Il était 6 Fois, or as it is called in English, Once Upon 6 Times, is a French Documentary created by Liane Simard. The documentary is short, lasting for only 52 minutes. Don’t let the fact that this is a documentary that you have to read subtitles for an hour deter you from this film. Shot and edited in a cinema vérité style, this film is honestly a work of art. The subject documentary itself is based on the education of children, but it has lessons for viewers of all ages.
Director Liane Simard shot this documentary over the course of nearly a decade. In an effort to provide her beloved son with the best education possible, she and her husband elect to send him to an alternative school. This education focuses on making the children good people, teaching and encouraging positive traits. The curriculum is all about values, autonomy, and collaboration. Simard likes the values of this school, but worries if it will hurt her son when he joins the rest of his generation in middle school and high school. Her documentary follows her son’s experience, in addition to the experiences of his classmates. We watch the children grow up from first to sixth grade, observing as their values change and they begin to blossom into successful young adults.
This study proves that alternative schools are a viable option for educating children. When the children are in first grade, Simard asks the children to help her come up with questions that she should use in her documentary. I was shocked by the answers, as most of the first graders spoke more morally and insightfully than some adults I know. The documentary shows the children again in third grade, participating in a philosophy circle. They asked each other questions that I was not asked until college in my honors classes. In 6th grade, the children put on a play before they graduate to a new school. One girl falls on stage in front of all the parents and other kids. In any other school, that girl would be in tears. At this school, she laughs. Simard’s only explanation was that when children are raised in and environment where they are supported and appreciated, they do not feel the pressure to be perfect that the social situation in other schools would insist upon.
The film resonated with me on multiple levels. As a college student, I’ve questioned if the school system is as good as it can be in America. My friends and I have all felt that there is too much pressure, too much standardized testing, and too much testing in general. It’s more about grades for us than actual learning, and we think it should be the other way around. Rather than teaching us how to be good people or even how to do our taxes, we’ve stressed out over quadratic equations and how to find the area of a triangle inside of a square. This film proves that there are other systems of education in this world that are equally, if not more, successful than our current system. I like that it focuses on building good personalities. With all the violence and hate in this world, we need more of that.
The other part of this film that really resonated with me was the bond between mother and son. Simard struggles with letting her son grow up, and ultimately letting him go. As a student and a young adult who has just recently “left the nest” to embark on my own life, it was interesting for me to see a mother’s perspective.
Ultimately, this film provides a lot of food for thought. Watch it. Talk about it. Spread the word. Films like this, that make one question the system, have a lot of power to make a change for the better.
To find out more information about this film, check out these websites: