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Silence (1998)

This is the true story of Tana, whose mother is taken to Auschwitz. Tana herself is taken to another concentration camp with her grandmother, who manages to keep her safely hidden. After the war, five-year-old Tana and her grandmother move to Sweden to live with relatives. Tana’s told never to speak of her experiences or ask about her mother. She spends her youth trying to blend in, but decides to leave Sweden at the age of twenty. It’s then she receives a bundle of letters written by her mother, inspiring Tana to tell her own story.

Classroom Activities

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Questions

  • Whose story is this?

  • Do you think the mix of live action and animation is appropriate for this story?

  • Why has the filmmaker chosen to use animation?

  • Does this film remind you of any other films, books or stories?

  • Do you think this story is fact, fiction or a mixture of both? Why?

Watching

  • Cover the screen and listen to the soundtrack (before showing the film for the first time). Listen, stopping before: ‘I was born in Germany.’ What does the dramatic music of the opening and the pronouncement, ‘This is my story,’ make the audience think the film might be about? Are there any clues as to when it might be set? How does the sound so far reflect the title of Silence?

  • Play the first minute of the film and discuss what the pupils think the film might be about. Where and when is it set? Is it immediately obvious that this is a non-fiction film?

  • Look for moments in the film that show the passage of time. Discuss how the filmmaker shows this (through images, composition and transitions). Identify the specific editing technique being used.

  • Consider the use of music in the film. Discuss what it adds to the story (consider, for instance, the use of Grieg’s Piano Concerto at the start) and if it is appropriate. Look for instances of particular musical instruments being used (this could lead to a discussion about the ‘emotion’ of certain instruments).

  • Use analysis techniques (for instance a Tell Me grid) to look for patterns in the film (for instance the shape and image of archways and suitcases). Do they give any clues to the filmmaker’s point of view/opinion on the subject?

  • Discuss which the pupils think came first: the pictures or the voiceover? Encourage reasons for their responses.

  • View the film focusing on the use of black & white and colour. When and why is each used?

  • Using freeze frame or printed stills from the film, discuss how the filmmaker uses composition and design to direct the viewer’s attention to certain details.

Analysing

  • Get children to try to re-tell Tana’s story back after watching the film. Encourage discussion about what remembered elements are events in the story and which are character experiences (listen out for emotion words that relate to character).

  • Screen the sequence where the child falls into blackness and the sequence of the ants being brushed away, then discuss what they might mean. Use the pause button to freeze the image and interpret what can be seen (for instance where the mother and baby blur into animation and the baby falls into darkness, and when the ants are on a white screen before being brushed away). What can you see in this shot? What do you think this means? What does it tell us about what is happening to the character? Suggest why the ‘white’ child falls into black and the ‘black’ ants are seen on a white surface – are we seeing things from two different points of view? Use this to lead into a discussion of how every element of a visual text carries meaning – sometimes symbolic as well as literal; and how visual images can be read just as other texts are.

  • Create a timeline from the film, detailing each event from Tana’s life in chronological order (discuss how this order is different from the way the story is presented in the film). Use this to lead into a discussion of linear and non-linear narrative (perhaps finding examples from other films or books).

  • Read extracts from letters/diaries of Holocaust survivors. How do these compare with the way Tana feels?

  • Show extracts from Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993) and ask the children to compare the effect of the representation of the concentration camps in animation with the reality depicted in the film. (NB Choose the sequences carefully, the aim is not to distress the students but give them a point of comparison.)

  • Use the internet to research the experiences of childhood victims of the Holocaust and present these using PowerPoint.

  • Underpin the more personalised facts and stories from the PowerPoint presentation with slides that give a historically accurate view of the Holocaust and the causes/effects of it.

Creative

  • Tana has no voice until she is an adult. Write Tana’s journal in three stages: as a child in hiding with her grandmother; then as the child who goes to live with her aunt and uncle and becomes Swedish but is not allowed to talk about her experiences; and finally as the adult who reads her mother’s letters and visits Auswitchz.

  • After her radio interview the local paper runs an article on Tana’s story. They include some historical detail in order to contextualise their article. Imagine you are the journalist and write the article based on your research.

  • Use Movie Maker or iMovie to insert an alternative audio – for example, the mother s voice – in order to consider interpretation of sound and meaning.

  • Script an alternative voiceover or a parallel voiceover from the point of view of Tana’s mother.

  • Create an alternative soundtrack with very different music.

  • Use Publisher, or other DTP programme, to create a newspaper article about Tana.

  • Discuss as a group what the use of animation brings to the film. Is it effective as a means of expressing the story?

  • Tana is being interviewed on local radio. Script the interview in pairs, in role as the interviewer, and as Tana. Think carefully about the questions the interviewer may ask. What is the purpose of the interview? Who are the audience?

  • Draft a World Charter to prevent atrocities like this happening again.

Clip Details

Record Id 007-002-000-069-C
Resource Rights Holder Orly Yadin, Footage Farm
Project Ref RLS-01
References http://www.yadinproductions.com
Year of Production 1998
Genre Autobiography
Curriculum Areas Expressive Arts, Health and Wellbeing, Literacy and English, Social studies, Religious and moral education, Modern Languages
Who Orly Yadin (Director, Producer), Ron MacRae (Animator), Ruth Lingford (Animator), Sylvie Bringas (Director, Producer)
Country of Origin UK
Medium / Content Mixed Media, Non-Fiction, Colour, Sound
Themes Identity, Persecution, Fear, War, Secrets, History, Family
Clip Length 11:00