Movies that Matter: Film Screenings for Schools at the Jewish Museum, now in its 17th year, is a twice yearly series that invites middle and high school classes to explore themes of identity, culture, and tolerance by viewing award-winning documentaries and engaging in post-screening conversations. The free program serves close to 2,000 students per year from schools in and around New York City, representing public and private schools, special education, homeschooling organizations, and diverse religious and secular institutions. Hosting students from differing backgrounds offers an intimate forum to interact socially and learn from diverse perspectives and experiences.
In the latest iteration of the series this spring, five selected documentaries touched on a wide range of themes inspired by the Jewish Museum collection — community, immigration, mental health, and family relationships among them. Films are chosen with a goal of shedding light on different communities and individuals, and to reflect and connect with some of the diverse student population in attendance. Directors and subjects of the films spoke to students following the screenings, answering questions and deepening the experience. Students had thoughtful, empathetic responses to the films — connecting back to their work in school, as well as their personal experiences.
Film is a uniquely accessible medium, and watching movies with protagonists in similar circumstances to their own, or with which they can strongly identify, can be a profoundly validating experience for students. Following the screening of Don’t Tell Anyone (No Le Digas a Nadie), a film about an undocumented young woman’s arduous path to citizenship, students and teachers shared concerns about their own immigration status, or that of family and friends. Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi , which tells the story of the unfortunate convergence of a family’s search for their missing son and the hunt for suspects in a terror attack, inspired students to share stories of loved ones they had lost and their own struggles with depression and anxiety. In the film Romeo is Bleeding, poet Donte Clark’s uses his artistic perspective to help save his struggling city from violence. Some students could directly relate to living in a place stricken by violence. Others noted that while they felt safe in their neighborhoods, it was important to understand and acknowledge the struggles that other people, especially those their own age, face.
The Jewish Museum has a long history of exploring moving image media, from the New York Jewish Film Festival, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary, to The Television Project exhibition series and the National Jewish Archive of Broadcasting, the largest and most comprehensive body of broadcast materials on 20th-century Jewish culture in the United States. Movies that Matter aims to continue the Jewish Museum’s legacy, and share this important material with some of our youngest visitors. Check out the films that have screened as part of past series and learn more about programs for teens.
—Jamie Auriemma, Associate Manager of Teen Programs