The Child Migrant: Evaluating the Journey to the United States through Film and Nonfiction Text

byBrandon Barr


Immigration is a controversial issue in the United States today; an article in The Atlantic characterized immigration as “the most prominent wedge issue in America.”1 This wasn’t always the case; until around 2006 bipartisan consensus existed between Democrat and Republican voters in their views of immigrants. In 2006, around 47% of both Democrats and Republicans felt that immigrants strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents. This contrasts with 84% of Democrats and 42% of Republicans who feel the same way towards immigrants today. What happened? In 2006, President George W. Bush pressed for comprehensive immigration reform that ultimately failed in Congress; the failure resulted in conservative backlash that led to a split between the parties that grew during the Obama presidency and fragmented further during the Trump presidency. While it is encouraging to note the number of Republicans that still believe that immigrants strengthen the country, a clear gulf in support of immigrants exists between the parties. Immigration is now a partisan issue that engenders strong feelings and opinions.

These strong feelings and opinions intersect with the lives of my students. Mark Twain Elementary School is a Chicago Public School on the Southwest side of Chicago. The student population consists of 944 students, of which 75% are considered low income. The population is 88% Latino and 9% white with a small population of Polish speaking students. Students that receive special education services account for twelve percent of the student population; and students that receive bilingual services account for another 22% of the student population.2 Most students have either come from another country as an immigrant themselves or have a family member or neighbor that has come to the United States from another country. While they are generally aware of immigration as a hot button issue, this unit seeks to provide them a more nuanced understanding of the challenges associated with immigration and migration between nations.

In our efforts to begin unpacking immigration, the best place to start is focusing on children. This is relevant because my students are more engaged with content when, in readings and resources I select for class, they see children that look like them and are around the same age as them. In the “Children and Education in World Cinema” Seminar, we thought deeply about the agency of children in the films we watched and discussed how it complicated situations. The same idea is true of the three core texts of this unit, two films and one nonfiction text, that all center on the experience of children coming to the United States from Latin America. Film is critical for students to build greater background knowledge about topics and to stimulate them to think deeply to write with nuance and attention to detail. Two different modes of film will be explored as students grapple with the idea of mode and storytelling, fiction, and documentary. In creating a fictional story, can someone recreate the reality associated with a topic in a way that is effective and honest? And, while making a documentary, what are the implications of following individuals with handheld cameras? These are two different modes of film that students will view. I want students to think about the effectiveness of those modes in addressing the theme of immigration, and to recognize that each mode provides something different. I want them to be able to speak to that difference by writing an organized and detailed film review.

Content Objectives

In the “Children and Education in World Cinema” Seminar with Dudley Andrew, we explored stories of education and children in different films and regions. One common thread that bound many of the films was the unpredictable nature of children. In the seminar, Fellows grappled with the idea of what childhood is like from the point of view of the child, usually watching two films at a time from a specific region to discuss similarities and differences. Reacting to their experiences of the children depicted in the film, seminar participants grappled with how it might be possible to view films with the freshness of children’s eyes, what it means to be a global consumer of films and the broader film world, how to use film to explore the “interior landscape” of different countries (as well as the America), and revisiting educational theory related to childhood.3 The discussion of films in seminar focusing on these key concerns was productive and modeled the possibilities for rich discourse around film within our own classrooms.

In thinking about my own teaching circumstances, one area in which the content of the seminar could further my instruction is the unit in which I explore immigration and migration of children from Central America and Mexico to the United States. In this unit, children in both films and in the written text, Enrique’s Journey, demonstrate independence and resourcefulness like that of characters depicted in the films that we watched in the seminar. The worlds of the children in the films and memoir that are part of this unit are shaped in ways that are like the children in films such as Turtles Can Fly and The Runner, two films that explore war zones around Iran from the point of view of child protagonists. Dudley Andrew, the Seminar Leader, was able to propel conversations forward during the seminar because he was able to frame the films with contextual knowledge such as political/regional circumstances and film considerations for each pairing of films that we considered during the seminar. In similar fashion, I propose to provide enough contextual information to make discussions of the films Which Way Home and Under the Same Moon productive, share information about child migration in film to help frame those discussions, and share information about the film review as a genre of writing.

Child Migration in Film and Practical Considerations

In the text There is No Place Like Home: The Migrant Child in World Cinema Stephanie Hemelryk Donald makes a very astute observation about the nature of child migration.

Indeed, one can identify a panoply of heroic and tragic tropes in the cinema that reflects on the dark fairytale of a journeying child migrant. The children journey on a quest for home and family reunion, for liberty and safety, or simply for a space to breathe and grow up unharmed. They are frequently alone or in small groups of vulnerable young people, making strange and transient friendships to assist survival, overcoming obstacles (read ‘national borders’), encountering monsters (usually in the shape of predatory adults) and sometimes sacrificed for a mythical greater good.4

In both Which Way Home and Under the Same Moon, the protagonists of the films grapple with these questions associated with the quests that they undertake migrating either from Central America or from Mexico to the United States. In Enrique’s Journey, the key nonfiction text that I read with students as part of the unit, there is a point in which the author compares these journeys to quests for the Holy Grail. Nazario notes how child migrants are often making the trips north alone, without the aid of adults or smugglers, hungry and hunted by a variety of threats such as corrupt police, bandits, and gang members deported from the United States.5 The perilous journey is depicted visually for us in both Which Way Home and Under the Same Moon. The viewers of these films see how the children are determined to reconnect with someone in the United States and utilize their cunning and resourcefulness to ameliorate the obstacles put in front of them.

In considering both films and the nonfiction text that are used in this unit, I make an important distinction that is then explored throughout the content area section. Namely, Which Way Home is a documentary and employs a certain realism and factual basis to our study of child migration which is dramatized even further by the nonfiction text, Enrique’s Journey. Under the Same Moon, a fictionalized account of a child from Mexico trying to reconnect with his mother in the United States, employs elements that are only possible through filmmaking. Some of these elements in Under the Same Moon are effective rhetorically and elicit an emotional response in the viewer, but after viewing Which Way Home and reading Enrique’s Journey, I hope that students grapple with what they find more important: the facts or the fiction of child migration. Donald contends that “whether documentary or fiction, films are collections of ideas and emotions. They are part of “how we inhabit the world ‘with’ others.”6 By sandwiching these two films together around Enrique’s Journey, it becomes a worthwhile academic endeavor to get students to consider the craft choices of the filmmakers. Students should look at film in new and more thoughtful ways.

Donald makes an observation about migrant children that speaks to the tension that I am hoping to heighten for students as they consider Which Way Home and Under the Same Moon when she observes, “the expectation placed on migrant children to be both endlessly resilient and utterly flexible whilst retaining an aura of innocence and dependence, as well as finding the imaginative wherewithal to conform to the expectations of the places of arrival, is extreme.”7 Donald’s thoughts stem directly from Vicky Lebeau’s thoughts on River’s Edge, a film that explores the depiction of a dead child.8 Part of the effectiveness of Which Way Home comes from its (generally) unsentimental approach in treating children in the film. The filmmakers have little interest in maintaining an aura of innocence and dependence among the children depicted in the film; the children they highlight seem quite isolated with the brief exception of Olga and Freddy who are young like Carlos in Under the Same Moon. While all the individuals hope to connect or reconnect with someone in the United States, the viewer notes how independent the subjects have become by virtue of the journey they are undertaking.

Simply put, the trip hardens the kids and makes them resilient and flexible, but in doing so robs them of their innocence. In Under the Same Moon, Carlos is slightly younger, cuter, and pluckier when compared with those depicted in Which Way Home. While encountering obstacles, none corrupt or muddy the aura of innocence and idealism that Carlos maintains while in search of his mother. I want my students to question the construction of Carlos as a character. If both documentaries and films are “collections of ideas and emotions,” it is worthwhile for students to look critically into Carlos as a character to think about what ideas are being communicated about migration. Are those ideas presented too cleanly for the viewer whose emotions are manipulated in the construction of the narrative?

It is important to note and understand the challenges of illegal immigration that underpin the reality of Which Way Home and drive the conflict in Under the Same Moon. The bracero program that developed in the United States after WWII saw five million Mexican workers brought to the United States legally with another five million entering illegally via “institutionalized migration patterns” between the United States and Mexico.9 From these, two narratives have emerged/converged that make illegal immigration a major political issue today.

De La Garza articulates the two popular narratives that frame immigration today.

According to the first [American] narrative…it was due to the country’s poor economic performance and underdevelopment, the lack of employment and opportunities, that those most deprived, especially peasants, migrated to the United States in search for better remunerated work, and according to the American hegemonic narrative, in search of the freedom and democracy enjoyed in the United States as well. Immigration thus benefitted the immigrants themselves, who once in the US improved their standard of living. It also benefited the Mexican economy and society, as it supplied income from remittances and provided a ‘safety valve,’ allowing the unemployed to find a job in the US. For the United States however, this posed problems for various sectors of the population.10

Both the documentary and the fiction film intersect with this narrative. Both represent the journey to the United States as ushering in opportunities that would not have existed otherwise for the children. In Under the Same Moon, the remittances drive conflict because extended family see the money coming from the United States as an opportunity rather than genuinely caring for Carlos. In the documentary Which Way Home, the film ends with Kevin being deported back to Honduras. The viewer sees the poverty from which he was trying to flee and understands how he has come to view his trips to the United States as grand opportunities to improve his lot in life.

The Mexican narrative associated with the illegal migration that has occurred is strikingly different but important to consider. De La Garza makes the following observation:

Those remittances so much remarked upon by proponents of the first account came at too high a price, it was contended: villages lost far too many of the most valuable members of their population, mostly young men, entrenching the subservient role of women in society, and remittances had a negative effect in the local economy, increasing inflation and distorting patterns of consumption, promoting demand for foreign goods.11

In Which Way Home, the bulk of the people depicted are teenage boys making the journey to the United States. These are individuals who are just reaching their adult working years and, if successful in entering the United States, they will often work in situations that are low paying and undesirable for native-born citizens. De La Garza argues that America benefits from the work of undocumented immigrants by ruthlessly exploiting them in the name of the “American Dream.”12 This argument is evident in Under the Same Moon. The viewer sees the Carlitos’ mother insecurity as she struggles to maintain two jobs to send remittances to Mexico. She is fired from her job as a domestic and when asking for the pay that she earned, so told by her employer that she could call the police if she liked. Even Carlos, once he has crossed into the United States, ends up picking vegetables and in a restaurant, even though he is clearly a minor. Both narratives are clearly at play in both films.

Documentary Film and Which Way Home

Even at the origins of cinema, some felt a need to document events and actions. In 1874, the French astronomer Pierre Jules Cesar Janssen developed a camera for the purpose of recording Venus passing across the sun. His actions were an early precursor to using moving pictures to document an important event.13 By 1880, Eadweard Muybridge was doing experiments to capture ways the gait and speed of horses by recording them.14 The experiments of these early prophets inspired greater innovation and experimentation for others, catching the attention of important figures such as Thomas Edison and Louis Lumière, who both invented cameras that were suited for motion picture work. Thomas Edison’s camera was much heavier and less portable than the device that Lumière developed, which. as a result, was the ideal camera for catching ‘sur le vif’ or life on the run.15 Lumière’s development of short (minute long) films about French life astonished people. Lumiere filmed people disembarking from a ship and showed them their image the next day. The cinematographe quickly spread beyond France to other regions of the world, exploring far-away locales and ushering in openings of cinemas in many countries of the world.16 The spread of this emerging technology would have profound effects.

This technology ushered in a new world of possibilities, namely developing to become a repository of footage that would mark historical transitions, ‘shut the mouth of the liar,’ add to “the arts, industry, medicine, military affairs, science, and education.”17 By the 1960’s, with the advent of portable cameras and tape recorders, documentary as evidence--the idea of conveying the “feeling of being there”--was the drive of the “direct cinema” approach that sought to use new technology to record reality rather than tamper with it.18 Brian Winston contends that “private intimacy of a sort that would have previously have been thought to be voyeuristic was put on the screen for the first time in documentary film. The documentary, because of this takeover of the domestic, turns into melodrama.”19 It is worth noting in watching both the drama created in the documentary (as well as the fictional film) how voyeuristic an action is in nature. The viewer is offered a window into the lives of individuals facing challenging circumstances; the viewer is positioned in a place of power making judgements. The documentary film of today grows out of the direct cinema tradition; at times serving as a means of providing a “bugle-call purpose” while other times engaging in forms of propaganda.20 Just as we identify the main idea of certain passages we read with students, teachers and students need to reflect and think about the purpose of a documentary; is it acting as a bugle-call? Is the documentary propagandizing an issue? Given that viewers are situated in a powerful position, I would argue that students should be pushed to recognize their obligations in being thoughtful viewers and consumers of information put forward through film.

The first text used in this unit, Which Way Home, is a documentary. For the purposes of this unit, the instructional goal of showing the documentary is to introduce students to some of the challenges and opportunities associated with immigration, particularly from the point of view of the child migrant. Rebecca Cammisa, the filmmaker, articulates that one of her main goals was to raise awareness for the need for more humane immigration policy based on the experiences that children have making the journey from Central America and Mexico to the United States by themselves.21 The film traces the journey of several children migrating from either Mexico or Central America on the tops of freight trains facing dangers such as being raped, robbed, beaten and deported back to the country of origin.22 The documentary took six years to make through the support of a grant from the Sundance Documentary Film program; it earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature in 2010 and won Outstanding Informational Programming-Long Form at the News and Documentary Emmy Award in 2010.23 The documentary’s efforts to capture the complexities associated with the migration of children are compelling and it is not surprising that the documentary received critical praise.

In consideration of teaching documentary as a genre of filmmaking to students, it is important to think broadly about how it can be defined and more specifically about features to consider while viewing or even planning a documentary. In the text What is Non-fiction Cinema: On the Very Idea of Motion Picture Communication, Tevor Ponech provides a couple of broad considerations about documentary as a genre that are worth exploring with students. The first consideration that he makes is that “documentaries are products of purposive actions having a specific type of authorially designated effect as their goal.”24 In considering documentary as a genre of filmmaking, it is important to think about intent, the actions that the filmmaker takes on purpose to achieve that intent, and the effectiveness of those choices. When viewing a documentary, Ponech asks one to ponder: “What can be truthfully said about the non-fiction’s believable content?...In other words, substantiating claims about what is true in the non-fiction- or, for that matter, its fictional counterpart- entails reasoning jointly about the author’s effective communicative intentions and the work’s explicit features.”25 In discussing the conventions of the genre with students, students need to think about intent or purpose, what the filmmaker does in the film in order to achieve his purpose, and finally the efficacy of those efforts. This may be a good exercise to engage students in immediately after the viewing, a quick conversation: what do you think the filmmaker was trying to show, what did she do in the documentary to show it, and do you think she achieved her goal? This should create a general sense of documentary, but it is important to dig even deeper into the craft, choices and opportunities associated with the mode of film.

In thinking about how to characterize documentary; Dudley Andrew suggests using the term “mode” more broadly with each type of documentary being considered being of various genres. He gave a handy example of the Western, sci-fi, and musical being genres within the fictional mode, just as reporting, essay, and historical could be genres of the documentary mode.26 In the text Documentary Filmmakers Handbook, Ned Eckhardt articulates twelve basic elements of a documentary. The first element of documentaries that Eckhardt shares is story structure and segmenting. How will the story start, move through time, and end while communicating some point about a topic; each segment or chapter has a purpose.27 Different segments in Which Way Home trace or touch on different journeys of different children. For example, there is Kevin. The documentary begins with him, touches base with him in the middle, and ends with him being deported back to Honduras at the end of the film after he has been detained in the United States in a deportation center. If you could identify protagonists of the text, he would be considered the main one. In other segments, the viewer encounters Fito (one of Kevin’s friends from his hometown), “El Perro” who hopes to be adopted in the United States while living on the streets and getting addicted to sniffing glue, Juan Carlos who hopes to reconnect with his father in New York, and Olga and Freddy who are the youngest children at age nine. These latter two appeal to the viewer’s sentiments given their youth and some of the traumas that they have been exposed to in making their journey.

The second element that Eckhardt identifies as being important in documentary film is the opening and title. He contends that the opening is important, as documentary is a form of storytelling, and the viewer needs to be hooked.28 The opening of Which Way Home is powerful. It begins with ominous music as a body floats by in the Rio Grande. It takes the viewer a few moments to figure out that the body floating in the river was a migrant attempting to cross to gain entry to the United States. A few statistics are shared that demonstrate that this is a common occurrence. The mood of danger and risk is established right away. Under the Same Moon opens in similar fashion. Carlos’ mom’s experience crossing the Rio Grande is depicted in a dream sequence to show how this has shaped her drive and tenacity as a character.

The transitions, or the third element of documentaries that Eckhardt explores, move the documentary forward.29 In this documentary, the journey follows Kevin’s attempts to reach the United States while weaving in other children’s experiences and interviews. Intermittently presented, the incidents are highly effective in demonstrating that challenges that children face who undertake this type of journey are plentiful and that there are a multitude of reasons why children want to risk their lives to go to the United States. The transitional incidents give the viewers a sense of the length of the journey and the challenges faced as the journey unfolds.

The fourth key element of documentary according to Eckhardt are the storytellers. In Which Way Home, the kids in various phases of their journeys are the subjects who are doing the narrating, often while in route on the tops of the freight cars or immediately next to the trains at common stopping points for migrants. Eckhardt notes that “the producer [or as Dudley Andrew notes more specifically, the enunciator] creates a structure and list of questions/content areas that lead the crew in pursuit of the desired information. There may be directed on-camera statements/interviews mixed with verité slices of life.”30 This structure is used effectively in Which Way Home to create a balanced narrative that blends the experiences of several individuals to convey the challenges that most children who make similar journeys encounter. By letting these children share their thoughts with minimal prompting and by bringing their experiences together, universal challenges become apparent. Are the children “narrating” the film? It is not clear since the children who are on camera telling of their experiences may or may not be off camera narrating what we see by prompting the images. Eckhardt‘s term ‘producer’ is ambiguous since a producer is the one who finances the film and arranges for its logistics, whereas Eckhardt clearly means the ‘enunciator,’ the one putting the parts of the film together.

The fifth element is the soundtrack (i.e., music, voice, natural sound, and what he calls sweetening). In Which Way Home, some of the more dramatic elements are underscored by the jolting sounds that the train makes as it struggles to stay on the track in some areas and the artificial heightening of the sounds that are made by trains that give the impression of how noisy the journey would be if you were riding the tops of the freight trains (a form of sweetening).31 There are also points in which the speed of the frames is increased to create a feeling of disorientation for the viewer. In the few instances in which time is sped up, the viewer cannot help but be reminded that they are being put on a journey with the child subjects, and that the journey is disorienting and challenging. Another time when sound comes into play is when Rosario’s parents find out that he died attempting to cross the desert. In that segment, time seems to slow down and the only sound that is allowed is the crying of his parents during the burial service; it is an extremely impactful scene for the viewer.

The sixth attribute of documentary film is movement. including both the movement of the subject and movement of the lens.32 Which Way Home cuts between previously filmed material, or “B-roll,” that establishes setting, sharing some of the beauty of Mexico’s countryside, while interspersing some of the interviews of subjects from the tops of the trains and at stops along the way. B-roll helps to fill in some of the visual details that are touched on as the different migrants are interviewed by cutting away briefly to those images. This gives the viewer the sensation of having been along for the journey with the child. The viewer’s eyes follow Kevin as he must scurry to catch a moving train, as he ducks out of the way of branches to avoid falling off the top of the train, as he plays basketball by himself in the detention center in the United States and, to close the documentary, as he rides off on his bike once back home in Honduras. The viewer can’t help but feel like he or she is moving along with the children as they journey on in the film.

The seventh attribute comprises the three basic shooting styles available in documentary: traditional, freestyle, and a mixed shooting style.33 In thinking about a more traditional approach, we think of the work of Ken Burns and his historical documentaries or History Channel programs that explain in classic expository style. In thinking in more of a freestyle approach, it focuses more on the poetry of the shots, trying to create an impression or mood of a topic. An example of this is Dutch filmmaker Joris Iven’s City Symphony Rain (1929) that showed how  Amsterdam was impacted after rain.34 In Which Way Home, a mixed shooting style is employed that allows for the child subjects to articulate their thinking through interviews while still getting a variety of shots that are not traditional, such as the variety of shots that occur from the tops of the freight trains, filming the children walking along as they wait at stops along the way, or following Rosario’s burial from a distance. While the documentary is interview-driven, there are points that employ verité elements that are wide and frame broad scenes. A lot of film that was shot and edited together in a very cohesive way. This mixture of shots helps to keep the viewer engaged by maintaining a steady pace that mimics the journey of the children as they move northward.

The eighth element is pacing which Eckhardt defines as the rhythm generated by “the rate at which shots change, the tempo of the music, the number and nature of the interviews, B-Roll sequences, montage design, and the type of movement within the frame.”35 Which Way Home varies its pace, but generally mimics the journey; occasionally the pace slows at critical moments such as interviews of some of the subjects and at stops along the way that show some of the dangers associated with the journey. One example of this is an interview that is conducted in the hospital with a woman who fell from the train and lost both of her legs. The interview breaks away from following the child migrants to illustrate the danger. In another similar interview, we hear from a United States immigration agent that details some of the dangers that are associated with crossing through the desert.36 These alterations in pacing help the viewer to fully understand how dangerous the journey is as child migrants move north.

The ninth element are graphics that are incorporated into many documentaries. Eckhardt considers title sequences, the credits, and information blocks as key graphic elements.37 In the title sequence of the documentary, the letters spelling out Which Way Home are written in the color of sand superimposed over a map to reinforce the journey that the children will undertake. All the migrant children as well as key adults are identified by written script as they are interviewed. Key facts are interspersed with the personal voices of children migrants through interviews that the Spanish-speaking crew conducts with different subjects of the film. The filmmaker notes that it was important for her to have hired crew that spoke the same language as the subjects and was familiar with the sites associated with the stops along the migration route.38 This put the subjects at ease in the film and made more natural interactions as the crew followed the children along their journey on the trains.

The tenth element that Eckhardt addresses are montages. He defines a montage as a “short, standalone segment that includes some or all of these elements: visuals, music, voice and natural sound.”39 A montage has a theme that advances the purpose of the documentary and is often meant to engender a specific feeling in the viewer; they also provide visual examples to the viewer and can serve as bridges between segments.40 In Which Way Home, one noticeable montage occurs whenever the pace of riding the train is accelerated. The point of this could be to induce the viewer to think about how disorienting it is for migrants to stay on top of the trains for the duration of the trip through Mexico. It emphasizes how the ride isn’t smooth; it also operates as a bridge to the next point in the journey. This is a wonderful way to also establish the variety of landscapes that exist in Mexico and how the migrants come to view all of them in a similar whirlwind.

The eleventh element of documentary film that Eckhardt emphasizes is research. Documentaries are “long looks at subjects.”41 This happens by not only allowing subjects to speak for themselves, but also ensuring that what is said and included is accurate. It is evident that Rebecca Cammisa (the director and producer of the documentary) invested a lot of time, in fact six years, bringing all the pieces together. On the website that she put together articulating the process behind the filmmaking, she notes how she went in search of migrants who were going north near immigration detention centers, looking near the tracks headed north, and other places that migrants gather to make the journey. Cammisa notes how she went in search of the families of children who died trying to cross in the Sonoran Desert. She spent significant amounts of time interacting with child migrants while working to raise funds to complete the documentary after the seed money that she got from a grant at Sundance was exhausted.42 Her efforts to learn about child migration on the ground, assembling a team that could interact with the subjects in their native language, reflect careful research and attention to detail in the story she is telling.

The last element is the tone of the piece. Eckhardt defines tone as the “style and approach” that the documentary maker employs in the exploration of his/her subject.43 Just as in literary text, a variety of options exist for establishing a tone. These include tones that are obsessed, aggressive, neutral, and fun/upbeat.44 In Which Way Home, the tone is serious and seeks to shape the viewer’s beliefs about immigration by focusing on children and the associated dangers of the journey. In an interview in which she is asked about the purpose of the film, Cammisa bluntly reminds us that her goal is to show that “children are dying.”45 The sum of her choices as a filmmaker create a serious tone to underscore the need for change in the current immigration system.

Childhood, Cinema and Under the Same Moon

One text that I found to be particularly poignant for inducing deeper thought about Which Way Home and Under the Same Moon was Childhood and Cinema by Vicky Lebeau. Lebeau contends that the “child facial,” the up close enlarged, and in-motion depiction of a child, allows audiences “a recognition of themselves and of other people and places.”46 The protagonist of Under the Same Moon, Carlitos, often appears as a young, plucky child with big eyes. He looks innocent, but life circumstances and the journey as he goes to reconnect with his mother in the United States hardens him with a sort of worldliness that is hard to fathom for the viewer. Watching the film, one cannot help but wonder what his dangerous experience of travel is like, especially for children that engage in migration to reconnect with family in the United States. Lebeau makes the following observation:

Child as spectacle, child as subject, cinema can appear to offer unprecedented access to both, its impression of reality combined with its capacity to deliver the points of view that help to put the (adult) audience back into the place of the child. Trained on the face and body of the child, that is, the camera can also take the position of that child to show us what he or she sees.47

While watching the film, what the viewer sees through the eyes of Carlitos (as well as the central figure in Which Way Home) is complicated. They see individuals who prey on children for money; they see dangers around every corner, and problems when the children finally make it across the border. The viewer learns that while child migrants often view entering the United States as a sort of panacea to problems that they face, the reality that they encounter is much different. By making endangered children the subject of a film, and in our case specifically making Carlos such a young child, the viewer cannot help but empathize.

Lebeau asks, “What does a child see and know? What of a child’s world can be represented to and for adults as well as other children?” In response to these questions, she notes “the privileged role of looking in cinema” that induces a “passion for perceiving.”48 The viewer of Under the Same Moon spends a significant portion of the film trying to perceive the obstacles that are put in front of Carlitos. The viewers are privileged in the sense that they are aware of the difficulties that he encounters and worry for him as he is not fully aware of the precarious situations that surround him at many points in the film. Part of the suspense of the film stems from the viewer being unsure of what Carlitos knows versus what he doesn’t know as his circumstances evolve. Viewers (both children and adults) perceive what it must be like for children who cross the border looking for their parents, but the viewers do this from a place of privilege; they will not face the same dangers as Carlitos and that helps to sustain the investment in the film for the viewer. Viewers watch to see how Carlitos will navigate to see what he knows or doesn’t know and how resourceful and worldly kids like him (as well as real kids depicted in Which Way Home) can be in their migration journeys.

In writing about Kaspar Hauser from the film The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, Lebeau describes him as the “symbol of the outcast, the outcast that as a child who resists, who preserves something against, the demands of cultural life: demands that …reveal itself in one of its most depressing and deadly forms-the abandonment of a child.”49 Even though Lebeau is writing about a different film, one of the reasons why Under the Same Moon (and Enrique’s Journey) is compelling is because Carlitos is an outcast who resists the norms of both his local community and the laws associated with immigration to the United States from Mexico. After the death of his grandmother, he no longer belongs in Mexico. There are people around him who only see him as a financial opportunity that were not invested in seeing him grow into a healthy and productive adult. They just wanted the money that his mother was sending from the United States to meet Carlos’ needs. Because of the system that is in place in the United States, he doesn’t belong in the United States in the eyes of US immigration law. Despite being an outcast in both places, he resists. After the death of his grandmother (who was taking care of him in place of his mother), he doesn’t take the advice of his employer (a woman who helps cross people over the border into the United States via smuggling networks). Carlos refuses to turn himself in to the police as Enrique suggests at a particularly grim point in the story after Carlos successfully crosses into the United States, Carlos refuses to give up in searching for the place that his mother described to him where she calls him from a payphone in Los Angeles. His abandonment sets in motion a quest that shouldn’t happen. Given his age, childlike gaze, and determination, the viewer cannot help but root for him as he makes his journey.

Lebeau makes a couple more salient points that relate to Under the Same Moon. She observes that cinema demands something of its public:

A demand that begins to be made through precise choreography of the look in this sequence, the peculiar force carried by the imagining of a look that does not happen…the need for a look can be reflected back onto the spectator in so far as she is caught up into the pain and perplexity of this shot.”50

By the end of Under the Same Moon, the long-awaited reunion finally occurs. There was never any real doubt that Carlos would be reunited with his mother despite myriad obstacles that were intended to build the rising action of the film. The film ends with an interesting series of cuts and crosscuts that gets to the heart of Lebeau’s analysis above. The film demands the audience to consider the impact of immigration law on families that have been separated. The pathos can be heavy-handed, especially at the end of the film during the reunion. Reconnecting at a busy LA intersection, Carlitos and his mother call out to one another, with the camera cutting from pained and joyful expressions on each of their faces. The fact that one last obstacle exists acts as a motif and slows down time and forces the viewer of the film to feel what the characters feel. It is fairly apparent that a demand has been made on the viewer to react to Carlos’ adventure and journey as a child migrant as well as Carlos’ mother’s sacrifices as someone who left Mexico to improve the lot of her family. The demand is for the viewer to be overwhelmed with emotion.

The range of emotions that are so clearly displayed on the faces of mother and son is intended to make the viewer feel the same range of emotions that the characters are depicting, especially given the close-ups of their faces. After having shown the film to my students to get their feedback, we had a conversation about the film, spending some time discussing the ending. I was particularly impressed with the way they articulated their displeasure with this ending. My sixth graders were able to pick up that the filmmaker, by cutting from face-to-face, was placing a demand on them as viewers. My students and I did not initially think that the filmmaker, in creating such an obvious, sappy and fairytale ending for the viewer, might be deploying irony. But irony should be a consideration, as my students reflected on and deeply questioned the happy reunion at the end. They wondered if the same independence that brought Carlos along on this journey would make it difficult for him to have a good relationship with his mother once they attempted living together. They also wondered if the happy reunion at the end was an appropriate choice. Students knew from our reading of Enrique’s Journey and viewing of Which Way Home that kids who make similar journeys are often detained and not reunited. For those that manage to reconnect with their families, the joy associated with the reunification is often short-lived as families grapple with the trauma that familial separation creates. Student observations were the product of considering the two modes of film: fiction and documentary. Students grappled with the limits of fiction in capturing reality; they concluded that documentary in this instance was more effective even though Under the Same Moon may have been emotionally gratifying at certain points.

To consider the ending even further, if cinema is to demand something of a viewer, Lebeau posits that perhaps one area that a film with a child may work is to “address the question of what it means to remove a child from the life that, however unknown, however terrible, it may appear to the world, has become the world for that child.”51 This observation is particularly relevant for Under the Same Moon and child migration in general. It is genuinely difficult for the viewer to consider what it would be like for Carlos had he never gone in search of his mother. Even the timing of the circumstances depicted in the film are interesting. One could only wonder what his life would have been like had his grandmother lived a few years longer and Carlos was a teen she died. Would Carlos have still felt a connection to search for his mother? Would he have fallen into some of the same traps that Enrique from Enrique’s Journey did or the central figures in Which Way Home? Would he have begun to resent his mother for not having been present for so many years? Carlos could have continued to work for the smuggler who seems to care for Carlos enough to ensure his needs were met in Mexico, but one would wonder about what kind of future would have awaited him if he had stayed. This line of thinking is the starting place for rich conversations with students.

Lebeau notes that while a distinction exists between adult and child in film, that “the role of the children as increasingly privileged witnesses of war and murder exists.”52 While technically not war or murder, the dangers associated with the journey that Carlos makes fall along the same worldly lines. The sense of purpose and determination that Carlos has throughout the film underscores how his sacrifices will most likely create a happy reunion and will be rewarded when he reconnects with his mother in America. The creativity that Carlos demonstrates as he problem solves, his willingness to get jobs and work hard for his age, his love of family and self-determination are traits that the average American viewer may assume will be rewarded in the United States. The film could have done more to ensure that the happy ending reunion doesn’t distract from serious obstacles facing both mother and child; it could have done more to project that this was the start of a much longer journey rather than a “happily ever after” type of situation.

Writing Film Reviews

Part of being a responsible viewer and consumer of film is learning to watch film for purposes that transcend just being entertained. That is why as a teacher I have students answer questions while viewing. I want students to be fully attuned to details of a film just as I would expect them to engage in the process of close reading a novel or poetry. When viewing and exploring challenging topics and histories, it is critical for young adults to understand that they need to act responsibly with the information that they learn and to honor and uplift those who are represented by treating their experiences with a measure of regard and attention to detail. Corrigan proposes, “If the movies inform many parts of our lives, we should be able to enjoy them in many ways, including the challenging pleasure of trying to think about, explain, and write about experience at the movies.”53 Part of growing as a student means watching film for more than entertainment purposes.

In writing a film review, it is important for students to identify the title, director, genre, setting, and a plot overview that does not give away the ending. They should also be able to speak about the performances of characters. Think about how natural this already is for most of our students. Corrigan notes, “…most of us discuss or argue about the film. Although the difference between talking and writing about a subject is a crucial one, writing about a film is in one sense simply a more refined and measured kind of communication, this time with a reader.”54 This is the opportunity for a child to have a conversation about performances of actors or how scenes made them feel. More importantly, this is a form of writing that is done in the real world, so it is easy to show examples of film reviews that are published in newspapers that engage in this form of recapping key events.

In reflecting on the films in this unit, the summative assessment is to write a film review. You may be wondering why I chose for this to be a summative assessment, a means of understanding whether students have learned what I expected them to at the end of this unit. I was struck by the concept of “texture in film” that Donaldson puts forward to further my student’s critical thinking. In the introduction to her book, she explains what she means by texture.

All films have texture. If we take texture as inviting or appealing to touch through tactile property of material- rough, smooth, slimy, knobby- there are many moments of film that spark a connection…. The way a complex narrative film interweaves separate stories, connecting the lives of people in separate spaces/times to make a coherent whole. The relative smoothness or choppiness of editing contributes to our overall experience of a film. A film’s roughness- of style, performance, plot- might be esteemed either in its deliberation, as in film movements.55

Just as students look for details in texts that we read and the musicality and rhythm that may exist within lines of poetry, students need to begin to look for the texture that Donaldson speaks of film. Students need to learn and look for the craft choices that go into making film an experience that appeals to the senses. In seminar, this meant we discussed what make scenes visually pleasing, as one of my colleagues referred to as the poetry of the film. Introducing this concept of texture may help students to think in more concrete terms about the choices that filmmakers make as they weave together narrative in film. This is a new concept for sixth grade students and will likely be a new concept for your students as well.

After students consider the texture of the film, I want students to think broadly about lessons and implications of those lessons in the broader world. In the text A Short Guide to Writing About Film, Timothy Corrigan suggests encouraging people to look over their notes and reflect on the film. He offers some guiding questions that might help students think about a theme:

  • Who are the central characters?
  • What do they represent in themselves and in relation to each other? The importance of individuality or society? Human strength or human compassion?
  • How do their actions create a story with some meanings or constellation of meanings?
  • Does the story emphasize the benefits of change or endurance?
  • What kind of life or what actions does the film wish you to value or criticize, and why?
  • If there is not a coherent message or story, why not?
  • How does the movie make you feel at the end? Happy? Depressed? Confused? And why?56

These questions may help your students think in the direction of theme if they need support developing themes to discuss in the film.

To prepare students to work effectively, students need to understand the general form that a film review takes and have some ideas about the type of information that is typically included in a review. Since most of my students have never written this way before, I give them a lot of direction.

Classroom Activities

Instructional Sequence

The unit will start with watching Which Way Home to help students understand the challenges and opportunities facing young people in difficult circumstances. We will also read an article from Scholastic that details why children come from Central America to the United States. From there, I plan on reading Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario with students in class. As we read the text, the class and I will discuss each chapter and reflect on challenges and opportunities that Enrique’s experiences bring up. Finally, we will view Under the Same Moon, a film the students will review in written form. Once students write their reviews, they will read a few professional reviews from a curated list to see how individuals who are active film critics reviewed the film. Students would then share their thoughts about the film and revise their own critiques based on what we have learned throughout the unit. The result will be the submission of their final reviews. When I introduce students to a new unit, it is guided by Essential Questions and Enduring Understandings. This is required by my district and may be helpful for you. These are the big questions that students are supposed to work towards understanding throughout our study and what they should learn because of our study.

Essential Questions

  1. What challenges and opportunities complicate as well as incentivize people from Latin America to migrate to the United States? How can students engage in the larger conversation associated with immigration as a topic?
  2. What is a film review as a genre of writing? What are key elements that go into writing a film review?

Enduring Understandings/Big Ideas

  1. There are many challenges that induce individuals to come to the United States from several countries throughout Latin America. Some of these challenges are created by poverty and fear of violence in the home country. Many view migration to the United States as an opportunity for an improved quality of life, but movement to the United States often creates another set of problems such as adapting to a new culture, separation of families, and other difficulties that complicate life and relationships. We can use both film and texts to inform our thinking about the topic and reflect on the issue and how it is depicted through writing.
  2. A film review is usually written by a film critic most often in newspapers or online; it attempts to share a film’s quality and it makes a recommendation whether it is worth viewing. While it is not a type of scholarly writing, it does maintain a formal tone and bases its recommendation on technical aspects of the film such as performances of the main actors, choices made by director, a bit of research on the making of the film, and other factors. The general outline of a film review is introduction, plot summary, description of acting/performance, analysis, conclusion/evaluation.57 See the teacher resource section for a guide from Duke University that explains each element in greater detail.

Activity #1-Watch Which Way Home

The first key classroom activity is watching the documentary Which Way Home. I would break this up over two or three periods. The run time for the documentary is 83 minutes, so the teacher could decide to show it over two forty-minute chunks or over three thirty-minute chunks. I have found better success with my sixth-grade students showing it over three days rather than two days. While watching, I give my students a list of questions that they need to answer while viewing. I do this for two reasons. The first is to ensure students listen carefully and stay focused while watching; I remind students that we are watching for information and to gauge their reactions, not watching for entertainment. By having questions to answer, students pay careful attention to detail. These are the questions that I use below:

Which Way Home Questions

  1. How does the film start? What is happening? ________________________________________________
  2. How did the 13-year-old boy get to the border? __________________________
  3. ___% of people that ride the trains are children traveling alone.
  4. Central American children must cross the border from _________________ into Mexico.
  5. The trip across Mexico is ________________ miles long.
  6. Kevin is _____ years old and is from _________________. He wants to go to America because _________________________________________.
  7. Kevin is traveling with ___________ (at the start). Kevin knows him because ________________________________________________.
  8. Why did Fito leave his parents? _______________________________________________
  9. What did Fito want in America? __________________________________________.
  10. What was life at home like for Kevin? _______________________________________.
  11. How old is Jose? _______
  12. Based on where Jose is, what do you think it means to “detain” someone? Make a conjecture (educated guess). ___________________________
  13. Why does Juan Carlos leave his family to go to the United States? _____________________________.
  14. How many kids get caught trying to enter the United States? __________________
  15. What is Grupo Beta? ___________________________________.
  16. What is the House of Migrants? __________________________________________________________
  17. What advice does the director of the House of Migrants give? ____________________________
  18. Where are Olga and Freddy from? ____________________
  19. What happens to Eloy from Techucan, Mexico? ______________________________________
  20. What happens to Rosario’s body? __________________________________________________
  21. What is the problem with Lecheria? __________________________________________________
  22. What happened to the boys in Lecheria? __________________________________________________
  23. What happened to Kevin in the United States? _____________________________________
  24. What does Kevin’s mom hope for Kevin? What does his stepfather think of him? __________________________________________
  25. What bad habit does Yurico have? ______________________’
  26. What are your thoughts on Which Way Home? Continue answering on the back of this sheet.

Activity #2-Read the nonfiction article Alone and Afraid from Scholastic and Enrique’s Journey

After watching Which Way Home, students want to understand why children from Latin American countries cannot just enter the United States. They want to better understand why illegal immigration is so controversial. The article Alone and Afraid helps to explain the controversy in ways that are logical for sixth graders. Scholastic has a wonderful feature built into the article that allows you to modify the text according to Lexile for the purposes of differentiation. With my students, we take a period and read and annotate the text. I use the Notice and Note strategy with my students for nonfiction. Without going into detail, it is a procedure created by a couple of Heinemann teachers that helps students to look for and develop thoughts about key details in nonfiction. I have included a link to the signposts in the resource section.

There are multiple versions of Enrique’s Journey. There is the version written for adults, there is the young adult version of the book that is geared towards younger audiences, and there are also modified versions that have been shortened and published in serial fashion for newspaper readers. Based on the reading levels of your students and the time that you must spend teaching the unit, you need to choose the level of the text that makes most sense for your teaching situation. My recommendation would be to look at the different versions of the text to decide before you plan. I have included a link to one of the modified versions of the text online that is a bit shorter in the resource section. This is helpful if you are short on instructional time.

Activity #3-Watch Under the Same Moon; Write a Film Review

Students hold up what they have learned from Which Way Home, the article Alone and Afraid, and the book Enrique’s Journey against what they view in the film Under the Same Moon. It is hoped that students think critically about the choices that the filmmaker made in ways that are nuanced and thoughtful.

First, I will provide students with a graph organizer that acts as an outline to help students organize their thoughts and provide them structure because they have never written a film review before; it would be set up as a table and include these general areas:

  • In the opening paragraph, students need to include the title, director, genre, setting, and a plot overview that does not give away the ending.
  • In the next paragraph, students need to dive into the important characters focusing on actors who play the roles, important moments that they depict, and an explanation of characterization-how did the actors play the roles? What did they think of their performances?
  • In the third paragraph, students need to explore the texture of the film. In other words, some of the choices of the filmmaker and explain how those choices impacted how the film felt as it was viewed. This includes potentially addressing music, costumes, camera work, sound, and special effects and how the film was set.
  • In the fourth and final paragraph, students must focus on a theme and make a recommendation about the film.58

In the resource section, I have included a film review guide from Duke University that could be shared with students. It articulates the points from above with slightly deeper elaboration and has a brief list of resources for students to explore related to film reviews.

Once students have finished drafting, it is helpful for them to look at some professional film reviews of Under the Same Moon. I have included a list of professional reviews on the movie in the teacher resource section. Select ones that you think might provide greater insight for your students. For students who need even more specific support, I might share the student example that one of my students wrote to help show how information should be organized.

Under the Same Moon Film Review Rubric


Five points

Four points

Three points

Two points


Information is highly organized with a well-constructed opinion and multiple supporting details. Follows the graphic organizer with precision.

Organization Information is organized with a well-constructed opinion. Generally, follows the graphic organizer.

Information is organized, but paragraphs are not well-constructed. Doesn’t use the structure created by the graphic organizer.

The information appears to be disorganized.



The review focuses on the following areas: character(s), setting, and plot and is deeply informative in all three areas without sharing the resolution. Goes into great detail explaining how Rosario and Carlitos and how they are developed as characters and what choices make them dynamic characters.

The review focuses 2 of 3: character, setting, and plot. Goes into some detail explaining how Rosario and Carlitos and how they are developed as characters.

The review includes only one of the following: character, setting, and plot.

The review does not include a description of character, setting, or plot.


Supporting Details

My review has a strong opinion that is supported by at least 2-3 details after explaining a potential theme from the text with a couple of pieces of supporting evidence.

My review has a strong opinion, but it is not strongly supported by details after explaining a potential theme from the text with at least one piece of supporting evidence.

My review does not have any supporting details, but it does have an opinion. It has a theme that is generally explained.

My review does not have a strong opinion or supporting details. My opinion may not be clear. Only a theme might be identified or there was no attempt at explaining it.



No grammatical, spelling or punctuation errors.

Almost no grammatical, spelling or punctuation errors

A few grammatical spelling, or punctuation errors.

Many grammatical, spelling, or punctuation errors.

Total Points  /20= ___________


Annotated Bibliography for Teachers

Beers, Kylene, and Bob Probst. “What are the Notice and Note Signposts?” What Are The

Notice and Note Signposts? Heinemann. Accessed July 15, 2022.

This is the website by educational publisher Heinemann that outlines the nonfiction note taking signposts. The book that is available on their website contains lessons for how to teach each signpost. By the time I teach this unit, I have taught all the signposts and students have had ample practice identifying signposts and using them as a point of reference for classroom discussion and discourse.

Cohn, Pamela. “Riding the Rails: 'Which Way Home' Traces a Treacherous Journey.”

International Documentary Association, May 7, 2020.

This article contains an interview with the director of Which Way Home, Rebecca Cammisa, in which she outlines her purpose for making the documentary and expresses some of the challenges that went hand-in-hand with making the documentary.

“Documentary Movies: Watch on HBO: Stream on HBO Max.” Watch on HBO | Stream on

HBO Max. Accessed July 15, 2022.

This website contains a bunch of different documentaries that are available on HBO (including Which Way Home). There is a description of each documentary and a place to purchase them for showing.

Eckhardt, Ned. Documentary Filmmakers Handbook. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2012.

This book is a helpful primer for all things documentary, including the history of documentaries and all the phases of production written in a clear and concise manner.

“Film Review - Duke University.” Writing Studio-Thompson Writing Program. Duke

University. Accessed July 15, 2022.

This website is helpful in giving an overview of what a film review is and the components that it should include from Duke University. It also has other helpful film resources embedded for teachers that are not comfortable with using film in a critical way with students.

Thompson, Derek. “How Immigration Became so Controversial.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media   Company, February 2, 2018.  immigration-divides/552125/.

This article frames why immigration has become a partisan political issue and could be used to with student that are in late elementary school or high school. I would not use this with sixth grade students.

Reading/Resource List for Students

Anastasia, Laura. “Alone and Afraid.” Junior Scholastic Magazine, October 14, 2019.

This is a link to the nonfiction article that I read after showing Which Way Home and before reading Enrique’s Journey to ground student understanding about why immigration is a hot button issue in the United States.

Nazario, Sonia. “Enrique's Journey.” Read Any Book. Accessed July 15, 2022.

This is an electronic version of the text Enrique’s Journey. It is a shortened version of the original text.

Nazario, Sonia. Enrique's Journey. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2014.

This is the citation of the regular adult version of the book in print. There is also a young adult version of the book that is more appropriate for middle school.

Riggen, Patricia, Gerardo Barrera, Ligiah Villalobos, and Ligiah Villalobos. Under the Same

Moon. United States: Weinstein Company, 2007.

This is the citation for the film Under the Same Moon that students viewed to critique in their film review. It is available for streaming and purchase on multiple platforms.

Under the Same Moon.” IMDb. Accessed July 15, 2022.

This is a list of over sixty professional reviews of Under the Same Moon. I would select a few for students to read for them to see how the film review that they write could exist outside of the classroom in the real world. They may also want to rework their own review after reading several others.

Which Way Home: Watch the Movie on HBO.” Watch the Movie on HBO |

Accessed July 15, 2022.

This is just one way to access Which Way Home. It is capable of being streamed on other platforms and is also available for purchase online.


Barnouw, Erik. Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film. Oxford University Press, 1983.

Biesterfeld, Peter. “The Six Primary Types of Documentaries.” Videomaker, November 5, 2020.

"Children and Education in World Cinema led by Dudley Andrew". Yale National Initiative, 2020.

Cohn, Pamela. “Riding the Rails: 'Which Way Home' Traces a Treacherous Journey.”

International Documentary Association, May 7, 2020.

Corrigan, Timothy. A Short Guide to Writing about Film. Boston: Pearson, 2015.

De La Garza, Armida. Mexico on Film: National Identity & International Relations. Bury St.

Edmunds: Arena Books, 2006.

Donald, Stephanie. There's No Place like Home: The Migrant Child in World Cinema. London:

I.B. Tauris, 2018.

Donaldson, Lucy. Texture in Film. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2014.

Eckhardt, Ned. Documentary Filmmakers Handbook. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company,

Inc., Publishers, 2012.

"English Language Arts Standards » Reading: Information » Grade 6." English Language Arts

Standards Common Core State Standards Initiative. Accessed June 24, 2022.

“Film Review - Duke University.” Writing Studio: Thompson Writing Center. Duke University.

Accessed June 24, 2022.

Lebeau, Vicky. Childhood and Cinema. London: Reaktion, 2008.

Nazario, Sonia. “Enrique's Journey Excerpt: Read Free Excerpt of Enrique's Journey by Sonia

Nazario (Page 2).” Accessed July 16, 2022.

“9 Tips for Writing a Film Review.” Student Resources, October 1, 2021.

Ponech, Trevor. What Is Non-Fiction Cinema? On the Very Idea of Motion Picture

Communication. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999.

Sky, Neon. “Which Way Home.” About | The Making of the Film | Which Way Home. Accessed

July 14, 2022.

Thompson, Derek. “How Immigration Became so Controversial.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media

Company, February 2, 2018.

"Twain," Chicago Public Schools, accessed June 18, 2022,

Ward, Ben. “Sundance-Supported Documentary 'Which Way Home' Wins Emmy.” -, September 28, 2010.

Winston, Brian. Claiming the Real: The Griersonian Documentary and Its Legitimations.

London: British Film Institute, 2006.

“Which Way Home: Watch the Movie on HBO.” Watch the Movie on HBO |

Accessed July 15, 2022.

Appendix on Implementing District Standards

Two Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are at the heart of instructional planning for this unit: CCSS.RI.6.3 and CCSS.RI.6.7. The focus of CCSS.RI.6.3 is to “Analyze in detail how a key individual, event, or idea is introduced, illustrated, and elaborated in a text” (e.g., through examples or anecdotes).59 In order to master this standard, students must be able to demonstrate critical thinking about the topic that is being explored. This involves complicating the thought patterns of students by redirecting their preconceived notions about immigration and migration by layering texts about the topic and exploring the issues that are relevant in each text. Knowledge of the standard is reflected when students are not only able to explain general knowledge about a given topic, but students should be able to explain some of the complexities and controversies associated with the topic relying on details from all relevant texts. The anchor text of the unit Enrique’s Journey, a nonfiction text that depicts a child from Central America who is trying to reconnect with his mother, lends itself well to this type of work.

The other CCSS that is key to planning in this unit is CCSS.RI.6.7. The focus of CCSS.RI.6.7 is to “integrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue.”60 In order to demonstrate mastery of this standard, students must be able to leverage the knowledge that they have gained from the documentary that I start the unit with, Which Way Home, with the experiences that Enrique has in Enrique’s Journey and the information presented in the article “Alone and Afraid.” These texts help students by grounding them with enough understanding about immigration from Central America to the United States that they can make inferences and view the fictional film Under the Same Moon with a critical eye. For students, this involves careful viewing of both films, using guided questioning while watching each film to ensure students are paying close attention to detail, as well as close reading of Enrique’s Journey to think critically about broader challenges and opportunities associated with immigrating from Central America, especially as a child trying to reconnect with parent that has already made the journey to the United States. Direct instruction of some film technique should go together with robust student discussion of both films and Enrique’s Journey to get students to get students to the point that they can write the culminating film review of Under the Same Moon.


1 Derek Thompson, “How Immigration Became so Controversial.”

2 “Twain,” Chicago Public Schools School Report Card

3 Dudley Andrew, Children and Education in World Cinema seminar

4 Stephanie Donald, There's No Place like Home: The Migrant Child in World Cinema, 4

5 Sonia Nazario, “Enrique's Journey Excerpt: Read Free Excerpt of Enrique's Journey…”

6 Stephanie Donald, There's No Place like Home: The Migrant Child in World Cinema, 5

7 Ibid, 26

8 Ibid

9 Armida De La Garza, Mexico on Film: National Identity & International Relations, 90

10 Ibid, 90-91

11 Ibid, 91

12 Ibid

13 Erik Barnouw, Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film, 3

14 Ibid

15 Ibid, 6

16 Ibid, 11

17 Ibid, 29

18 Brian Winston, Claiming the Real: The Griersonian Documentary and Its Legitimations, 149

19 Ibid, 154

20 Erik Barnouw, Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film, 30

21 Pamela Cohn, “Riding the Rails: 'Which Way Home' Traces a Treacherous Journey.”

22 “Which Way Home: Watch the Movie on HBO.”

23 Ben Ward, “Sundance-Supported Documentary 'Which Way Home' Wins Emmy.”

24 Trevor Ponech, What Is Non-Fiction Cinema? On the Very Idea of Motion Picture Communication, 98

25 Ibid, 234

26 Dudley Andrew, Children and Education in World Cinema seminar

27 Ned Eckhardt, Documentary Filmmakers Handbook, 32

28 Ibid, 34

29 Ibid, 35

30 Ibid, 38

31 Ibid, 39

32 Ibid, 44

33 Ibid, 45

34 Ned Eckhardt, “The Six Primary Types of Documentaries.”

35 Ned Eckhardt, Documentary Filmmakers Handbook, 32

36 “Which Way Home: Watch the Movie on HBO.”

37 Ned Eckhardt, Documentary Filmmakers Handbook, 46-47

38 Neon Sky, “‘Which Way Home.” About | The Making of the Film | Which Way Home.”

39 Ned Eckhardt, Documentary Filmmakers Handbook, 46, 48

40 Ibid, 48

41 Ibid, 49

42 Neon Sky,  “‘Which Way Home.” About | The Making of the Film | Which Way Home.”

43 Ned Eckhardt, Documentary Filmmakers Handbook, 49

44 Ibid, 49-50

45 Pamela Cohn, “Riding the Rails: 'Which Way Home' Traces a Treacherous Journey.”

46 Vicky Lebeau, Childhood and Cinema, 36

47 Ibid, 40

48 Ibid, 44

49 Ibid, 66

50 Ibid

51 Ibid, 80

52 Ibid, 142

53 Timothy Corrigan, A Short Guide to Writing About Film, 3

54 Ibid, 4

55 Lucy Donaldson, Texture in Film, 1-2

56 Timothy Corrigan, A Short Guide to Writing About Film, 42-43

57 “Film Review - Duke University.” Writing Studio-Thompson Writing Program

57 Ibid

58 “English Language Arts Standards,” 2022.

59 Ibid

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