Speaking in Tongues is the kind of movie that makes you so proud to live in San Francisco. Sure, we get a lot of grief for our hippy-dippy politically correct multicultural no smoking no corn syrup lifestyles, but isn’t it extremely satisfying when it turns out that what we’re doing is exactly right?
Speaking in Tongues follows four kids at various stages in the San Francisco Unified School District’s nationally-acclaimed bilingual education program. Studies show that children enrolled in bilingual programs test as well if not better than children in monolingual programs, and for children new to English it dramatically improves academic performance — and the kids look like they’re having a blast.
The filmmakers have two kids enrolled in SFUSD bilingual programs, so they’re not entirely unbiased — but after seeing the movie, you can definitely see why they’re fans. There’s one African-American kindergartener who learns to speak Mandarin like a native, a Cantonese-American 6th grader whose non-Cantonese speaking parents hope their daughter will have a better connection with her Asian heritage than they do, a Mexican-American 5th grader whose Spanish-speaking father wants his son to speak English, and a Caucasian Lowell High student who can’t wait to go to China to try scorpion. So many hopes and dreams, all supported through the San Francisco taxpayer funded public school system! So cool!!
I’m not exactly sure why the Film Fest decided to pair this movie up with A Day Late in Oakland, though. Don’t get me wrong, A Day Late in Oakland is a very good and thought-provoking short film, also with a local focus — Chauncey Bailey’s assassination by members of Your Black Muslim Bakery — but it’s harrowing enough that all the kids in the audience for Speaking in Tongues were asked to leave beforehand, and the first question from the audience was an incoherent rant by a white audience member about how the movie supported white supremacists (and was angrily booed). Sort of the reason why sometimes I hate living in the Bay Area.
Speaking in Tongues/A Day Late in Oakland screens three more times at the film festival (May 2, 11:45 a.m.; May 2, 3:30 p.m; May 7, 2:30 p.m.), but all of the screenings have already sold out (rush tickets are still available). The SFUSD will be sponsoring a screening in May at the public library too.
Picture of the filming of Speaking in Tongues by Najib Joe Hakim