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Films About Young People (some are too sad or violent for young children)

Heart of Fire: Eritrean child-soldier

Almost Famous.

Lost Boys of Sudan


Afghanistan: Osama. About a 12-year-old girl whose widowed mother disguises her as a boy so they can go outside—based on a true story, the first Afghan film after the fall of the Taliban. 2003

Kandahar: About an Afghani girl who grows up in Canada, but returns to Afghanistan to find her sister under the Taliban regime. 2001

Kite Runner: Takes place in Afganistan in the 1970s, about a Pushtun boy and Hazara boy. 2007

Argentina: Valentin. Features an 8-year-old boy who lives with his grandmother, who dies. He makes friends with helpful adults. 2004

Australia: December Boys. About four orphans in the 1960s on a holiday at the beach.

Rabbit-Proof Fence.  True story about three indigenous girls (ages 8-14) who are kidnapped and taken to a missionary school in the 1930s because they are half white, and escape to travel hundreds of miles on foot with no food or water or map to get back home.  The girls had no previous experience as actors. 2002

Mary & Max: a claymated feature film about a pen-friendship between Mary, a chubby lonely eight-year-old girl living in Melbourne, and Max Horovitz, a 44 year old, severely obese man with Aspergers Syndrome living in New York. Spanning 20 City. 2009


City of God shows crime life in a favela/slum in Rio. (2002)

Bus 174: a documentary about a former street kid who hijacks a city bus in Rio. (2003)

Caminho das Nuvens: The Middle of the World, A poor, illiterate family ride their bikes 2000 to Rio de Janeiro to look for work. The teen-age son leaves the family to work as a brick layer. (2003)

Canada: Saint Ralph is about a teen boy whose father died and his mother is in a coma in the 1950s. He wants to perform a miracle for her by winning a marathon race. 2004

Whole New Thing, 2005. Emerson, a 13-year old brilliant boy, has been home-schooled in rural Nova Scotia. His parents send him to middle school for help with math. He develops a crush on his male English teacher. He doesn’t like labels, says he’s not gay, but sends his teacher a love sonnet.

Chile:, Machuca, 2004. The film takes place in 1973, when the first socialist president democratically elected in a Latin-American country, President Salvador Allende is murdered. The story is about an upper class and lower class boy who meet when a Catholic school is integrated. Their friendship is torn apart by the military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet.

China: The Road Home (1999) An 18-year-old girl in a mountain village falls in love with the new 20-year-old school teacher.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress.  During the cultural revolution in china again, two intellectual city boys are sent to the countryside.  The impact of the country on them, and visa vera, especially the young girl (seamstress) who falls in love with reading.

Stolen Life, 2005) shows the class system where city people look down on rural peasants. A freshman university student is corrupted by a scheming boyfriend.

Czechoslovakia: Kolya is about a five-year-old Russian boy who is cared for by a Czech bachelor during the Russian occupation in the 1980s.

France: Au Revoir Les Enfants,

Poinette is about a girl whose mother dies and goes to live with her aunt and cousins.

To be and to Have, a documentary about a dedicated teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in a rural French village.

Ma Vie en Rose (My Life en Rose) – a very endearing movie about a little boy who likes to dress up in girls’ clothing

Francois Truffaut 400 blows takes place in a cruel boarding school.

Blame it on Fidel. Anna is a 9-year-old girl, in Paris in 1970. She has to cope with many changes when her parents become radical activists. 2006

The Fox and the Child, 2007. A 10-year-old girl explores nature in the mountains of Southern France. She is very brave, scaring away a wolf pack, an eagle, and a bear in her defense of a fox she gradually tames. The narration is in English.

India: Bend it Like Beckham, 2002. An 18-year-old Punjabi girl is a good soccer player, but her parents don’t think its proper for an Indian girl to run around in shorts, even though they live in London.

Born into Brothels— (2004), follows the stories of several children growing up in the red-light district of Calcutta, and the impact made on them when they are given cameras to record their daily lives.

Water: 2005. About child widows in India during the time of Gandhi in the 1930s.

Slumdog Millionaire. About a slum boy who ends up on a quiz show.

Namesake, 2007. After an arranged marriage in Calcutta, the couple comes to New York for his work. The film is about their son’s attempts to integrate Indian and American culture.

Iran: Children of Heaven Brother Ali loses his sister Zahra’s school shoes. Farsi language. Outside, about girls disguised as boys who get caught trying to sneek into the all male soccer finals. Children of Heaven about an Iranian brother and sister who live in a Kurdish village cope with his lose of her only pair of shoes.

Iraq; Turtles Can Fly: After the fall of Saddam Hussein, about a brother and sister and other orphans who make money by digging up live mines and selling them. Too sad for young children.

Japan: Nobody Knows.  abandoned kids

Honey and Clover: Five Hama art school students are followed as they leave school.

Jordan: Captain Abu Raed is about a janitor who tries to enliven the difficult lives of the children in his neighborhood with imaginative travel stories, 2008.

Korea: In Between Days is a 2006 film directed by So Yong Kim about a young girl from Korea and her lonely coming of age in Canada.

Mexico: The Zone, 2007. A walled compound of wealthy families in Mexico City is broken into by three teen boys who try to steal from one of the homes. One of slum boys, Miguel, hides out and is befriended by another teen who lives in the compound, Alejandro. The film shows the gap between rich and poor, how the police can be bribed and the rich take justice into their own hands. I didn’t watch the whole movie because of the vigilante violence.

Mongolia: Boys find a ping pong ball in a creek and think it has special powers.

Nigeria: Emmanuelle’s Gift, the amazing true story of a teenager who bicycled all over Nigeria (with only one leg) to raise funds and awareness/rights for the disabled in that country, who generally had no rights and no income.

Spain: Butterfly about a boy who starts school in the 1930s. His life is disrupted by the fascist takeover of government.

South Africa: Yesterday, 2004. An illiterate Zulu farm woman, whose husband works in the mines in Johanesburg, learns she had AIDS. She is determined to stay alive until her daughter starts school. Shows village life.

Spain: Carol’s Journey, about a 12 year old who moves from NY to Spain during the Spanish Civil War.  Her mom is dying and her dad is fighting with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.  Shows her and her “boyfriend” resisting facism.

Beyond Silence (foreign, German maybe?)

Carol’s Journey, about a girl’s trip to Spain during the Civil War. 2002

Sudan: God Must Have Forgotten Us about boys.

Sweden: My Life as a Dog A boy who is upset about the loss of a parent pretends his is a dog.

Fanny and Alexander.

Taiwan: Yi Yi: A One and a Two, 2006. Shows the issues facing an urban middle-class family in Taipai. The family includes dual-career parents, a teen daughter and a boy, age 8.

Turkey: Bliss tells the story of an ex-commando who is ordered by his family to kill his 17-year-old cousin, an “honor killing,” because she was raped and “tainted.” 2007. It contrasts the differences between rural and urban lifestyles and shows the girl’s increasing strength to stand up for herself.

United Kingdom: Millions tells what happens to an 8-year-old Irish boy when he finds a suitcase full of money. 2005

Billy Elliott – truly brilliant inspiring movie about a coal miner’s son who loves ballet, and starts studying in secret to be a ballet dancer.  British or somewhere around there.

About a Boy, with Hugh Grant.

Bend It Like Beckham

The Girl in the Cafe, about a young woman who becomes friends with a British diplomat type, and accompanies him to the G-8 summit, where she becomes  obsessed with the plight of children all over the world who are dying from preventable causes, and keeps interrupting their formal G-8 social events to confront them about their refusal to do anything,  Has lots of good info about kids suffering.

The Girl from New South Wales

The Secret Garden,

I Capture the Castle – teenage sisters growing up in an extremely eccentric and impoverished English family.  The dad’s a famous writer who has writer’s block.

Driving Lesson, 2006. A 17-year-old British boy learns to stand up for himself, with the help of an older woman. It’s a difficult time as his parents quarrel and break up.

Princess Kailuani, 2010. The story of a young Hawaiian princess’ fight against the annexation of Hawaii by the US in the late 19th century. Here is what she said when she lobbied in the US:

Today, I, a poor weak girl with not one of my people with me and all these ‘Hawaiian’ statesmen against me, have strength to stand up for the rights of my people. Even now I can hear their wail in my heart and it gives me strength and courage and I am strong – strong in the faith of God, strong in the knowledge that I am right, strong in the strength of seventy million people who in this free land will hear my cry and will refuse to let their flag cover dishonor to mine!”

USA: Baraka: The documentary about American ghetto kids going to a school in Africa where their lives got (briefly) turned around.

Bruno: made in 2000, is about an 8-year-old boy who has a dream about an angel and concluded that like angels, he should wear dresses, which he calls holy vestments, even in spelling bees. There’s lots of resistance from the nuns at his Catholic school and from his police officer father, but his mother and grandmother back him up and he wins the national bee.

Freedom Writers.  It powerfully answers the question “what was so great about Anne Frank’s writing?,”  the theme of the movie in a way, although the other theme is that seeing kids as whole people can turn the worst racist gang members into inspired creators.  It’s a true story!  The kids and the teacher have started a foundation to spread her methods.

The Great Debaters

Remember the Titans, both movies with actor Denzel Washington as a inspiriing teach of black youth.

School of Rock.

Little Women.

The Devil’s Playground.  It’s about how Amish kids are brought up in an incredibly restricted environment (no education past 8th grade, no cars) and then when they’re sixteen turned loose to experience all the decadent delights the world has to offer, like unrestricted drugs, sex, drinking, cars. Then they have to decide if they want to give it all up and become Amish for the rest of their lives, or try to make it on their own (with no education and no family support of any kind) in the outside world.

In America: an Irish immigrant family comes to New York City, told from the point of view of the little girls,.

Liar, Liar: a little boy is disgusted by his lawyer father lying all the time, and makes a birthday wish that he has to tell the truth for 24 hours. and exposes the lies that are such a basic part of the adult world.

Baraka”  Amazing documentary about a school in Africa where delinquent black teenage boys (from an impoverished American inner city) are sent to help them get on track, and they do!  Really beautiful until the funding for the school is cut due to  political upheaval/

New Zealand: Whale Rider is a feminist kid classic.

Pump up the Volume

Uganda: War Dance, 2006. Ugandan schools compete in music competion. The focus is on kids from a refuguee camp from the Acholi tribe. Some of the children were forced to be soldiers, some are orphans.

VietNam: Buffalo Boy. A 15-year-old buffalo herder deals with six month floods during the rainy season in the 1940s.

Owl and the Sparrow. A 10-year-old orphan girl lives on the streets of Saigon.

Film resource: Timothy Shary and Alexandra Seibel. Youth Culture in Global Cinema.

University of Texas Press, 2006.

The authors list themes about global youth films in Appendix B. They select these films as classics due to the fame of their stars and/or directors; Los Olvidados (Luis Buñuel, Mexico, 1950), Rebel Without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, U.S., 1955), Aparajito/The Unvanquished (Satyajit Ray, India, 1957), Les Quatre cents coups/The 400 Blows (Francois Truffaut, France, 1959), Ivanovo detstvo/Ivan’s Childhood (Andrei Tarkovsky, Soviet Union, 1962), Walkabout (Nicholas Roeg, Australia, 1971), Diabolo menthe/Peppermint Soda (Diane Kurys, France, 1977), Mitt liv som hund/My Life as a Dog (Lasse Hallstrôm, Sweden, 1985), Au revoir les enfants/Goodbye Children (Louis Malle, France, 1987), and Europa Europa/Agnieszka (Holland, Poland, 1990).


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