01 Welcome to my Life
This Film Guide will lead you and your class through the process of thoughtfully engaging with film. We’ll begin by viewing the film and answering open-ended questions, followed by a closer examination of the characters and themes. Students will have opportunities to connect and relate to the character’s experiences on a personal level. Finally, we’ll learn about the filmmaker, their process, and the ways a filmmaker tells a story using moving images. We’ll consider the filmmaker’s artistic choices and how they helped to convey the story. Over the course of the Lesson Plan, we will continue to build on these ideas by watching short films.
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.
- What words come to mind when you hear the word film? How about short film or animation?
- How are films similar to or different from books, tv shows, or poems?
- What are things you expect to see or hear in a film?
- Who do you think makes films? Why do you think people might make films?
- What are some questions you have about films? Visit the Glossary and Key Terms page to help answer these questions.
Visit the Glossary and Film Terms page for definitions of these terms or have students research the answers.
- 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 notice? What did you see?
- How would you describe the style of this film?
- What words come to mind when you hear the word documentary?
- In what ways was this film similar and/or different from a documentary?
- This film is considered a mockumentary. What do you think the word mockumentary might mean?
Visit the Glossary for definitions of these terms and be sure to note that a mockumentary is meant to be humorous and is different from a fake-documentary that might intend to mislead or misinform people.
- 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.
- Engage students in Think, Write, Pair, Share before discussing as a group. 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 posing a question before screening the film again and have students take notes while viewing the film this time.
- From what we can see in the film, what do we know about the protagonist, T-Kesh? How do we know this?
- What don’t we know about T-Kesh? What do we wonder about this character?
- What do we know about the antagonist, Ian? How do we know that?
- What don’t we know about Ian? What do we wonder about Ian?
- Why do you think Ian might have treated T-Kesh the way he did? What assumptions might Ian have made about T-Kesh?
When we meet someone new, our name is usually the first thing 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?
- What might your own name or nickname tell others about your identity? What stories about you or your family might your name reflect? What about your identity is simplified, hidden, or confused by your name?
- Ask students to make a list of words, phrases, and/or character traits that come to mind when describing the characters in the film.
- Students can work on the list while rewatching the film or you can use still images by pausing the film.
The Bigger Conversation
- Create a T-chart. On one side of the chart, have students list words that they might use to describe a monster. 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.
- What assumptions might Ian have made about T-Kesh or about monsters in general that might have caused him to treat T-Kesh the way he did?
- Ask students to help define the word stereotype. Explain that when we make assumptions about an entire group of people, those assumptions are referred to as stereotypes. When stereotypes influence our behavior or attitudes, we may find it difficult to make fair judgements about someone or something. This influence on judgement is called a bias.
Our families can be an important part of our identities. In small groups or pairs have students revisit and reflect on the following:
- T-Kesh says: “It seems like Japanese monsters are pretty common in cinema, but I don’t know if regular people would know that that’s, like, a normal thing…” What do you think T-Kesh means by this?
- T-Kesh uses the phrases regular people and normal thing. What can you say about words like ‘normal’ or ‘regular’ and how they are used and interpreted by different people?
- Do you think these are useful terms?
- T-Kesh’s mom says “…in today’s world there are all kinds of people and people are becoming more tolerant of…different kinds of parenting styles and different family configurations…accepting a monster just kind of goes along with that.” What do you think T-Kesh’s mother means by this? Does this remind you of anything that you’ve heard or experienced in real life?
Emphasize that answers to these questions, like the other conversations you are having, are non-judgemental and provide students with an opportunity to consider their own experiences—and the importance of reflecting on their own actions and thoughts.
- Read Hello My Name is _______ by Jason Kim with your students and explore the idea of how our names can reflect our identities. If students are learning remotely, share this audio reading of the text.
- For more resources on diversity and equity visit the Teaching Tolerance website.
- Anti-Defamation League: A Classroom of Difference
- Tolerance.org: Exploring identity in Middle School
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.
Filmmakers make lots of decisions, big and small, to ensure they tell a story clearly or in an interesting way.
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.
- How would you describe the visual style of the film? What does the film look like?
- How would you describe the design of the character in the film?
- 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 notice the different decisions the filmmaker had to make.)
Films are made by filmmakers who have something they want to say, which might be inspired by their own experiences or something they’ve encountered in the world. Therefore, a film often has an underlying message, or multiple messages.
Ask the questions below and explain that 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?
- Did you learn anything from this film or the actions of the characters?
- Was there anything you didn’t understand about the film or the actions of the characters?
- The characters in the film are voiced by members of the filmmaker Elizabeth Ito’s family. How does knowing this add to or change your ideas about the film?
- Why do you think Ito might have chosen to have her family voice the characters of the film?
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, with CG 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 Tik Tok, young people dived right in and owned it, until older people started getting into it and ruined it. ∎
- Think of a time when you made an assumption about someone based on how they looked. 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 mistreating others because of their differences. How did this make you feel? What, if anything, did you do about it? Is there anything you wish you could have said to either of the people involved?
- Can you think of strategies to support yourself or others in the above situations?
Use the questions above as starting points for one of the following activities:
- Write a letter to someone you may have made an assumption about OR to those who have made an assumption about you. What would you want to tell or 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. For example, what do you think Ian would want to say to T-Kesh in a letter?
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.
- Students can write a description of the film, and include the choices they would make to tell their story in an interesting way.
- Students can also draw a movie poster or complete a storyboard that illustrates their idea.
02 Amelia’s Closet
An incisive and moving film about a young Black student’s experiences with racism and privilege in the classroom; fosters dialogues about race, class, perspective-shifting and understanding.