International Film Brings Wisconsin’s Youth Together

Over 240 middle and high school students arrived at the Barrymore Theatre in Madison on Friday, April 5 for World Cinema Day, hosted by the Wisconsin International Resource Consortium (WIRC) and the Wisconsin Film Festival. World Cinema Day, held annually, brings middle and high school students and teachers to Madison for a free screening of a high-quality, international film.

This year’s feature was Totem (2022) a Dutch magical-realist film, which tells the story of eleven-year-old Ama, an avid swimmer and daughter of Senegalese migrants, growing up in Rotterdam. Ama faces a pivotal moment when her family is torn apart by immigration officials. Alongside her towering porcupine totem companion, she embarks on a journey to reunite with her father and unravel the secrets of her heritage. The International Division graciously provided complimentary refreshments for all attendees to enjoy during the screening.

The film received an enthusiastic standing ovation from students and was followed by a panel discussion with scholars from multiple disciplines. The panel included Prof. Jolanda Vanderwal Taylor, current Chair of GNS+; Yaya Diatta, a School of Education Graduate Research Scholars fellow; Michael Oshindoro, Ph.D. candidate in African Cultural Studies with a doctoral minor in Visual Cultures, and was moderated by Ceci Moffett, a Ph.D. candidate in Media and Cultural studies.

The interactive discussion panel provided the attendees with invaluable insights. Prof. Vanderwal Taylor explored Rotterdam’s rich historical and cultural significance. Yaya Diatta illuminated the salience of totems in Senegalese culture. Michael Oshindoro discussed the immigrant experience, poignantly noting that, “all immigrants come with the gift of their potential,” which underscores the message of Totem. The panel moderator, Ceci Moffett, stressed the film’s uplifting tone. Despite covering such a heavy topic, Totem delivers a hopeful message of resilience.

Of the many reviews we got from attendees, one teacher shared, “The movie was excellent and the panel was a perfect accompaniment. They really helped us understand the film better from different perspectives.”

World Cinema Day is made possible through Title VI National Resource Center Grants from the U.S. Department of Education, and exemplifies WIRC’s mission to provide internationally themed outreach programming, resources, and support to K-14 teachers and students.