A Firm, But Loving Hand: Miss Kiet’s Children

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The magic of the True/False Film Festival are the sweet unexpected moments that rise from certain films that speak a thousand words as if directed only to you (such as my 2017 T/F favorite “Donkeyote”).  When browsing through the catalog of which films to view, my partner-in-crime and I resolutely chose subject matter first over all other options.  Some of these films far surpassed our expectations in form and execution of cinematic techniques with that invested subject matter.

Petra Lataster-Czisch & Peter Lataster shot a unique look into refugee children assimilating into a completely different culture; the world as in the classroom.  “Miss Kiet’s Children” is the result which showcases a child’s point of view with no narration and only the words of the teacher, Miss Kiet, and the children trying to disseminate the social differences, language, and classroom rules of a whole new world.  These are very young children from war torn Syria arriving at a school in Holland under the guidance (as my partner-in-crime acknowledged as a kick ass instructor) of Kiet Engels, who rules her classroom with a firm, but very loving hand.  The film begins and ends with Miss Kiet setting up and then cleaning up her classroom at the end of the day.  It is her everyday ritual, a sort of meditation she performs before these young lives enter her realm with unforeseen challenges, heartaches, and bonding respect.  It sets up for the audience the amount of work involved in this profession and how exhausting the toll can be on the instructor and on the kids.

Co-director Peter Lataster photographed the proceedings in a direct and specific way; eye level with the children at all times.  The adults are seen, but not altogether unless they bend down and join the child’s point of view.  It is a brilliant choice that immediately brings the audience intimately close with the children’s faces and reactions.  And what faces they are!  The camera catches moments unguarded in a child’s day that gives us more material than any one thousand page script ever could.  There is not one overhead shot or master shot.  All camera angles keep us focused on the most important subject at hand here, the children at their level only.  These children are fearful at first, shy with others, suffering nightmares from recent memories of their country, and trying to navigate their way through a strange language and customs.  It really shows how resilient children can be in the face of adversity and gives us hope that, unlike our country at the present time, other cultures are extending their arms and hearts to these innocents.  How else are we going to attempt to make the world a better place?  Miss Kiet’s classroom is proof positive and also shows it isn’t easy, in fact it is tough at times, but at the end of the day these children learn to open up and show such grand potential.  Their understanding of the world is something we could all use a healthy dose of.

We get to know the children as individuals, not just some class of refugees lumped together as we are used to seeing on the nightly news.  Once again, as “Miss Kiet’s Children” proves, if we place even just one face with a story, the preconceived prejudices and beliefs wash away from our eyes when looking upon events such as what is taking place in Syria today.  One standout (pictured in the poster) is Leanne, who is fearful and lonely at first, but as the film progresses we see her blossom into the little girl she was meant to be; before war took away her dreams.  In order to understand the full ramifications of what these children have gone through (which the film never discloses except in very small glimpses such as nightmares that the little boy Maksim suffers), it is up to us as adults to seek out this background as responsible citizens of the world.  The children are innocents and the film hammers it home by making us realize their anxieties and dreams are just like everyone else’s, just like our own children here at home.

“Miss Kiet’s Children” is not just a serious affair, but filled with riotous humor (thanks to the camera catching such gem-like situations with these kids) and beautiful small moments that will bring tears to anyone’s eyes at how utterly human and frail we all are.  The mere fact that these children were captured on film without an ounce of trickery by the part of the directors, is downright miraculous.  The camera seemed to disappear for the kids and we are given a secret access into the wondrous inside world of being a child.  That is magic and that is why a festival such as True/False deserves acclaim for bringing to light such a deserving film as “Miss Kiet’s Children”.

“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
― W. B. Yeats / The Collected Poems

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RATING: Sprint, do not walk to this film! (If you care anything for children, or your own children, this film will teach and make you realize a bigger picture of the world)

“Miss Kiet’s Children” 2016 115min (directors Petra Lataster-Czisch & Peter Lataster)

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