Films for December: International Human Rights Day & Christmas

International Human Rights Day (December 10)

This year, with COVID-19 exposing how vulnerable marginalized populations are, it is more important than ever to tackle entrenched inequalities, exclusion, and discrimination. Use any of these powerful films to facilitate a conversation in your classroom.

ANTIGONE (109 min)

2019. Writer & Director: Sophie Deraspe.

In her last year of high school, straight-A student Antigone (Ricci) finds her life suddenly overturned when one of her brothers is murdered by a police officer, while the other is arrested. Having lived in Montreal since arriving as a refugee with her family over a decade ago, Antigone faces a terrible choice. She wants desperately to help her brother in prison, but doing so will not only put her promising future in jeopardy, but also her ability to stay in Canada. As her story becomes a media sensation, Antigone becomes a symbol for a movement of justice, as she makes a decision that will change her life forever. Despite being based on a tragedy over 2,000 years old, Antigone is an urgent and extremely timely story. It was the official Canadian submission for International Feature Film at the Oscars in 2019.


2016. Director: Tasha Hubbard (Cree). Writer: Betty Ann Adam (Dene).

Four siblings, taken from their Dene mother’s care as infants and raised separately across North America, meet for the first time in this deeply moving documentary. Betty Ann, Esther, Rosalie and Ben were four of the estimated 20,000 Indigenous children who were taken from their homes between 1955 and 1985 and placed in the child welfare system as part of the Sixties Scoop, a policy that was part of the same trend of forced assimilation as residential schools. Over several decades, Betty Ann has worked tirelessly to track down her siblings, all of whom have had very different life journeys. Now, they come together for the first time, challenged by the sadness and comforted by the joys of learning their full history.


2017. Director: Nora Twomey. Writers: Anita Doron, Deborah Ellis.

Parvana (Saara Chaudry) is an 11-year-old girl growing up under Taliban rule in Afghanistan in 2001. When her father is wrongfully arrested, Parvana cuts off her hair and dresses like a boy in order to be able to get a job and help to support her family. Working alongside her friend Shauzia, Parvana discovers a new world of freedom and danger. With courage and imagination, Parvana draws strength from the fantastical stories she invents, as she embarks on a quest to find her father and reunite her family. Based on children’s novel by Deborah Ellis, The Breadwinner is an inspiring and beautifully animated tale about the power of stories to sustain hope and carry us through dark times. The Breadwinner has been nominated for 38 international awards, including six Canadian Screen Awards and an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

BREAKAWAY (101 min)

2011. Director: Robert Lieberman. Writers: Noel S. Baker, Jeffrey Alan Schechter, Matt Simmons, Vinay Virmani

Rajveer Singh (Virmani) is struggling to balance the wishes of his traditional Sikh family and his own true passion for hockey. Raj and his friends play only for fun, held back by the prejudice and mockery of other teams as their turban-clad crew steps onto the ice. Enter Coach Dan Winters (Lowe), and soon the Speedy Singhs are competing in a real tournament, while Raj is falling in love with the coach’s beautiful sister, Melissa (Belle). A cross-cultural story of self-discovery, Breakaway is a heartwarming, action-filled comedy, bringing a dash of Bollywood to Canada’s favourite sport. With a zany supporting cast including comedian Russell Peters, Breakaway will have you cheering for its unlikely heroes.


2018. Writer & Director: Barry Avrich.

The fascinating story of Ben Ferencz, a 98-year-old lawyer and last surviving prosecutor of Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg trials after World War Two. Ferencz grew up in New York, where he became a lawyer before enlisting in the Army. After seeing Nazi concentration camps first hand after liberation, then 27-year-old Ferencz became the lead prosecutor in what has been called the biggest murder trial in history. He went on to advocate for restitution for Jewish victims of the Holocaust and for the establishment of the International Criminal Court. His inspiring fight for justice continues today.
Directed with sensitivity and empathy, Prosecuting Evil sheds light on atrocities that should never be forgotten, and asks tough questions about the world we live in today.


2004. Director: Ali Kazimi.

In 1914, the SS Komagata Maru set out on a voyage to transport Indian immigrants to Canada. On May 23 of that year, the ship arrived in Vancouver with 376 Sikh, Muslim and Hindu passengers on board. Many of the men were veterans of the British Indian Army and believed that it was their right as British subjects to settle anywhere in the Empire they had fought to defend and expand. They were wrong – they were stopped from coming into Canada by the Continuous Journey Regulation of 1908, which excluded Indians and South Asians from being able to enter the country. This inventive docudrama explores the exclusionary politics, which kept the Indian passengers of the Komagata Maru sequestered at sea for over two months in this infamous standoff. A story of immigration and injustice, this beautifully crafted film shows historical footage in a way never seen before.

from C to C

2011. Director: Jordan Paterson. Writers: Jordan Paterson, Paul Yeung, Denise Fong. 

Beautifully filmed in Canada and China’s Guangdong province, this fascinating documentary contrasts the historical injustices faced by Chinese migrants over the last century with the experiences of contemporary Chinese Canadian youth. Focusing on past discriminatory immigration policies, the film reflects on the meaning of prejudice and exclusion to those who experienced it and those who did not. By calling attention to the diverse nature of contemporary Chinese Canadian identities, the film paints an inclusive and diverse picture of Canada as a nation. From C to C was nominated for three Canadian Screen Awards, including Best Direction in a Documentary Program or Series. The film is also part of a community-based educational initiative led by Simon Fraser University, aimed at raising awareness of these social justice issues among youth and the community at large.

Invisible City

2009. Director: Hubert Davis.

A powerful documentary set in the public housing project of Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood, Invisible City follows two childhood friends, Kendell and Mikey, who face many challenges while growing up in single-parent homes in the inner city. Oscar-nominated director Davis follows the two young men over three years, setting this intimate portrait against the backdrop of a community in transition: The Regent Park housing projects are about to be torn down, and it is unclear to its residents whether the redevelopment will result in a brighter future for them. Social pressures tempt the young men to make poor choices, while their families root for them to succeed. Davis doesn’t provide easy answers to the problems at hand. Instead, he shows the real uncertainty and unpredictability in the young men’s lives.


2019. Director & Writer: Tasha Hubbard (Cree).

On August 9, 2016, a 22-year-old Cree man named Colten Boushie was killed by a gunshot to the back of his head after entering a rural farm property in Saskatchewan with his friends. When an all-white jury acquitted the white farmer of all charges, the case received international attention and sent Colten’s family and community on a quest to fix the Canadian justice system. Nîpawistamâsowin was the opening night film at Hot Docs 2019, where it won the prize for Best Canadian Documentary.


2017. Director & Writer: Alanis Obomsawin (Abenaki).

Master documentarian Alanis Obomsawin’s 50th film reveals how a Cree community in Manitoba has been enriched through the power of education. The students at a local school for the Norway House Cree Nation discuss their aspirations for the future and reflect on how they are feeling more hopeful than previous generations. By discussing the effects of intergenerational trauma, substance abuse and many other issues facing Indigenous communities, the students are able to undergo a process of collective healing that shows that the strength of the community comes from the people within it.

(Pt 1: 45 min, Pt 2: 44 min)

2017. Director: Michelle Latimer. Watch our livestream with the series host! More information

In this powerful new series from VICELAND, Anishinaabe host Sarain Carson-Fox travels to Indigenous communities across the Americas and examines Indigenous life in the modern age, giving viewers a rare glimpse into the frontline of Indigenous-led resistance. In these two episodes, the people of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation of South Dakota fight to stop the Dakota Access pipeline from being built on their ancestral homeland. This absorbing account of the protest and occupation, which eventually grew to 10,000 people, is filled with history lessons and discussions of reservation life. These stunning and poignant episodes premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and shed light on an urgent and timely issue.

THE SKIN WE’RE IN (44 min)

2017. Director: Charles Officer. Watch our livestream with the director! More information

An urgent exploration of race relations, this documentary from acclaimed director Charles Officer follows award-winning journalist and activist Desmond Cole as he pulls back the curtain on racism in Canada, inviting all Canadians to understand the experience of being in his skin. Cole won a National Magazine Award for his impactful and incisive Toronto Life cover story about carding and racial profiling. Now, in Officer’s starkly honest doc, he journeys across North America, exploring what it’s really like to be Black in the 21st century.

STATUS QUO? (87 min)

2012. Director & Writer: Karen Cho.

Feminism has shaped the society we live in. But just how far has it brought us, and how relevant is it today? This feature documentary zeroes in on key concerns such as violence against women, access to abortion, and universal childcare, asking how much progress we have truly made on these issues. Rich with archival material and powerful contemporary stories, Status Quo? uncovers answers that are provocative and at times shocking. A striking, in-depth documentary that pays homage to Canada’s feminist forerunners and raises important questions about where and how we should move on from here.


2011. Director: Hart Snider.

When nine-year-old Hart attends Jewish summer camp for the first time, his group must compete in an epic basketball game against the students of a notorious local Holocaust denier. What awaits Hart on the basketball court?


2015. Director: Trevor Anderson.

Years after dressing up as a deputy sheriff for a western-style photo with his father, Anderson explores issues of gender identity when he tries to recreate the photo as it always should have been.


1952. Director: Norman McLaren.

This satirical anti-war parable uses live actors as stop-motion subjects to tell the tale of a destructive feud over a flower. A groundbreaking – and Oscar-winning – short.


For those students who celebrate Christmas, we have put together a list of Canadian Christmas classics that commemorate the holiday season to screen at the end of the year with your students:

The Man Who Invented Christmas (1)

2017. Director: Bharat Nalluri. Writers: Susan Coyne, Les Standiford.

After a string of flops, Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey) finds inspiration from his own life to write his most famous work, A Christmas Carol. With a tight deadline and doubt over how successful a Christmas book can be, Dickens must work around the clock, and ends up living out the novel’s most famous scenes in his own study, in order to find the story that would come to be beloved by millions. Also featuring screen legend Christopher Plummer as Ebenezer Scrooge, The Man Who Invented Christmas is a fascinating look behind the scenes of the creation of a classic and beloved novel, and a charming portrait of one of the most famous authors of all time.

christmas story

1983. Director: Bob Clark.

In this Christmas classic, all Ralphie wants for Christmas is the brand new Red Rider B.B. Gun, and he’ll stop at nothing to convince his quirky parents to get it for him.

THE SWEATER (10 min)

1980. Director: Sheldon Cohen.

Iconic author Roch Carrier narrates a mortifying boyhood experience in this animated adaptation of his beloved book The Hockey Sweater.


1963. Director: Jeff Hale. 

On his annual Christmas journey, Santa Claus is stopped in the wild west by robbers looking to keep the toys for themselves.