And the Award Goes To...

Posted by Emily Weisberg on February 25, 2013

When I was 12, I was stuck at home the entire summer with my leg in a brace, recovering from knee surgery. My Dad, never one to miss an opportunity, decided this would be the perfect time to give me a crash course in cinema. A film buff, my Dad had waited all twelve whole years of my life to show me the films that shaped, inspired and entertained him and now, because I couldn't outrun him, he was going to pass those films on to me.

Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, the Marx Brothers, all of Chaplin and most of Woody Allen. Dog Day Afternoon, The Deerhunter, Dr. Strangelove, Singin in the Rain, Godfather (only 1 and 2 of course) and the entire Mel Brooks collection, this Dad-curated summer of cinema exposed me to films that shaped my Dad's point of view and, in turn, began to shape mine.

Two movies, seemingly unrelated, struck a nerve with me as I sat there that summer. "All the Presidents Men" a 1976 film starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. The film was based on the book by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein about their time at the Washington Post as upstart, young reporters and how they uncovered the Watergate Scandal, bringing down the Nixon administration, forcing Nixon's resignation from office. These two men fought back against editors, politicians, pressure from everywhere to stop searching for answers. But they persevered and found the truth; two people standing up for what was right and making an impact heard the world round. Their unflagging curiosity and drive and their belief that the American people deserved better were unbelievably resonant to me. Even at 12 I admired their strength and began to question what I would do in a similar situation.

So too with Gerry Conlon, the character played by Daniel Day Lewis in the 1993 drama"In the Name of the Father," based on the true story of the Guilford Four, four young Irishmen and women wrongly accused of bombing an English pub in the midst of British/Irish violence in the 1970's. While a decidedly different film, this movie focused on a small group of people who fought for what was right, fought for their innocence and didn't give up in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. This man, Conlon, watched his father die in prison with him and lost many of the best years of his life as he fell victim to the rage felt in his community. The fact that Conlon stood up, spoke out and never lost hope reverberated with me so strongly and I launched, headfirst, into a phase of never-ending reading about "The Troubles," something I never would have known anything about if not for this phenomenal film.

I was 12. With a brace on my leg and Dad sitting next to me, but as I watched those films, I felt something-a sense that I, too, could make a difference. Sure, I wasn't an Irish freedom fighter or a DC journalist, but I understood what it felt like to be counted out and looked over. So many of our students do. The movies I was lucky enough to watch that summer helped me see outside myself and learn about the history of those who came before me. Film continues to spark my imagination, inspire me to take action and move me to speak out.

What are the movies that made you think, challenge assumptions and motivate you to action? These films are amazing tools we can use to help our students connect to the lessons, stories and concepts we bring to them every day. So, take a second to share some of the films that lit a spark in you. I can't wait to watch them.

Read more about the favorite films used in Facing History classrooms.


Topics: Choosing to Participate, Critical Thinking, In the news

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