________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 16 . . . . April 15, 2005

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Circus School. (My Brand New Life).

Penny Colbourne (Director). Ina Fichman, Pierre Lapointe and Sally Bochner (Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2004.
23 min., 33 sec., VHS, $99.95.
Order Number: C9104 030.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Michelle Warry.

**** /4

   
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Cowgirl Meets the Horsey Set. (My Brand New Life).

Maureen Marovitch and Serge Marcil (Directors). Ina Fichman, Pierre Lapointe and Sally Bochner (Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2004.
23 min., 33 sec., VHS, $99.95.
Order Number: C9104 038.

Grades 5-12 / Ages 10-17.

Review by Michelle Warry.

**** /4

Reality TV in the classroom? It might not sound like a good idea, but the new video series “My Brand New Life” does, in fact, deserve a place in Canadian classrooms.

     Borrowing heavily from adult reality shows such as Faking It, this series shows what it's like to try on somebody else's life for a few days. Such an exploration is well-suited to children and young adults because of both their curiosity and their developmental stage, the preoccupation of which is to try out identities until they find the one that fits. And this series is well-suited to Canadian classrooms because the people, places, and scenarios in “My Brand New Life” are Canadian. Like most Canadian media productions, this series lacks the slickness of higher budget American projects (although it is extremely well done), but also (thankfully) their ensuing pat, over-the-top qualities. The series is very Canadian, indeed: earnest, intelligent, and thoughtful.

     In Circus School, a young boy from King's Edgehill College in Nova Scotia, Canada's oldest boarding school, trades places with a girl from the National Circus School, a training ground for the Cirque du Soleil. This 23 minute video follows both children through several days of their new, or rather borrowed, lives. We get to go with them to classes, activities, meals, and social events. This valuable glimpse behind the scenes of two fascinating Canadian institutions is an exciting privilege not only for Andrew and Sarah, but also for us as viewers. This video is suitable for grades 4 through 8.

     In Cowgirl Meets the Horsey Set, two teenage horse lovers trade places. Olivia lives in Montreal and practices dressage, the most demanding of all English horse-riding disciplines. Kendra lives on a ranch outside of Calgary and comes from a rodeo family. Each girl is intimidated by the expertise of the other but rises to the challenge of learning a new way to ride. The exciting culmination of this 23 minute video is Olivia's competition at a rodeo event. This video is suitable for grades 5 through 12.

     The best thing about this delightful video series is not its effective production, its interesting scenarios, or its exciting events. The best thing is the natural themes that flow from it: empathy, respect, and admiration. The children who test out brand new lives learn how it feels to be somebody else, and this exponentially increases their respect for others' talents and efforts. I believe that building empathy and learning to appreciate things from another's point of view is our most important task as human beings, and especially so in our multicultural country. Any tool that can help us on this journey is a bonus, and “My Brand New Life” is such a tool-an excellent one, at that.

Highly Recommended.

Michelle Warry is a graduate student in UBC's Master of Arts in Children's Literature program.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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