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


A Feast for One’s Eyes. (My Brand New Life).

Ina Fichman (Director). Sally Bochner, Ina Fichman Martin & Pierre Lapointe (Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2004.
23 min., 33 sec., VHS, $99.95.
Order Number: C9104 032.

Subject Headings:

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Lori Walker.

***1/2 / 4


Want a chance to see the world through another's eyes? Want to see if the grass is greener across the country... or even if there's any grass over there at all?

My Brand New Life takes kids, just like you, from very different backgrounds and parts of Canada, and immerses them in a "new life." This show opens your eyes to someone else's world in the best way possible: by experiencing it!

India East meets India West when Abdul Rahim, a Muslim from Surrey BC, and Peter, a Native Canadian from Squamish Nation Reserve, learn to cook each other’s dishes. They‘re judged by discerning family juries used to high standards for their particular cuisines. Peter celebrates the holiday Eid at a big Muslim party while Abdul Rahim catches and smokes his own salmon. (From website.)

This episode of the larger “reality” series explores what happens when a child gets a chance to experience another child’s culture. A Feast For One’s Eyes provides a particularly enlightening lesson for kids for whom First Nations and Muslim cultures are not only unfamiliar but may even involve negative stereotypes. The real-life boys enter each other’s worlds voicing their fears of being judged negatively by strangers and the unknown, but instead they find welcoming families and joyful social experiences and rituals. Their experiences solidly reinforce the truth that, despite our minor differences, we ultimately share much in common.

     Peter and Abdul Rahim are twelve-year-olds who begin their adventure in Abdul Rahim’s Surrey, BC home. Peter is introduced to a wide assortment of Muslim foods that will be enjoyed by family and friends to celebrate Eid and the end of a period of fasting. Abdul Rahim’s mother, warm, gregarious, and wearing a hijab, bucks western stereotypes as she playfully suggests Peter try fasting for a month along with them. She then explains how the family practices its fast from sunrise to sunset, and its purpose of practicing patience, love and the opportunity to think of others who are less fortunate. Peter is introduced to family and friends, eats until he is stuffed, gets his hand hennaed and enjoys the conclusion of the Eid celebration with fireworks. He selects two of his favorite dishes, and a challenge is issued. Peter is required to reproduce the dishes in the kitchen and will be judged by a jury of peers for his culinary skills.

     In a delightful parody of a Food Network cooking show, the boys cook Pakoras and Kabobs together (with the assistance of Mom on stove duty). They take pride in each cooking task, from potato peeling to getting the right balance of flavours in each dish. The boys then take their dishes to the BC Muslim School where Peter observes the division of boys and girls, the headwear and tunics, and the wide range of ethnicities of the children that attend. Peter’s Muslim creations are given high marks, and his presence is celebrated by kids who may dress differently but clearly have the same sense of fun as the kids back home.

     Next it’s Abdul Rahim’s turn to visit Peter’s home. Peter’s family is also warm and welcoming, and Abdul Rahim is introduced to Peter’s family, which he observes includes the extended cousins, aunts and uncles (“Everybody is just a big family”). The challenge that awaits Abdul Rahim is to catch a fish with a gaff hook, then clean and smoke it for the family’s reviews. Abdul Rahim hooks a 25 pound chum, unflinchingly guts and fillets the fish, and, under Peter’s father’s direction, places the fish in a smoke house for smoking over night. Peter’s Mom takes the boys into the forest to collect cedar for a medicine bag, and she explains the sacred and sustaining role of the cedar tree in their community. Abdul Rahim sews his own medicine bag and proudly wears it next to his skin to protect himself from evil spirits and keep his energy positive. As a surprise, Abdul Rahim’s family arrives that evening to enjoy the smoked salmon with Peter’s family, and the salmon is met with rave reviews. Peter tells the viewer he is proud to teach Abdul Rahim about his culture, and Abdul Rahim responds that it was a great experience that will be good to reflect on in the future.

     The production values of this video series are very high with bright appealing graphics, fast paced editing, and a cool musical score that will keep the most sophisticated young viewer satisfied. To break up the home visit segments, video diaries are included with the boys each articulating their thoughts and feelings about the whole experience. There are also three “streeter” segments where the kids on the street (or in the school gym in this case) are asked about their own cooking experience, their favourite foods, and the grossest things they’ve ever eaten. Here the theme that kids are kids, regardless of their headwear or skin colour is reinforced. Pizza is the universal kid food, but what is truly grosser, cow eyeballs or mom’s homemade relish gone bubbly?

     This video would be a well enjoyed component to any classroom discussion around First Nation’s or Muslim culture, empathy building, cooking, making new friends, feeling out of place, or even just expressing one’s feelings, something Peter and Abdul Rahim do with amazing sincerity.

Highly Recommended.

Lori Walker is completing a Masters in 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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