x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Documentary about school journeys stands out at Ajyal festival

The documentary On The Way to School shines a light on the extraordinary journeys some children must take to get to school.

A scene from On the Way to School. Courtesy Pascal Pilsson
A scene from On the Way to School. Courtesy Pascal Pilsson

Among numerous touching and thought-provoking films screening at Ajyal, one stood out as being particularly poignant for the children making up the bulk of the audience.

The documentary On The Way To School, by the French filmmaker Pascal Plisson, follows four children across the world who have to make particularly gruelling journeys in order to get to school. Starting in Kenya, where 12-year-old Jackson faces a two-hour, 15-kilometre trek through the savannas each morning, the film shadows Zahira in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains (four hours, 22km), Carlos from Patagonia in Argentina (90 minutes, 18km) and wheelchair-bound Samuel in Tamil Nadu, India (75 minutes, 4km).

“In our countries, sometimes they don’t want to go to school and they don’t realise the opportunity of going to school,” says Plisson. “Going to school is easy for them, they don’t struggle, so the relationship between school and education is not as strong.”

Few children in Qatar, or indeed much of the world, need look out for elephant stampedes on their way to school, but that’s exactly what happened to Jackson in Kenya. “More things happened not in the video,” claims Plisson. “We had dangers from buffalo, we saw some lions from afar; there were even bandits.”

Having shown his film to children in his native France, the French director says that there was an interesting response. “Most of the kids were telling me that their parents take care of them too much and they’d like to be more free.”

Although only four stories were chosen for On The Way To School, Plisson says there are about 50 more to draw from for a future project. “From Botswana, Australia, Morocco, all over. With these, we’re going to make a series for TV.”