What a wilderness is YouTube. It’s the Sacred Headwaters of the Internet. I barely explore it — I only really go like, one Clif bar’s worth of energy inside of it, unless we’re talking about clips of Grateful Dead shows, in which case I will indeed go deep. But I have made some weird discoveries, like when my son was really into trucks and I found a whole zone that is just unnarrated clips of construction machinery working, some of which have hundreds of thousands of views. That was a bit of a sad abyss to stare into.
When I was a kid and watched Sesame Street every single day, my favourite parts were the mini documentaries about real kids doing cool stuff like living in a motor home or taking care of their pet llama. Although contemporary Sesame Street is still OK, it hasn’t continued in that documentary vein. One of the main uses I’ve found for YouTube as a source of entertainment for my kids is as a trove of clips of people around the world doing rad and interesting shit.
In that category, it is hard to beat Latcho Drom, a film by Tony Gatlif made in 1993 about the historic migration of the Roma (gypsy) people from Rajasthan, India all the way across Europe. You can watch the entire thing on YouTube. There’s a LOT to say about this film. It kind of surpasses the scope of a humble website such as this. Maybe I can sum it up? Haha? Some people certainly criticized it, and Tony Gatlif more generally, for his sometimes essentialist approach, and definitely Gatlif cheezes in a distinctive way throughout his oeuvre of many films about the Roma people. BUT. For me, personally, as a person of Montreal descent in 1993, seeing it at the old Parisian theatre downtown with my mom (that was the really narrow one, if I recall, with like 2 screens? Yes?) it was basically the single most aesthetically/artistically exciting thing I had seen up to that point.
Sleep neither upon Gadjo Dilo, a later film by Gatlif starring the amazingly beautiful Rona Hartner (who inspired many misbegotten attempts at scarf-accessorization by me throughout my teens) and the adorable young Romain Duris who, at this age, looked a lot like the main dude in the contemporaneous and equally loosey-goosey band Rusted Root.
But I digress! Latcho Drom is a series of clips of people making music together. It is CHOICE GRADE BUSINESS, and it is perfect for kids. They can lose interest and return to it later and not be confused by a plot. The scene changes regularly and there are many kids on screen which tends to make it more interesting for them. There are scenes of extreme sadness in this film, and remembrances at sites of historical violence and trauma, but these are likely to pass over young kids unnoticed. For older kids it could be an interesting way to begin a conversation about contemporary European history and geopolitics, if you’re up for it. It also contains within it one of my favourite acts of public breastfeeding on film (start around 3:30 in this clip).
My kids and I have never watched the whole thing together; I’ve shown it to them in clips over the years. Their favourite clip is this one:
My favourite is this one, because it takes place in Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, in the Camargue region of France, where my mom and I visited on a road trip in 2003. In this clip they are celebrating the annual festival of Sainte Sarah, a Roma saint whose statue is housed in the church by the ocean. My kids are into it because the dude is playing a “giant guitar,” and also there are horses in the ocean, which never fails to pique interest.