British Columbia

The Backward Class follows first ever 'untouchable' Grade 12 students in India

The Backward Class, a film looking at the first ever class of dalit, or 'untouchable', caste children to sit Grade 12 exams in India, has its first screening in Vancouver on Friday.

Vancouver director Madeleine Grant made film after volunteering at Shanti Bhavan school

The Backward Class documentary follows the first 'untouchable' Grade 12 students at Shanti Bhavan School as they prepare to sit their final exams. (The Backward Class)

The Backward Class, a documentary looking at the first ever class of dalit, or 'untouchable', caste children to sit Grade 12 exams in India, will have its first screening in Vancouver on Friday.

The film, which follows students through their final make-or-break year, is directed by UBC graduate Madeleine Grant, who volunteered at the children's experimental school, Shanti Bhavan, in rural southern India seven years ago.

The non-profit, private school was established to educate members of the dalit caste, made up of the poorest of the poor in the country.

"I was really struck by the idea of excellence in education being able to break cycles of poverty," Grant said. "And the school really embodied that idea."

Aspiring astronauts

Grant graduated from UBC's film production program in 2006. Two years later, she and her sister Evelyn spent about six weeks volunteering at the school while traveling through South-East Asia in 2008.

"They were aspiring to be astronauts, doctors and nuclear physicists," she said. "I was really struck by the hopeful outlook at the school."

The documentary examines the difference a quality education can make to students. (The Backward Class)

Grant says she had no intention of making a documentary, but when the global economic crisis hit and threatened the existence of the school, she felt compelled to try and help. In 2009, she began pitching a film.

Over a period of about five years she pulled together a group including five other UBC grads and a couple of Vancouver-based filmmakers to produce the documentary on a shoestring budget.


Since the movie was made, Grant says, the students are doing well — and some have even gone on to work with major international companies, like Ernst & Young, Goldman Sachs and Mercedes-Benz.

Director Madeleine Grant volunteered at the school previously.

And that idea — that a good education can change students' futures — seems to have resonated with audiences.

Last spring, The Backward Class was featured in the Hot Docs Festival in Toronto, ultimately winning the Audience Award.

In November, the film also received the Can-Am Grand Prix of Cinema Award at the Windsor International Film Festival and in December, it won the Documentary Award at the Whistler Film Festival.

Vancouver's Vancity Theatre will host the first screening of The Backward Class on Friday at 1 p.m. PT, followed by five more screenings over the next week.

Since the movie was made, Grant says, the students are doing well — and some have even gone on to work with major international companies. (The Backward Class)


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