Befriending the Lost

Teaching Articles - Essays to fuel your creative life

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Cameron reviews Shaun Tan's first film, The Lost Thing, nominated for a 2010 Academy Award for best animated short. In this debut short, Tan explores a fantastical relationship that's curiously universal.

Befriending the Lost

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Copyright Screen Australia & Passion Pictures Australia



Cameron Brooks

When it comes to movies, my students' exposure is generally limited to illicit flea market bootlegs, and the occasional theater visit for the latest pop star's promotional dribble. For educators interested in exposing children to a range of artistic expression, film is a hugely influential medium with the potential to illuminate truth and spark creative thought.

Children's book illustrator Shaun Tan makes a graceful leap from literature to the celluloid sphere and brings a whole new dimension to his curious and fantastical worlds. Attached to the side of a rickety, nondescript bus loaded with people traveling deeper into the doldrums of a numbing existence, a sign reads, “Today is the tomorrow you expected yesterday.” Even the faded, earth tone color scheme suggests the inescapable oblivion of the status quo.

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Copyright Screen Australia & Passion Pictures Australia

The Lost Thing is a heartening story of a unique boy somehow mindful among mindlessness. He briefly adopts and befriends a peculiar creature on the street. As they search for its home, a remarkable bond begins to form, despite their inability to communicate verbally. The juxtaposition of oblivious people going about their day and these unlikely friends laughing and playing impromptu games offers viewers a sense of hope.

A Friday screening called "Lunch Bunch" is the highlight of the week for my students, a tradition that spurs ongoing conversations, from aesthetic preference and directorial choice, to character development and personal experiences a student termed, "film-to-self connections." What if discerning teachers took the same care vetting films as they do additions to the classroom library? In terms of media and the evolution of storytelling, digital films are ideal for further developing the creative mind's eye. Shaun Tan is one of many contemporary artists pushing the boundaries, and anyone who has asked, "Can I keep him?" will connect instantly with this contemporary parable.