There are films that can change your life. Or at least that’s what they say. So, to test this hypothesis in a practical, although slightly unorthodox way, I decided to ask my friends if there were any films that fitted this category. The answer was a resounding yes.
To some, the big screen taught them to be optimistic, even in the most difficult situations. Who doesn’t remember Life is Beautiful by Roberto Benigni? That story about a father who creates a fantasy world in a Nazi concentration camp to protect his son’s innocence? The lesson taken from it is that what matters is not so much what happens in life, but how we deal with it. Cool Hand Luke, with the stellar performance by Paul Newman, shows us that having nothing can be a good thing. If you have little to lose, you have plenty to win. “Luke taught me that it doesn’t take much to succeed, you just need character,” said one of my friends. “No one can defeat you unless you give up,” she added.
Other films can save your life, literally. This is the case of Thin Blue Line. The film that proved Randall Dale Adams, who was on death row at the time, was not a murderer. After the movie premiered, he was granted another trial and was released from prison.
On other occasions, films have made companies and governments change their policies. Do you remember Super Size Me? After the film, McDonald’s stopped selling its gigantic combos. Or Bowling for Columbine by Michael More? A documentary about gun violence that forced Kmart to stop selling weapons. Another one would be Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore which was one of the highest grossing documentaries in US history that not only helped him win the Nobel Peace Prize, but made climate change an attractive topic.
With this evidence, the question is: Could we make a movie to help us improve education in Latin America? The need is clear; in Latin America almost half of young people do not finish high school. Let me repeat that. In Latin American classrooms, half of the young people that should be there, are not.
Would it then be possible that in less than two hours, we can show in a captivating and passionate way, the challenges of millions of young people, in places as diverse as San Salvador and Montevideo, to finish school? Could we recruit the best talent in Latin America to tell a universal story with local voices? Would we have travel companions for this adventure? The answer, again, was a resounding yes. And so the movie The Empty Classroom was born.
Gael García Bernal became our creative director, and along came 11 fabulous filmmakers, they share 10 different stories from a very personal perspective. For example, Pablo Fendrik, director of El Ardor and Blood Appears understands the importance of graduating from high school very well. He did not graduate and knows how hard life can be without an education. In his case, filmmaking, his passion, changed his life, but he acknowledges that he is the exception to the rule.
Mariana Chenillo, from Mexico, portrays the obstacles that young people with disabilities face. In her short film, Chenillo shows what happens if you’re a deaf person living in a hearing world and want to go to school. After seeing it, one is left wondering if the protagonist is deaf or the school system turns a deaf ear to the needs of the youth.
Violence, an issue of great concern to Latin American citizens, is also explored in The Empty Classroom. In her short film from El Salvador, Tatiana Huezo shows how education is a powerful tool to prevent violence. She also says that the e tragic paradox is that in some places, even the schools themselves are dangerous. Carlos Gaviria, from Colombia, also investigates the links between dropout rates, violence and bullying. He goes on to ask what role the education system should play to integrate young people who have experienced violence in their lives.
The Empty Classroom (El Aula Vacía in Spanish) is not looking to change your life, but rather play a part in finding solutions to the high school dropout crisis and place this topic on the public agenda of governments and civil society. The film is focused on helping millions of young people to have a better education and spend more time in the classroom learning and growing. Correction: The Empty Classroom is looking to change lives. Will you help us?