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Use screen time pointedly to educate kids about diverse cultures, different families, says Montreal organization

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In the era of debate over whether screen time is bad for children, one Montreal organization is actually encouraging them to watch more films.

Why?

Montreal International Children's Film Festival (FIFEM) Founder Jo-Anne Blouin says it's one of the easiest ways to expose children to different cultures and open their eyes to how diverse the world truly is.

"The goal is to show kids a panorama of the best of what's being done around the world, but also open a window on the world to show them how other cultures live, how the kids live, how they deal with their problems," she said. "When you have an eight-year-old in front of a big screen, and you see a kid his age in another country, but he has the same problem. He feels that, OK, I'm not alone in the world."

FIFEM, which works with schools across Montreal, also holds an annual film festival during spring break in which a children's jury is invited to vote on the movie that touched them the most.

Blouin points out that a kid's world can be quite small if their parents don't help them expand it.

"When you're a kid, your social network is your parents, your teacher, your coach," she said. "If we know how people live, then it's easier to understand each other and accept each other."

Blouin recalls showing a group of children a film from Africa.

At one point, an older man rests in a hammock with his bare feet hanging over the side after having walked around.

"When the kids saw his feet, that were dusty, they started laughing, I was like OK, it's the different, simple details like this [that make a difference]," she said.

Films are not only a visual medium; Blouin says they are one of the easiest ways to show and tell a story.

She points out that at the 2024 edition of the Montreal International Children's Film Festival, they showed the children a movie depicting members of the LGBTQ2S+ community.

"I think that it's important to show them different cultures as young as possible," she said. "Teachers love cinema because they can use it in geography, in history classes, in French classes. They can use it in many forms, so that's why I think that cinema is easier to reach out to kids at any age."

She points out it's up to parents to participate in their children's lives and continue the conversation at home.

"They can discuss what they've seen together," Blouin said. It's a shared experience, and that's why it's important. It's different from being alone with your tablet or your iPhone in your room alone, not talking to anybody." 

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