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Integration through children's eyes: Documentary film "Our School" shows the snags in desegregation

Prague, 10.3.2011 14:54, (ROMEA)

This US-Swiss documentary filmed in the small Romanian town of Targu Lapus has a simple but precise title: "Our School". Directorial pair Mona Nicoara and Miruna Coca-Cozma spent almost five years filming the EU-funded desegregation of Roma children in schools there and show how it works in practice.

"It sounds easy, you just close the Roma school and stick the Roma children with the others, but it doesn't work like that," said Nicoara, a self-described human rights activist as well as a filmmaker, during a discussion after the screening. "People keep talking about desegregation and integration, but how is it to take place, what does it look like, is there any recipe for it? We wanted to capture the entire process," her colleague Coca-Cozma said.

The filmmakers requested from the Romanian Education Ministry a list of the schools which had been financially supported by the EU's Phare integration program and started looking for a "small town with the right film potential." The North Romanian town of Targu Lapus, located high in the mountains, seemed ideal. Romanian live in the town itself, and while the Roma part of town is officially registered territory, it lies beyond the town gates. The Romanian children attend school in the center of town, while the Roma children have their own school among the shacks with leaky roofs where they live.

The filmmakers chose the route of filming over time (they returned to Targu Lapus every few months over the course of five years) and from the perspective of the children. The main characters in the documentary are three children, Alin (7), Beni (12) and Dana (16), whom we first meet on the evening before the big day when they are to be taken in a wagon pulled by pony into town, into the center, to the Romanian school.

Trembling with joy and stage-fright, they get up at dawn (the school is four kilometers away), wash the sleep from their eyes with water from a cup out in the courtyard (the plumbing has not worked for a few months) and anxiously take care not to get dirt on their holiday clothes (a superhuman task in the open wagon traveling over dusty roads). The parked cars of the Romanian parents, the bouquets for the teachers in their children's hands and the rich snacks eaten during the break in the courtyard are a sharp contrast to the empty hands of the Roma children, who don't even have so much as a pencil.

The film shows many similarly contrasting images, not related to Roma culture (as the majority society often explains it) but the result of social exclusion. The images are authentic, their occurrence incidental, effortless - just the way things have been for a long time.

Entrenched habits on both sides are the Roma children's greatest rivals, forming a barrier between them and an integrated, common school. Once again, this barrier is not overcome. "We still believe desegregation is necessary, but after five years we know it is not possible without the desire of all participating," directors Nicoara and Coca-Cozma tell their audience with conviction. In Targu Lapus, "only" the children really wanted it.

You can view the documentary film "Our School" on 12 March in the small hall of Kino Atlas and on 15 March at 20:00 at the French Institute. The screenings are part of the One World festival.

Gwendolyn Albert, Kateřina Čopjaková, Kateřina Čopjaková, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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