________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 19 . . . . May 27, 2005


A Border Story. (My Brand New Life).

Jean-Louis Côté (Director). Sally Bochner, Ina Fichman Martin & Pierre Lapointe (Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2003.
23 min., 33 sec., VHS, $99.95.
Order Number: C9104 029.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Andrea Szilagyi.

**** /4


Antoine lives in Ottawa, while Olivia is from Washington, DC. As these two young people visit each other, they discover how little Canadians know about Americans and vice versa. By celebrating the national holiday in each country’s capital, Antoine and Olivia get better acquainted with the traditions and history of each other’s country. (From cover notes.)


A Border Story is part of a National Film Board 13-part series called “My Brand New Life” that “challenges young viewers to question their preconceptions and prejudices” while it “encourages them to expand their cultural horizons.”

     Antoine’s and Olivia’s visits are similarly structured, starting off with a warm greeting, followed by a general knowledge quiz about each other’s country and a gift exchange (including national anthem lyrics to be sung later). Their activities involve taking in holiday events such as parades and fireworks and trying “exotic” foods. In Canada, they visit the Canadian Museum of Civilization and in Washington, the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture.

     The film is composed of interviews, video diary segments, and “candid shots” (unobtrusively following the participants). Interview questions for the general public are geared toward the perceived differences between Canada and the United States while questions posed to the participants often call for their reflections and observations.

     A Border Story is brief, fresh, entertaining, and educational. Focusing on the participants, the film keeps adult presence to a minimum as they appear only briefly, in a non-directive way. Kid-driven, the film is more likely to appeal to young people when adults are just part of the landscape.

     Visually, this film is quick-paced, modern, and interesting, utilizing many different techniques, such as pop-ups that provide pertinent information (ex. “Beaver tails = pastry”), experimenting with camera angles and framing, etc. The music is contemporary, beginning with a catchy tune that resembles a sitcom’s opening. Sound effects——whistles, bonks, boings, and applause——often enhance the content, like in the quiz segment, for example.

     Along the action-packed way (the whole film spans only five days), Antoine and Olivia become friends. This narrative component to the film is subtle but effective. It’s a story about the adventures of traveling and broadening one’s knowledge of another place as much as it is a story about an otherwise unlikely meeting and friendship. Rapport is developed in a light and good-natured way and culminates at the end when Antoine gives Olivia a thoughtful parting gift. Most importantly, the film models empathy in a genuine way.

     A Border Story would fit nicely into any social studies, history, geography, or English unit, but it should also be made available to children at public libraries, as it creates awareness about a variety of fundamental issues in a believable way.

Highly Recommended.

Andrea Szilagyi is a graduate student studying children’s literature at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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