Monday, May 25, 2009

Witchals: The End Of The World

For the past month or so I have combined my advanced and intermediate clubs into one group to work on a movie, written and produced by them. I came up with this idea based on the fact that my students are obsessed with taking movies on their cell phones and watching “clips” (basically movie videos). They all have cell phones and use them more for watching “clips” and listening to music than for actually talking. Like typical teenagers, they idolize movie stars and musicians. They constantly ask me for translations from pop and rap songs, and want to know what movies I have from America. Ever since I first realized their obsession with the famous, I decided that I would find an opportunity to give them a chance to feel what it is like in front of a camera.

I have been working with this group of students for about 6 months now, and it has taken me this long to develop a trusting relationship with them. Creativity isn’t something that is encouraged in the traditional education system here. Classes consist of copy and repeat drills, and individual ideas are disapproved of. Imagination and creativity are things that I have had to prompt my students on. I began simply with activities that pointed them in the right direction, but left room for them to make it their own. At first there was confusion when I wouldn’t tell them exactly what to write. They just didn’t know what to do for fear that they would get reprimanded for writing it incorrectly. While some stories suspiciously turned out the same, I made sure to praise those students who chose to be inventive. Slowly I noticed that they were taking more risks in their writing assignments. The creativity began to come out more on paper than in their spoken responses. Maybe they knew that I would be their only audience with homework and worried more about the criticism of their classmates. I started to give them the option of reading out loud to the class. At first only a few volunteered, but without any bad repercussions, the number of students reading out loud began to grow until all the students felt comfortable sharing with the class. We recently completed a unit about descriptions involving lots of adjectives, ending with physical appearance and personalities. After I felt the students had increased their vocabulary with enough adjectives, and were able to describe people, I brought up the idea of creating a movie together. I told them that we were going to make a film with a long dialogue and then each of them would be an actor in the film. The second that I said the word ‘actor’ all of their faces lit up and I knew they were up for the challenge.

I explained that before we started actually writing any of the script, we had a few questions to nail down: who, what, where, when and how? Before class ended that day, we had answered who, where and when. For homework that class, I asked each of them to bring in an outline of a movie they would like to make, answering what and how.

I will be honest and say that I was still a little unsure of what kind of story I would get out of them. These are some teenagers with very strong personalities, but I wasn’t sure if they could agree on a plot together, and I still doubted the level of imagination they would put into this project. But in the first few minutes of brainstorming, all of my doubts were put to rest. My students decided on a film about American witches and aliens. The film would take place in the future in India. I asked, “why India?” And one student explained, “because the witches need a Buddhist talisman for their potion to take over the world, and the aliens also need this Buddhist talisman for their guns to take over the world.” Oh, and I doubted the depth of their imaginations! And she said all of this in English! I was in total amazement. They had met earlier that day to talk more about the film and to come to an agreement about the plot before they even arrived in class. So, we have witches and aliens in India.
“What happens next?” I asked.
“The aliens and the witches go to India and fight over the talisman. There is a big war. Then one witch and one alien fall in love and have a baby. The baby is human. Not witch. Not alien. They do not want to kill all the humans to take over the world now because the have a human baby, so they hide the talisman. Then they write out this story for their baby and the baby finds it later and destroys the talisman and saves the world.”
“Is that it?”
“Yes. And, oh, it is a comedy.”
Their ideas continued to pour out. One student wanted to create a rap song for the aliens as their theme song. One student imagined a scene with the talisman high in the mountains of India, and I sadly had to remind her that the closest thing we have to a mountain here is the sand pile in my neighbor’s yard. Their imaginations were running wild, and I had to pull them back and remind them that this was not a multi million-dollar production. Sorry, I don’t think Akon will be doing the soundtrack for this movie, but we can play one of his songs in the background if you want. The classes spent brainstorming and writing the script have thus far been some of the best experiences for me in the classroom. I have a feeling of gratification, knowing that I have gained their trust enough for them to feel comfortable to create a crazy movie. We have not filmed yet, but so far I feel like this has been the best most ambitious but most gratifying project I have done yet. My students make me laugh so much and I am extremely proud of them for how far they have come since I started teaching them back in December.
They have decided on the title ‘Witchals: The End Of The World’ because it combines the word ‘witch’ and ‘alien’ together. Get in line to get your pirated copy of ‘Witchals: The End Of The World.’ Premiering soon in Garashsyzlyk Etrap!
(Starring me as the Buddha because, as they explained, I am tall and can do yoga)

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