Miss Kiet's Children (De kinderen van juf Kiet)

Much like a day at elementary school, this verite wonder is exhausting, heartening, raucous, tender, occasionally dull, sometimes tearful and ultimately a vital public good. Veteran wife-and-husband documentarian team Petra Lataster-Czisch and Peter Lataster plop us into the classroom of the endlessly patient Kiet Engels, a Holland teacher whose students are mostly refugee children from the Middle East. Most find it easiest to speak Arabic, but Engels instructs them in Dutch, in math, and in the navigation of Holland's schools and society.

Good teaching, of course, is close-up and personal, and much of the film finds Engels in extraordinary one-on-one interactions with her students. We see her explaining to Haya, a girl whose shyness manifests in the pushing and grabbing of a younger and smaller friend, the importance of watching the faces of other kids during play. Just because tiny Leanne doesn't say "stop" doesn't mean she likes being dragged around.

The filmmakers train the cameras on the kids and their teacher, offering no other context than what we observe in the classroom and on the playground. That's enough. The kids work at their multiplication tables, showing the woman they call "Miss" their results, hoping for a sticker. Engels is quick to praise, to laugh along with the kids, to encourage them to connect with herself and each other -- and with native Dutch children in occasional playtime meetups. A scene of Engels urging Haya to play with a blonde stranger at recess stirred for me every meeting-new-people anxiety I've ever suffered. But she doesn't force it, instead encouraging the children to discover their own capacities.

Credits

Directors:

  • Peter Lataster
  • Petra Lataster-Czisch

Writer:

  • Petra Lataster-Czisch

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