November 4, 2019  (Web Review)

Colours of the Alphabet

(2016) 80 min. In Soli, Nyanja, Bemba & English w/English subtitles. DVD: $34.95: individuals; $90: high schools; $160: public libraries; $320: colleges & universities. DRA. Documentary Educational Resources (www.der.org). PPR.

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

According to filmmaker Alastair Cole’s documentary, nearly 40 percent of the global populace are forced to pursue an education in languages that are not their own. Colours of the Alphabet focuses on a school in rural Zambia that is home to 72 local languages, but English is the only official national language and therefore serves as the foundation of educational lessons. Not surprisingly, this creates problems for children living in villages where different indigenous languages are used in daily life. The film employs a clever translation device: providing different colored subtitles to highlight when a particular local language is being used, with white subtitles reserved for English. The students in the school struggle with attempts to quickly master the unfamiliar English language, and their teacher often does not seem to be up to the challenge of creating a new generation of English-proficient youth. Cole pays particular attention to three students and their families over two school terms. The resulting portrait is sincere, poignant, and often heartbreaking—particularly when one considers the poverty of the rural Zambian school and the villages where the children and their families live. Recommended. Aud: C, P. (P. Hall)