April 22, 2021

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Film Club: ‘Music and Clowns’

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Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

Music and Clowns” is an eight-minute animated film that touches on themes of family, disability and love. In the Op-Doc, the filmmaker, Alex Widdowson, searches for insights into his brother Jaime, who has Down syndrome and is close to nonverbal, uncovering his “charisma, a sharp sense of humor, and emotional sensitivity” as well as the profound impact he has had on his family.

Why do you think the filmmaker chose to animate the majority of the film? What other artistic elements help to effectively create this rich and nuanced family portrait? What do you learn about Jamie, and the complexities of family and storytelling?

Students

1. Watch the short film above. While you watch, you might take notes using our Film Club Double-Entry Journal (PDF) to help you remember specific moments.

2. After watching, think about these questions:

  • What questions do you still have?

  • What connections can you make between this film and your own life or experience? Why? Does this film remind you of anything else you’ve read or seen? If so, how and why?

3. An additional challenge | Respond to the essential question at the top of this post: A filmmaker searches to better understand his brother who has Down syndrome: What can we learn from his rich and nuanced family portrait?

4. Next, join the conversation by clicking on the comment button and posting in the box that opens on the right. (Students 13 and older are invited to comment, although teachers of younger students are welcome to post what their students have to say.)

5. After you have posted, try reading back to see what others have said, then respond to someone else by posting another comment. Use the “Reply” button or the @ symbol to address that student directly.

6. To learn more, read “‘You’re a Complete Mystery to Me’: Meet My Brother Jamie.” Alex Widdowson, the filmmaker, writes:

My brother, Jamie, has a profound learning disability. Despite being close to nonverbal, he demonstrates charisma, a sharp sense of humor and emotional sensitivity. In the Op-Doc above, “Music and Clowns,” I team up with my parents to discuss what it is like caring for someone with Down syndrome. We piece together fragments of insight to gain a sense of his inner life, but our differing perspectives reveal as much about our own subjectivity as they do Jamie’s.

We rarely see portrayals of the diverse, ordinary lives of people who have Down syndrome (unless we are connected to someone who has it). Much of what we hear instead is based on a medical narrative. As prenatal screening tests improve, the birthrate of people with Down has fallen. I believe people should be able to base life-changing decisions on accurate information. But I also feel that a diagnosis does not reflect my brother’s human worth. This film attempts to complement the medical narrative with firsthand stories of what it is like to have someone with Down syndrome in your family. Jamie has enriched our lives, and I believe a society can be measured by its capacity to nurture those who are most vulnerable.


Want More Film Club?

See all the films in this series.

Read our list of practical teaching ideas, along with responses from students and teachers, for how you can use these documentaries in the classroom.

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