USA 2013, 1h 35min.
Our School follows the life of three Roma children attending school alongside Romanian children for the first time – part of a European plan to stop the Roma from going to segregated schools.
The US-based director, Mona Nicoara, is originally Romanian, and telling the story of Our School took her more than six years: Alin (8), Beni (10) and Dana (16) are Roma children from the Roma-dominated Dileu neighbourhood in Targu Lapus, a small town in Transylvania. Before being sent to the school in the centre of Targu Lapus, they used to go to a Roma-only school in their neighbourhood, a place where education was far below the standards of regular Romanian schools. The children have trouble catching up with their Romanian peers, so they are placed in a separate class. Also, the EU funds the municipality received to help the Roma integrate into Romanian schools are not used to help the children catch up, but to renovate their old Roma-only school in Dileu, so they can be sent back there. The documentary follows the children from the beginning of the desegregation process. From day one these children are treated with caution and a dominant approach. There is a certain contradiction between what happens at the intentional level, what the teachers think they should say and do, and what they actually say and do in the end. The devil is in the details, in the uncontrolled facial expressions and other visible hints. Their faces, tones and certain words betray how they really feel about these children.
The camera is successful in showing this important subtlety. Intentionally, the teachers and the people from the municipality don’t want to discriminate and they don’t even realise that they are doing it: they are simple people who do their job and see things the way they are used to. They are part of the community, they clean their houses, they iron their clothes. These children sit quietly at their desks, they raise their hands when they want to say something and smile politely. As parents, teachers and officials, they do things right. The way they treat the Roma is just the way things have been for many generations.