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SXSW '10 | Public School Teacher Transforms Lives in "World Peace"

By Indiewire | Indiewire March 1, 2010 at 7:30AM

Editor's Note: This is one interview in a series profiling directors whose films are screening in the Narrative Competition, Documentary Competition and Emerging Visions sections at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.
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Editor's Note: This is one interview in a series profiling directors whose films are screening in the Narrative Competition, Documentary Competition and Emerging Visions sections at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.

"World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements" marks Chris Farina's fourth documentary feature. A native of Baltimore, Maryland, Farina has already gone on to to win numerous festival awards for his work. His films all center on American individuals doing good, who receive little media attention.

"World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements" is a one-hour film which interweaves the story of public school teacher John Hunter with his students' participation in an educational exercise that he created entitled the World Peace Game. This interactive experience triggers a transformation of the students from children of a neighborhood school to citizens of the world. The World Peace Game exposes children to the complex issues of the greater geo-political world that they will one day encounter. Hunter's innovative exercise lays the groundwork for students to become civically engaged individuals. An entertaining film with a positive message, "World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements" provides a timely reminder that the future truly is at stake as we educate our children. [Synopsis provided by SXSW]

"World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements"
Emerging Visions
Director: Chris Farina
Producer: Chris Farina
Screenwriter: Chris Farina
Cast: John Hunter
Cinematography: Gene Rhodes
Editor: Bill Reifenberger
Music: Will Musser

Director and producer Chris Farina on what fueled his interest in documentary filmmaking and how "World Peace" came about...

This is my fourth feature documentary. I've always been interested in listening to people's stories, and in portraying everyday American settings that often do not receive much media attention. I hitchhiked a lot when I was younger, and that fueled both of these interests, and I really do believe that in some odd way my desire to make films grew out of those experiences.

I was introduced to the subject of the film, public school teacher John Hunter, and was immediately drawn to the beauty of the relationship between a wonderful teacher and his truly engaged students. I thought that if I could simply capture that relationship, there would be value in the making of this film. As the project developed, I became more and more passionate about the lessons taught to the students through John’s educational exercise the "World Peace Game."

Farina on how he approached making the film...

It was a relatively simple approach. I try to remain open to what comes, it is always better than anything that I might have originally envisioned. I hoped that the narrative arc would be established by following the students over their 8 week participation in the World Peace Game exercise. We had a limited budget, so relatively quickly we had to decide which children we wanted to focus on. Over the course of making this film John became more and more the central figure. He's incredibly articulate, has a wonderful life story, and is just a beautiful human being, someone I have great admiration for.

Director Chris Farina. Image courtesy of SXSW.

Especially difficult was trying to raise money over the last few years. Also, in the edit, we were always struggling with finding the right balance between the attention paid to the teacher’s story, and to following the students, and with how to give enough information for the audience to understand the World Peace Game without getting bogged down in the complex details.

What audiences will take away from the picture according to Farina...

John has dedicated his life to teaching children the "work of peace." He is an amazing inspiration for everyone who would like to achieve a more peaceful world. The film is funny, and poignant, and ultimately hopeful.

And on a film that inspired him in creating this picture...

A film that I was lucky enough to see in the theater just a little bit before meeting John Hunter was the French documentary "To Be and To Have." I was simply incredibly moved by this film, and again it portrayed in such a beautiful way the important role that a good teacher can play in our society. My film is certainly different, and while I feel a little sheepish about even comparing my film with that absolutely wonderful work, I do remember the emotions conjured by that film-going experience. My hope was to make a film that might have a similar emotional resonance for the audience.

This article is related to: Features, Interviews, World Peace and other 4th-Grade Achievements