‘Cinema like all art is a way of making sense of the world’~ Samina Mishra
Half Ticket was introduced to MAMI Mumbai Film Festival in 2015. In its 3rd edition, the section now boasts of a package based on a theme. The Hand of Friendship, a theme based package of films curated by Samina Mishra included a mix of old and new films that reflect the myriad ways in which children form bonds of friendship – with peers, with animals, with objects. The curated section brought a variety of acclaimed films for children and young adults, to introduce them to a world beyond theirs and experience diverse cinema cultures.
We talked to Samina Mishra (Curator), about what she thinks of Cinema as a tool for education and its impact on children.
What impact can Cinema have on children, according to you?
Cinema like all art is a way of making sense of the world – reflecting it, finding yourself in it, looking for possibilities. You can find both a deep emotional resonance as well as exciting intellectual engagements. Cinema can build empathy, it can empower you with a voice, it can make you look at the world in a different way. I think exposure to art is critical in childhood – as in adulthood. And cinema is a modern art form, so exposure to cinema is important for children.
No child likes to study; but they are quick learners. What are the things one has to keep in mind, in order to enable the learning without making it seem like studying? Why do you think it’s easier to draw this line through the audio visual medium?
I think we need to define for ourselves what we consider learning. If the purpose of education is to develop an understanding of ideas, of how those ideas matter in our individual lives and how we engage with each other to build community, then learning has to happen outside of textbooks. Of course, the reality is that passing exams and getting degrees is important but if we are able to instil a love for learning in children from a young age, then this – while still a struggle – may be just that little bit easier. And a love for learning can only happen if we are able to be open. If we are closed, then there can be no learning because we believe we already know what we need to know. Art helps us to be more open – to each other, to emotions, to new ideas. That’s why the audio-visual medium works. With children today, it’s also because they are more visually literate, they have an instinctive understanding of visual language and take to the audio-visual very naturally.
There is a scarcity of well known, Indian film makers, that work in the space of educating and empowering minds of our children; why do you think that is?
That’s a big multi-pronged discussion! I think the first thing is our understanding of childhood – we believe that it is an empty space that has to be filled with worthy things so that children can grow up to be the ideal citizens we need them to be. So, the whole educating and empowering process is seen as a top-down exercise being imparted by adults who know best. I think that’s a problem. I think if we can look at children as we look at ourselves, then we will make art that they can respond to. So, the focus has to be not on empowering and educating the child through films but on creating good cinema, on telling good stories – because learning and empowering will happen on their own if we are able to do that.
Of course, state and market support for what is considered children’s cinema is another critical factor. We have CFSI that has existed since 1955 but there are constraints they operate within and that impacts the number of films and the kind of films that can get made. And the commercial space – well, that needs to look at childhood differently, like I said earlier. Filmmakers with ideas and imaginative storytelling skills need to be nurtured on all fronts.
Nowadays we see children glued on to mobile phones and parents encouraging it, in order to keep them busy. Do you think this audio visual engagement is beneficial for a child?
This is a really contested space. So often, the tussle between children and parents is over technology. But you’re right that it is also often a baby-sitting tool and we need to think about that. But I think that there are structural reasons that need to be addressed for that too – the changing family structure, gender relations which make women the primary care-giver as well as the primary home-maker, lack of child-care support from structures other than the family… So many factors. I think it is important to understand the structural context while focussing on parenting choices.
I do think that children today are growing up in a very different world and their world is centred in technology in a way that we do not fully comprehend. Our anxiety is valid, I think, because their socialisation is changing and there are some worrying things like lack of sleep, not enough physical activity etc. However, the way they engage with the world and with each other is something that is increasingly connected to their interacting with technology. So whether it is beneficial or not is now a second step – we need to first accept that this is how it is. And then move from there to think about how to make it work. Having said that, like all things, there are advantages and there are problems with this growing technological dependence. On the one hand, kids are accessing all kinds of ideas in bite-sized videos on the internet – popular science, politics, art… That’s not a bad thing. But on the other, they have easier access to things they may not be ready for. The answer can only be dialogue – not an easy answer, especially with sullen teens. It’s a long hard road, full of mistakes that will be made but really, there’s no other way. It’s like democracy – doesn’t always work but we have to keep trying.
Is Half Ticket an attempt to build a value system for kids or does it lean towards allowing them to explore varied perspectives of right and wrong?
Half Ticket does not want to patronize children. So, the films have ben selected for their sophisticated filmmaking and layered narratives that avoid a moralistic tone. They present the complexity of the world and the human experience. They share experiences and provoke reflections, allowing for audiences to find their own meanings. That is what we want from cinema meant for adults, so why should it be different for children – that’s Half Ticket’s philosophy. Good children’s cinema, we believe, is cinema for everyone.