Global Voices Through Film

As of September 2008, we have taken our program directly into public high schools. The program consists of lectures and screenings of 20+ films shown in high school and middle school classrooms; post Q & A discussions from members of the United Nations and Morgan Stanley volunteers; a tour of the United Nations with private briefings at Foreign Missions; and a workshop at the Tolerance Center about human rights.

The aim of the multi-disciplinary curriculum is to teach high school students about the world through the medium of global cinema. The screening of each film catapults 8 multidisciplinary lessons which illustrate the country’s position in today’s geo-political world, as well as its history and culture: World History; Geography; Economics; Civics, Citizenship, and Government; World Literature; Creative writing; Media Studies; and Music or Art.

Each chapter contains one film from a country that represents a geographical area and human rights issue and encourages discussion and understanding of the where, what, why, when and how of global concerns. Students are encouraged to work in groups, which preparing them for team interaction in college and the workplace. By using different thought processes for various subjects, students learn how to analyze, synthesize and share their conclusions.

By using a film that engages students visually, they are drawn into the subject in a very easy and friendly way. With the curriculum, the pedagogy is reinforced by providing teachers and students with background information, lessons and activities.

The films we use are:
Tsotsi  (South Africa)
Osama (Afghanistan))
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (Germany)
Hotel Rwanda (Rwanda)
Central Station (Brazil)
March of the Penguins (Antarctica/France)
Beijing Bicycle (China)
Persepolis (Iran/France)
The Counterfeiters (Austria)
Pearl (USA, Chickasaw Nation)
War Dance (Uganda)
Tokyo Sonata (Japan)

Our global program offers high school students an understanding of the world, as well as tools to prepare them for college studies and for the global workplace. We help them understand the cultures of different ethnic groups. We advocate group projects, analytical thinking and critical analysis. We also strive to prepare our students to better understand the global future and become citizens and leaders of our merging world.

More than 8,000 students have participated in our programs free of charge.

At the United Nations, the following guests have moderated post-screening Q&A discussions:
. Mira Nair, director of “Namesake”
. Gavin Hood, director of “Tsotsi”
. Presley Chewagne, actor, “Tsotsi”
. Q’orianka Kilcher, actress, “The New World”
. Maysoon Pachachi, director, “Return to the Land of Wonders: Baghdad”
. Vita Zaheer, director, “Return to Afghanistan”
. John G. Roche, Producer, “Return to Afghanistan”
. Kate Wood, Producer, “Return to Afghanistan”
. Julie Fontaine, Director Press, Miramax
. Sara Serlen, Director Press, Warner; Weinstein Brothers
. Mrs. Koffee Anan, spouse to United Nations Secretary General
. Ambassador Khalizad, American Ambassador to the United Nations
. Ambassador Faisal al Istrabadi, Ambassador of Iraq to the United Nations
. Ambassador Tabeshian, Ambassador of Iran to the United Nations


  • Birch Wathen Lennox School, Manhattan
  • Lyceum Kennedy, Manhattan
  • Archimedes Charter School, Bronx
  • Academy of American Studies, Long Island City, Queens
  • High School of Art & Design, Manhattan
  • Brooklyn Latin School, Brooklyn
  • Forest Hills High School, Forest Hills, Queens
  • Lehman High School, Bronx
  • UNIS, Manhattan
  • M.S. 180, Bronx
  • Longwood JHS, Long Island
  • Saxton JHS, Long Island
  • Caanan Middle School, Patchoque, Long Island
  • Mott Haven Middle School, Bronx
  • Greenwich Academy, Greenwich, CT
  • The King School, Stamford, CT
  • The Watkinson School, Hartford, CT
  • Lake Wales I.B. Charter School, Lake Wales, FL



As the founder of the N.G.O. at the United Nations, International Cinema Education, I began my organizational concept with a simple mission:  to teach high school students about world events through the medium of film. What better classroom could exist than the United Nations where the world is part of their daily activities? And what better medium is there than cinema to transpose young people far beyond their imagination?

In 2003, we began our journey by creating each month in the United Nations a Global classroom where students from New York City public high schools could take a tour of the United Nations, view a film from another country, and ask questions to U.N. experts, actors, and directors. More than 8,000 students have traveled with us to places beyond any limit, without passports and without borders, to more than 40 U.N. member countries.

After 5 years of our International Film Festival at the United Nations, we changed our route and took the program directly into New York’s high schools. We chose 13 films, placed them into a multi-disciplinary curriculum, and coordinated with teachers to integrate this new program into their Social studies and English classes as well as Film and E.S.L. programs. After students viewed a film in their classroom, volunteers from our N.G.O. and Morgan Stanley went to the classrooms to discuss the film as well as the country’s position in today’s world. As part of our global education, we also invited our students to special briefings at U.N. Foreign Missions, and to programs at the Simon Wiesenthal Tolerance Center and Morgan Stanley.

As we taught our students about issues through the eyes of other cultures, they began to delve deeper and saw other images. This encouraged them to unravel the reel of material to find tangential concepts. They were eager to learn what is a film’s country doing today on the global stage? What is the relationship between economics, politics and culture? And how as students can they learn to analyze important foreign movies on their own?

To satisfy our students’ interest, we extended our curricula to include discussions how economics and politics interrelate. Members of our Board of Directors who work in Finance and Banking talked with the students about Emerging markets and micro-finance, and our volunteers from Morgan Stanley arranged a seminar about the global marketplace in their Manhattan office.

Stimulated and challenged, I went back to my desk to demystify a foreign film and enhance its use as a teaching tool. Our students asked to see more foreign films from less-known countries and wanted guidelines for understanding. And I tried to answer their questions. I’d like to share some of these findings with you:

The director of a film is a storyteller, similar to the narrator in literature. By telling the story, the auteur expresses how he/she sees his world. The film director and the literary author, however, use different tools to achieve their goal.

In a film there are 3 concentric circles that are used to tell the story: Technique; Style; and Soul:

Technique includes cameras, lenses, light, sound, music, special effects, staging, editing, computers, and visual devices.

Style is comprised of the material from the world that the director interprets as his own and puts his signature on. He uses tools as a screen script, actors, plot, tempo, suspense, violence, poetry, landscape, religion, and themes.

Soul comes from an inner place known only to the artist which took years to find. It is the resolution of conflict between the external and internal. It is an epiphany that expresses the artist’s philosophy and vision of the world. It is the artist’s message of hope.

Traveling with these 3 circles are 3 lines that are located in the same orbit and serve as the film’s infrastructure:
. History
. Setting
. Lesson

History is unraveled until there’s no mystery. It is the documented past as well as an interpretation for the present.

Setting shows our eyes what literature instills in our imagination- how characters act and react within their spatial time. Characters respond to their conflicts, environment, and genetic being.

Lesson is the gift that the director hands to those who are willing and able to accept. His secret. This lesson is what we will draw upon for our future. It is essentially what the artist has struggled to give shape to in a tangible form.

Film may be easier for students to understand than literature or music. Young people come to a film already with a know-how of understanding the screen. Their entire life has been a preparation for the larger picture. They have in their blood – television, computers, video games, cell phones and digital cameras. They can relate to these mechanisms based on their own hands-on experience. It is not difficult to guide the student from their terra cognita to uncharted territories of interpreting film and appreciating the art. To explain the intangible to them is just one small step more. And they retain the information they learn from the film’s screen because they have already a visual reference point. To supplement want they see visually, we provide written curricula. The textbook reinforces the screen and they work together. Visually and intellectually they symbiotically make their mark on the student’s imagination.

In this manner, we have taken the United Nations ideal of global understanding directly into the classroom. The reel story has been fun for all of us involved in International Cinema Education- for our Board members, volunteers from Morgan Stanley and our U.N. partners. It’s a voyage we embarked on 7 years ago and never thought we’d reach the heights we have. By using cinema to open our students’ eyes, we have journeyed to places never known before. We have learned that if we don’t teach students how to unravel the mysteries of foreign films, we will have no viewers for the future. If we don’t let them see history, how can we earn their trust? And if we don’t give them knowledge and hope, how can we create future leaders?

We have tried to show our students that traveling with film, has no boundaries. It is a way to journey to the globe. And our reward has been that learning like this can be fun.

Click here for more information on the Global Voices Films.