“Once Upon 6 Times” by Liane Simard deals with alternative education in Quebec as she follows her son, Arnuad, through the first six years of his education at L’Étoile Filante. Due to the requirement that all parents must volunteer a minimum of 20 hours at the school, Simard decided to pick up a camera and film the classroom antics of her son and his classmates. What began as volunteer work, became a touching documentary about Simard’s reflections on her own relationship with education and the difficulty of watching her son grow up.
The most interesting part of this film was seeing an alternative education system and how the school valued seeing students as individuals, not just their grades. Unlike in the United States where an alternative school is often viewed as a school for delinquents, in Quebec an alternative school can be defined as a school that has established its own educational vision while still incorporating all the educational objectives set out by the government.
At L’Étoile Filante, the foundation of a student’s education is not just based on academics, but rather, teaching students the value of autonomy, collaboration, creativity and personal responsibility. As someone who went through the American public school system, it was incredibly odd to see the amount of time and emphasis that was put on teaching these values as opposed to strict academics.
Out of all of these values, the film focused primarily on autonomy and the importance that these children recognize and practice freedom. While at times I didn’t feel that these young kids truly understood what autonomy meant, there were moments when the benefit of teaching these values truly shined. One of my favorite moments of the film was when the whole class got into an open and casual discussion about the existence of God, which was incredibly shocking to me because a class discussion about such a heavy topic could result in a teacher being fired or a student being punished in the United States.
The biggest fault was that I wish the documentary was stronger as a whole and more captivating. At times, it felt as though I was a stranger watching someone’s private home movie of their kid, instead of a full fledged documentary with a loose plot. With a home movie, people that are close to the filmmaker are able to fill in the gaps between footage with their own memories that add context to why the footage is precious to them. To a stranger, the lack of that context makes the movie just seem like a bunch of disconnected moments that don’t quite fit together or have much meaning behind them. Due to the disconnection, I especially felt that the film didn’t do the best job showing the growth of the students, because while they did get taller, there weren’t many key scenes that really showed me as a viewer how they have changed and how they have truly embraced their own autonomy.
As someone who doesn’t have children and therefore is less invested in the different types of education out there, I thought this film was unremarkable and that I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as I would’ve like to. However, this film definitely is something really interesting for anyone who is into education or the different types of education options out there for their child outside of traditional public school.
Check out the trailer below!