Going Into the Woods, by Christine Boese
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have been dead a long time!
It is true, Tom Stoppard's play has been around nearly as long as I have, although few high school students run across it, and if they do see a text of the play, even fewer "get it."
Arkansas Governor's School was a place which accidentally developed a reputation for fostering divergent, dialogic, associative and linear, irreverent, contentious thinking. It is a state-funded, summer gifted and talented program for rising high school seniors.
Governor Clinton helped to start the program in 1980. He and Hillary were regulars on our speaker series every year, right up to 1992, when Candidate Clinton practiced his "Town Meeting" style of Q&A for an hour and a half of the best our 400 kids could throw at him.
And Arkansas Governor's School is frequently under attack from the Religious Right, which charged that the curriculum is little more than liberal indoctrination. As a faculty member of the school for a number of years, I am far too biased to entertain the thought that I indoctrinate anyone, since I encourage students to roam, to argue from tangents, to make analogies, and to practice taking different positions in a discussion-based classroom.
However, with the Little Rock media and Christian TV stations scrutinizing our every move because of our connection with Clinton, we had to be very careful of what we included in the program. As a member of the film selection committee, I was always on the lookout for movies that would appeal to 17-year-olds, would look innocuous to the American Family Association, and would require some HARD thinking.
Forget Jesus of Montreal, Pink Floyd The Wall, or Life of Brian. We walked a line with Do the Right Thing and The Times of Harvey Milk. Sometimes we could dig up something interesting like A Brief History of Time or Koyanastasi. And few films could compare to the emotional meltdown of watching Triumph of the Will and Night and Fog on the same evening.
How do you plan a film series for high school kids anyway? Film is a linear medium. It doesn't often leave openings in the persuasive line for observers to enter the argument. Its aim is to hold you in the twists and turns of its progression, even when the story breaks out of chronological time. A film often chronicles a singular vision, although documentaries can move to a variety of perspectives (Errol Morris's Gates of Heaven) or can give the illusion of being a nonintrusive observer (Ellen Marks' Streetwise).