by Addison Cooper, LCSW
I see a lot of movies. I just wrote a book about movies (check out Adoption at the Movies on Amazon!), and I also write this column and maintain the website Adoption at the Movies. In general, this is a good thing. I see films that I might not have watched were it not for writing about them. Some of them turn out to be disappointing, and others are as good as I had hoped. Some are surprisingly touching, heartwarming, or powerful. This past year, I’ve covered a few excellent films in this column—two that especially stand out to me as worth seeing are Zootopia and Kung Fu Panda 3. To close my column for 2016 and open 2017, I want to share three more of the films that surprised me with how good they were. Along with Zootopia and Kung Fu Panda 3, here are Addison Cooper’s Must-See Movies for Social Workers from the films I’ve reviewed over the past year.
Queen of Katwe
Queen of Katwe (PG, 124 minutes). In a particularly low-SES region of Uganda, Nakku Harriet’s children must sell corn to earn enough money to pay rent and buy food. Nakku’s young children, including her daughter Phiona, are welcomed into a local chess ministry run by Robert Katende. Phiona and her siblings are shown how to play chess, given food, and shown love. Phiona finds that she has a strong aptitude for chess; she quickly becomes the champion of the youth center, which allows her to travel to national and international competitions.
The film captures a caring adult in action, and it also shows that, given opportunity, kids from difficult places can thrive. Robert is a mentor and an advocate for the children who come to his chess ministry. He captures the heart of social work. Robert’s family sacrifices financially for him to do this work. His wife supports him, saying that his work with children is the shared work of his whole family. As you watch Queen of Katwe, be inspired by the hope that your clients can thrive, and also take joy in seeing your heart and your work reflected in Robert.
Father Unknown (NR, 75 minutes). The earliest memories of Urban Quint are set in an orphanage in Switzerland. His mother eventually sent from America for him. He grew up in America, became a teacher, had a family, and retired. His mother refused to tell him who his father was. After his mother passed, Urban and his son, filmmaker David Quint, travelled to Switzerland to try to uncover some answers about Urban’s history. Captured mostly with David’s camera phone, Father Unknown takes us to the orphanage where Urban lived as a child, and we are with him when he finds someone who might have some clues to Urban’s history. Father Unknown is a remarkable testament to the deep need many adoptees feel for their own histories. It also shows the power of knowledge, relationships, and family.
One of the things I love best about being a social worker is learning the stories of others. Father Unknown powerfully shares the story and the feelings of the filmmaker’s father. Watch it with the eyes of a social worker, and let it touch your heart.
Inner Workings (NR, Short). Paul works at a small desk in the large, soul-less building of Boring, Boring, and Glum. He wakes up, walks to work, sits at his desk, eats at his desk, and leaves. There doesn’t seem to be much going on in Paul’s life—but Inner Workings gives the inside story. His heart yearns to seek adventure, to find love, and to be joyful, but his mind continually warns him to be cautious. Flirting could lead to rejection. Joy could lead to danger. Adventure could lead to death. In an effort to preserve his life, Paul has created a safe but joyless life. Eventually, his mind reflects on the inevitability of death—and this new perspective encourages Paul to make the most of the life he has. This nearly-wordless short, packaged with the also-worth-seeing film Moana, is a powerful invitation to find the soul in our lives.
As social workers, our jobs don’t feel as meaningless as Paul’s button pushing, but the stresses inherent in our work—both the clinical and perhaps even more so, the administrative side—can sap our joy. Inner Workings is a gentle but poignant, wordless nudge. Let it invite you to re-embrace your work and your life outside of work. Let it invite you to refuel and renew yourself.
What films have been meaningful to you in the past year? I’d love to hear from you at http://www.facebook.com/AdoptionAtTheMovies.
Addison Cooper, LCSW, is a clinical supervisor at a foster care and adoption agency, and is the creator of the website Adoption at the Movies (http://www.adoptionatthemovies.com). His first book, also called Adoption at the Movies, is due out on January 19, 2017, from Jessica Kingsley Publishers and is available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.