward.
13. I wonder why they didn't say goodbye to the one woman.
14. I wonder why Victor is so mean to Thomas.
15. What do you think the point of the movie was?
16. What do you think about Thomas and Victor's journey to Arizona?
17. What do you think of the way the "cowboys" acted towards Victor and Thomas on the bus?
18. My favorite scene was when Thomas was telling the story of fry bread because he makes it sound delicious.
19. What do you think about the car crash?
20. What do you think of Victor's dad?
21. I wonder why Victor's dad chose to live in Arizona.
22. My favourite scene was when Thomas changes his shirt because it says, "Fry Bread Power."
23. My favourite scene was when they got in a crash because it showed that Victor actually cared about others.
24. My favourite scene was when the cop was interviewing them because they didn't get charged when I thought they would.
25. My favourite part was when he dumped his father's ashes because it was heart warming.

At the coffee shop we divide into two big tables, each taking half of the questions and conversation starters. At my table, as we sip coffee and nibble donuts, we take turns leading the discussion.

"Why did the girl burn the trailer?"

"It wasn't needed anymore. It was because of the things Victor said and his dad said. It smelled bad."

"What is the significance of the fire?" I ask.

We talk about the symbolism of fire as taking life and giving life. The way the fire imagery starts and ends the movie. How fire cleans things and brings healing.

"These two are children of fire and ash," Sierra quotes from the movie.

"What do you think is the point of the movie?"

"Healing, how people heal differently. Like the road trip was healing for Victor. Some people heal through talking, like Thomas, and Susie and Arnold healed by telling their secrets. Arnold had to get away to quit drinking as part of his healing."

"Forgiveness, life and death, life on the reserve, humour."

One of the First Nations girls says there's nothing to do on the reserve, just like in the movie, but then another First Nations girl says, "You can go fishing if there's a lake."

One of the white girls asks, "Do you have to have a licence to go fishing?"

"No, we can just fish, and we use spears or nets." She is smiling.

"We do," says the other girl and smiles, then takes a bite of her donut.

"Yah, we all have to hunt with bow and arrows. We have to fish with spears. Everyone has to have a tipi." The First Nations girls are laughing, and the three white girls at the table are laughing too.

I say, "This sounds like the way we tell our American neighbours to the south that we all drive dog sleds and live in igloos." I comment on how the movie exposes the lies and laughs at the stereotypes, but also shows some of the complexity behind the stereotypes.

The next question is "Why did Victor cut his hair?"

"When a loved one dies, its a sign of mourning and grief to cut your hair."

"It's also a signal that Victor has forgiven his dad and started healing."

"Or, started forgiving his dad."

"Long hair is symbolic of pride."

Another question is, "Why is Victor so mean to Thomas?"

"Thomas has better memories of Arnold, Victor's Dad, than Victor does. Arnold took Thomas to Denny's. Arnold was nice to Thomas. Thomas is also socially awkward and annoys Thomas."

"Why did Victor's dad leave?"

"Wife kicked him out. No she didn't, he just left. It was the best thing he could have done."

One girl is shaking her head. I ask, "Could he have healed if he stayed?"

One girl nods, but another across the table says, "No. He had to leave."

The last question we have is "What do you think about Thomas and his stories?"

"They're B.S. and lies. They're something he's good at. He's not smart socially. He's awkward. He's funny. He told lies to make it interesting. Remember that fry bread one?"

I tell the kids that I think the movie is also asking the questions, "What is truth? and Can a lie-filled story actually tell the truth better than the cold, hard facts?" And then I add, "I think Thomas' stories are part of the healing. I think they're magical, even spiritual."

The students head back to the school in time for lunch.

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