EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW | Sara Colangelo on The Kindergarten Teacher

The Kindergarten Teacher director talks adaptation, education and art

Many of us foster ambitions that go unfulfilled. It could be because we never took the time to pursue our dream and became trapped in the compromise of a conventional, more conservative path that offered a greater degree of security. It could be because talent was not quite of the standard needed to excel. It could be because lady luck did not shine with fortuity. In fact, any number of permutations can be responsible for regret and dissatisfaction to fester.

Sara Colangelo’s remake of Nada Lapid’s 2014 Israeli film, Haganenet (English title: The Kindergarten Teacher), is a dramatic discourse on this very notion. Lisa (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a passionate thirty-something teacher who nurtures ambitions in the field of poetry.

After work she attends classes led by Simon (Gael Garcia Bernal) and tries her hand at prose, but her efforts are hackneyed and prosaic, which is why her eyes light up one day when one of her young pupils stuns her with poems of his own. Surely, he is too young to conjure such profound stanzas? Maybe he is a savant. Convinced that he is a prodigy, Lisa champions him, but are her motives truly altruistic?

We sat down with Colangelo and she laid bare her own thoughts on remaking a critically acclaimed Israeli film, art in the modern world and how educational matters in the US are changing.

Fine margins

Colangelo: “One thing that figures throughout this movie is the struggle concerning the lines between what is guidance and encouragement, and what is manipulation and projecting your own goals onto a child. Also, I really wanted to explore art within the American cultural space and the value we give to it, even in early education.”

The Times They Are A-Changing

“My own kindergarten teacher was in local theatre and was really fun and playful. What you’re seeing now in the United States is a move towards academics really early. Children are writing and reading at a very young age. For us, we didn’t start that until grade school but everything is being pushed towards five-year-olds now. That’s been a little disturbing to me because I think that it’s important that kids socialise, play and stay open.”

Poetry in the modern world

“It almost doesn’t have a space our world right now. It requires focus and a moment where you’re in a bubble focusing on that one thing, whereas now, we live in an age of information, doing many things at once, grabbing little titbits and juggling them. I think poetry has this quality where it can bring out the best in us. I could have picked any art form but poetry is the least monetised and there’s a magic to it.”

Art will survive

“We have these moments where we lose it. For example, Trump has defunded the National Endowment of the Arts. Things come and go like this but, ultimately, I think that we fight for it and cannot help but do it. We have a natural predilection to create, communicate with others and exchange our experiences in an artful way. I’m optimistic. It’s a way for us to connect emotionally with one another and a part of our species.”

My version of Lapid’s film

 “I was interested in crafting a portrait of a teacher who was almost a Montessori-style teacher stuck in the confines of a state school that literally has bars on the window and a curriculum that is really rigid. That was interesting to me, so Maggie and I conducted a lot of research on that.”

Making changes

 “Adaptations exist all the time and the big issue is that I felt that there was a gender dynamic in Nadav Lapid’s (original) that couldn’t exist in the US, so I really wanted to change that and give Lisa something of myself or something totally new. I think she is a really different character and I think her relationship with her family and the fact that it is set between Staten Island and Manhattan gives it something else. I felt as though (the original) almost had the bones of a Greek tragedy – it could be lifted up into another space and social context. I feel as though it’s a completely different movie.”

Here is the trailer for The Kindergarten Teacher:

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