02 Welcome to my Life
This Film Guide takes open-ended inquiry approaches to the next level to interpret a film in new ways and relate to the character’s experiences on a personal level. We’ll consider the filmmaker’s artistic choices and how they helped to convey the story.
If you haven’t done so already, be sure to read the Note to Teachers—you’ll find tips for watching short films with your class and helpful resources for inquiry-based discussions.
Use the following prompts to prepare the group to watch the film thoughtfully.
- What comes to mind when you hear the word documentary?
- How are documentaries different or similar to other films?
- What are things you expect to see or hear in a documentary?
- What do you think the word mockumentary might mean?
Visit the Glossary + Film Terms page for definitions of these terms and be sure to note that a mockumentary is meant to be humorous and is therefore different from a fake documentary that might intend to mislead or misinform people.
- We’re going to watch WELCOME TO MY LIFE by Elizabeth Ito.
- The film is about 8 minutes long.
- It’s important not to talk or take notes during the first viewing, since it may cause you to miss something important! In a short film, every image and sound is important to the story being told.
- We will watch the film again later in the lesson.
Watch the film together and gather initial reactions using open-ended questions.
Follow the film screening with a moment of pause for the group to gather their thoughts. Ask the open-ended questions below and record students’ answers. Have students support their observations with evidence by asking, “What did you see that makes you say that?”
- What did you see? What did you notice about this film?
- How would you describe this film?
- How was the film similar or different from what you expected to see? How is this film similar or different from WASH DAY?
- You can watch the film as a group by sharing your screen, and selecting the “optimize for video sharing” option. Make sure all participants (including yourself) are muted while the film plays.
- Consider using breakout rooms for smaller group discussions.
- Try using Mentimeter on Zoom to collect responses.
If you need a link to share this film with your students, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Closer Look
Consider selecting a question to ask in advance of watching the film again, but this time have students take notes while viewing.
Unlike WASH DAY, this film has a protagonist and an antagonist. Watch the film again, asking students to pay attention to these two characters. Have students create a T-chart to record their answers, and you can do the same on the board or virtually on a Google Doc.
- What do we know, think, and wonder about the protagonist, T-Kesh? What makes you say that?
- What do we know, think, and wonder about the antagonist, Ian? What makes you say that?
- Why do you think Ian might have treated T-Kesh the way he did?
- What assumptions might Ian have made about T-Kesh? (We’ll revisit this idea in The Bigger Conversation below.)
If you have been recording students’ answers, revisit the responses as a group and ask students to share any final thoughts or ideas about the character.
When we meet someone new, our name is usually the first piece of information about ourselves that we share. Have students consider:
- What might T-Kesh’s name reveal about his identity? Remember that his full name is Takeshi and that T-Kesh is his nickname.
- What words or phrases does T-Kesh use to describe his own identity?
- What are some of the interests that T-Kesh talks about in the film?
- Can we learn anything about T-Kesh based on his interests?
The Bigger Conversation
- Create a T-chart to record students’ answers.
- On one side of the chart, have students list words that they might use to describe a monster. You can ask students to back up their choice of words by asking, “What makes you say that?” Since monsters are fictional, there are no wrong answers.
- On the other side of the chart, list words you might use to describe T-Kesh.
- Compare the two lists to see how T-Kesh is similar or different from what you might expect from a monster.
- Think about the antagonist, Ian. Based on the way he treated T-Kesh, do you think he might have made any assumptions about monsters?
- How could Ian have avoided making assumptions about monsters?
- Think of a time when you made an assumption about someone based on their appearance. How did you treat them? Was this fair? Why or why not?
- Think of a time someone made an assumption about you? How did that make you feel? Was this fair? Why or why not?
- Think of a time when you witnessed someone being mistreated because of their differences. How did this make you feel? Did you do anything about it? Is there anything you wish you had done or said to either of the people involved?
- Write a letter to a person or people that you may have made an assumption about OR to those who have made an assumption about you. What would you want to tell them? What would you like to ask them? The letters do not need to be sent or shared.
- Imagine that you are one of the characters in the film and write a letter to another character in the film. For example, what do you think Ian would want to say to T-Kesh in a letter?
Emphasize that these activities, like the conversations you are having, provide a non-judgemental space and opportunity for students to consider and reflect on their experiences, and how important it is to reflect on their own actions and thoughts.
You know your class best! While you may prefer to have students go through these activities privately, you could consider wrapping up as a group by asking students if the activity sparked any new ideas.
- For more resources on diversity and equity visit the Teaching Tolerance website.
- Anti-Defamation League: A Classroom of Difference
Behind the Scenes
Remind students that everything they saw and heard in the film was the result of an intentional decision made by the filmmaker. The characters and the film itself were designed, animated, and created by the filmmaker Elizabeth Ito and her team of animators and artists.
Pose the questions below before showing the film once again and let students take notes while they watch. Encourage them to use adjectives or short phrases to respond to the following:
- How would you describe the visual style of the film? What does the film look like?
- How would you describe the design of the characters in the film? Are they realistic looking?
- How would you describe the music in the film?
- Did this film feel realistic or fantastical?
- Consider different endings for this question: “How would this film be different if _______?” (This will help students see all of the different decisions the filmmaker had to make.)
Remind students that films are made by filmmakers who have something they want to say. A film might be inspired by the filmmakers own experiences or something they’ve encountered in the world. Therefore, a film often has an underlying message, or multiple messages.
There are no wrong answers here; works of art, including film, can be interpreted in many different ways.
- Why do you think Elizabeth Ito might have wanted to tell this story?
- Why do you think she might have chosen to tell this story as a mockumentary?
- Why do you think Elizabeth Ito might have chosen to tell this story about a monster? How might it have been different if it were about a human?
- What do you think the message or messages of the film might be? What makes you say that?
- How do you think the film communicates this message?
Elizabeth Ito has worked in the animation industry on film and television projects for over 15 years. She originally created the short film WELCOME TO MY LIFE for Cartoon Network; the film won an audience award at NYICFF in 2017. Elizabeth’s additional awards include an Emmy for her directing work on ADVENTURE TIME. She’s currently developing an innovative new animation/live action/documentary series for Netflix.
Let students know that while the filmmaker might have had a message or idea in mind, we are all welcome to interpret the film in our own way.
Why was it important for you to tell this story? Are there aspects to the story that are autobiographical?
I thought that my brother’s point of view would be something that other people would relate to, and would help others who have experiences like him to feel less alone…My brother went to Palisades Charter High, that’s the school we used for the short. He also really had everything happen to him that happens in the short, like another kid challenged him to a fight, and didn’t show up. His friend Lucas intervened when he saw who my brother was going to fight, and he, in fact, knew him from church. My brother was also on the football team, and met some great friends there. All of the big decisions for storytelling were based on his real experiences.
Why did you choose to have T-Kesh represented as a monster?
I tried to think of who or what would be the ultimate representation of someone that people would react to based on physical appearance, because of fear or otherwise. Something that stood out to me about my brother was that he’s funny and kind hearted, but because he’s a stronger looking dude, people react a certain way to that sometimes.
What do you like most about animation?
I like that we can tell stories about some of the most imaginative things. We can bring characters to life out of nothing, and make people feel connected to them as if they are real! We can get people to understand and (sometimes) care about the feelings of others through something we’ve completely made up from thin air.
T-Kesh is a fictional character, but the interview style makes him feel like a real person. What are some filmmaking choices you made to achieve this effect?
The first big thing is that part of the process involved recording interviews with him and using that in the final edit. Most traditional animation is scripted, and there is very little improvised. Another thing was when storyboarding, I was constantly asking myself if what we were showing would make sense for us to have captured in T-Kesh’s life if this was a real documentary, and tried to think of what is usually shown in documentaries in general. I wanted to make sure it felt as real as possible, and I had also become obsessed with making Instagram posts where I would draw characters into photos I had taken. I was ready to try something new, stylistically, and thought live action, or photo BGs [backgrounds], with CG [computer generated] animated characters would produce the most real effect.
What is something that you think people don’t know about working in animation?
It’s one of the most cis white male dominated industries, and most women, and especially women of color, that you see at the top, are most likely very persistent, very smart, and worked very hard to get there.
What is some advice you would give to young students interested in filmmaking?
Start making stuff and trying it out however you can. There is nothing more fun than diving straight in, wherever that is for you. Writing is something that will always be useful, so if you have stories to tell, start writing them, or filming them, or telling them in whatever way feels right for you. There is a lot of fun to be had with how accessible tools are now. People have shot award-winning films on their phones. I am always so excited to see what younger people do, because a lot of times it’s so much more creative than what someone more trapped by the “rules” would make. I mean, just look at TikTok, young people dived right in and owned it, until older people started getting into it and ruined it. ∎
Read this humorous interview that was conducted with the character T-Kesh (voiced by Elizabeth Ito’s brother), which includes original drawings and storyboards for WELCOME TO MY LIFE.
Films are made by people who have something they want to say. What do you want to say?
- Ask students to think about a cause, an idea, or any message that they would want to share with others.
- Have students imagine that they are going to film a documentary or mockumentary about this subject, and consider the following:
- Who might you want to interview for this documentary? (You can suggest someone they know or a public figure they are interested in.)
- What else would you want to include in your documentary?
- What interview questions would you want to ask?
- Have students write interview questions to ask a friend or family member about the subject.
- If possible have students conduct and record their interviews using audio or video. This can be done simply with a smartphone or tablet.
- If they have chosen a public figure, perhaps a friend or family member can improvise and act as the person being interviewed.
03 Chin Up
This visually inventive animated and live action documentary, recounted in first person by filmmaker JoAnne Salmon, relates her journey as she overcomes a facial deformity to live her dreams as an animator.