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Cinema Review: The Colours of the Alphabet ****

Amy Taylor reviews a 'poignant, touching and very amusing' film.

What if children were free to learn in the language that they speak? How do you teach children in a country with 72 local languages and one official language, which is, of course, English? These are the questions posed in Alastair Cole’s thoughtful and caring new documentary, The Colours of the Alphabet, which follows a group of first-time pupils in rural Zambia, where the children speak at least two languages and the teacher can only teach them in one.

Filmed over the course of the school year, the documentary concentrates on Annie, a teacher working far away from her urban home in a very rural village, and three of her pupils: Eliza, Steward and M’Barack. Poignant, touching and very amusing, The Colours of the Rainbow could be seen as a bittersweet piece about the lack of opportunities to speak and learn in a child’s chosen language. However, it could just as easily be seen as a damning comment of the lasting effects of colonialism, as post-independence Zambia attempts to carve its own path after it gained its independence from the UK in 1964.

However, Cole never points the finger at any one problem, choosing instead to capture the everyday lives of each child, from the fun of playtime to the bewilderment and sometimes paralysing incomprehension that comes from being taught in a language different to the only one that you’ve ever known.

While Cole never really gets to the real crux of the issue of what happens when the education system favours just one language, The Colours of the Alphabet is still a beautifully shot and heart warming piece of film from start to finish. Featuring multi-coloured subtitles that reflect the many dialects and languages in contemporary Zambia, this bright documentary about communication and education is a real eye opener.

Reviewed as part of this year’s Glasgow Film Festival.

Tags: events cinema

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