“The Red Balloon” is a short film, produced in France. In 1956 it won the Oscar for Best Short Film. It is a movie about a boy who has a magic balloon. For those who have not yet experienced “The Red Balloon,” it is available on youtube. It is lyrical and poetic.
In the days before the internet, inexpensive 16mm prints of “The Red Balloon” were made available to public schools, which is the way many of my generation first saw it. Seeing this movie is a right of passage, one which I bring to hundreds of public schools students in Manhattan, where I do substitute teaching (that is, on the days when I am not teaching sociology classes at CUNY Queens College and at CUNY York College).
No longer shackled by a bulky 16mm print, I carry “The Red Balloon” on a thumb drive and also on a DVD. I show it every chance I get. I have even developed a lesson plan around the film which consists of asking the class questions about what is happening in the movie as we watch it. One of the many great things about “The Red Balloon” is that it does not spoon feed everything to its audience. The children are able to give their ideas and opinions as to who the various characters in the film are and how they relate to each other.
I explain to the classes that this is not a film about dialogue. I point out that what little dialogue there is in the film is in French. I tell classes that ‘The Red Balloon” is something we experience with our eyes and that, if we just watch the film, we will know exactly what is going on.
I have shown “The Red Balloon” to classes as young as Pre-K and as old as sixth grade – a very wide range. They all get it. They laugh at the right spots. They get excited at the right points. They are enraptured by it. Even though I show “The Red Balloon” several times a week, I spend most of the film’s running time looking at the students, to see their reactions. As someone who uses film extensively in all of my college classes, it is a real thrill for me to watch the expressions on these kids faces. When the film ends, I point out to the classes that they have just seen a movie that is nearly 60-years-old, that takes place in another country and in another culture where they speak a different language and yet, I tell them, “Look how you were able to follow and enjoy this film.”
I especially enjoy showing “The Red Balloon” to the autistic students with whom I work. These are kids who have trouble focusing. Some of them cannot even speak. So, it is especially gratifying to see them become involved with this film. I feel as if I have really reached them. “The Red Balloon” is a film which reaches across borders, cultures, time, space and all levels of learning.
When I walk down the halls of some of the schools in which I substitute teach, kids some times call out to me “Red Balloon.” What more could a teacher want?