THE PIRATE TAPES
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THE PIRATE TAPES
Directed by Matvai Zhivov, Roger Singh, Andrew Moniz and Rock Baijnauth
Canada | 2011 | 72 min
This guide has been designed to help teachers and students enrich their experience of
documentary film by providing support in the form of questions and activities. There are a range
of questions that will help teachers frame discussions with their classes, activities for before,
during and after viewing the film, and some web links that provide starting points for further
research or discussion. In separate packages, there will also be support materials available with
information regarding general viewing and teaching principles for documentary film and the
fundamental aspects of making documentary films.
We follow the plight of the young journalist Mohamed, in
what quickly spirals to be a tale of a life of violence living
amongst a pirate cell in a Somali coastal town, culminating
in Mohamed ending up in a horrific Somali jail, a hair away
from being executed. “I became one of them.... You have to in
order to survive.... It was the most horrifying experience of
Using hidden camera equipment to film the pirate
organization from the ground up was a dangerous
undertaking, but one that allows us to answer some tough
questions and get an intimate understanding of the entire
Educational package written and compiled by Dimitra Tsanos
VIEWING THE FILM WITH STUDENTS
There are important themes in this film that have broad implications for students and their futures.
Take time to activate your students’ background understanding of these themes before viewing.
This will help them as they come to their own understanding and develop their critical abilities.
The following three subsections, on this page, are intended to provide you with a range of pre-
viewing, viewing and post-viewing activities. They are followed by a set of questions based upon
the film’s larger thematic domains, some follow-up questions and quotations, sample curricular
outcomes, and a page of web links for further investigation.
Pre-Viewing Activities Stop the film at various points and have students provide
summaries at each point.
Show students the teaser for the film from the official
Have students jot down five ideas for discussion, or questions
website (http://thepiratetapes.com). Have students work in
that the film raised in their minds.
small groups to try and identify themes or ideas conveyed by
Discuss with students how effective/affective the trailer is as
a media piece. Show the students their quotations from the Pre-Viewing
Activity and see if their minds were changed or opinions
To give the students background about the issues in Somalia,
altered or enhanced by the film.
show students the clip “The Brief and Relevant History of
Piracy” from the film’s official website. Also show them Have student complete an exit note (single small sheet
an eight-minute clip, “The Somalia Affair,” from the CBC of paper with one phrase or idea written on it) that
archives (http://archives.cbc.ca/war_conflict/peacekeeping/ demonstrates one thing they have learned, felt or decided as
topics/723/). Have them outline some of the major issues a result of watching the film.
that have contributed to the growth of piracy. Discuss with students their initial reactions to the various
For homework, have students read one of the articles characters and situations confronted in the film. Did it
provided in the Websites and Online Resources section at the change by the end of the film? Why?
end of this guide. Have students complete the Word Analysis handout after
Print several of the questions or quotations from the viewing the film. They can use the film, as well as the
Extension Activities section of this guide on individual provided website to assist them with the exercise and the
sheets of paper. Have students work in small groups or with questions. Take it up as a class.
partners to discuss if they agree with the ideas. Have them Students will pick apart the film, looking at various causes to
share the statement and what they think or believe about it the corruption of Somalia, and look at the long-term effects
with the class. it is causing. This literacy exercise can be found under the
Set a purpose for viewing by having a discussion about title Cause and Effect.
one or more of the questions or quotations from the Illegal foreign fishing is a common global issue. Have
Extension Activities. students research another example of this problem and how
the country solved the problem. Canada’s East Coast fishery
Viewing Activities and the North Sea are good examples.
Have students take notes on, or jot down connections to, Have students research another conflict in Africa which has
one of the thematic domains from the Big Questions/Ideas/ a history of colonization, corrupt government and/or civil
Themes section of this guide. Ask students to find proof from war. Have them include the role of the UN in the conflict and
the film that supports their connections. if the United States had any role in the history of the conflict.
Share each conflict as a class.
Have students use a graphic organizer to summarize the
film as they watch it. There are three issues in the film: toxic For further ideas around how to explore this documentary,
dumping, illegal fishing and piracy. use the guiding questions on the following page.
THE BIG QUESTIONS/IDEAS/THEMES
Multiple Perspectives Culture and Community
What is the subject of this film? Can you determine the Which aspects of a people’s culture does this film focus on?
filmmakers’ perspective on this subject? What evidence can Why do you think the filmmakers focused on those aspects?
you find in the film to support your view?
How do the images, themes and message of this film help you
How does this film help you analyze and interpret points of understand the filmmakers’ attitude towards the subject?
view about issues that concern people? What do you think might have been the intended audience’s
attitude towards the documentary subject?
Does the filmmakers’ perspective foster respect for diversity
and an inclusive society? If so, how?
Identity and Economic Decisions
What economic systems are at work in this film? What are
Whose story is told in this documentary? Whose story is not
some of the causes and effects of the economic decisions
told? How does this story, and the way it is told, help you
made by the people in the film’s community?
understand your own community/life?
Does money play a part in the decisions being made in the
How do the people in this film identify with their community?
film and what does it tell you about their local culture?
What are the common bonds among the people in this film?
What challenges do they face in expressing their identity?
Power and Governance
What film techniques do the filmmakers use to convey the
identity of the people in this film? What system of government control do we see in this
documentary? How is power distributed within this society?
What are the implications of that distribution on issues
Citizenship affecting the people’s well-being and freedom?
What insights does this documentary offer about the ideals
of good citizenship in the community depicted in this film? Global Connections
How does the film deal with issues of freedom, equality, What global issues are addressed in this film? What is the
human dignity, and individual and collective rights and filmmakers’ point of view on the opportunities and challenges
responsibilities? of those issues?
Adapted from NFB Documentary Lens: http://www.nfb.ca
Change and Continuity
How does this film help you understand a community’s values
and its attitudes towards an issue at a particular time?
What changes do the people in the film experience? What
causes those changes? What are the consequences of those
changes for the people in the documentary?
Additional Pre-Viewing or Post-Viewing Quotations From the Film to Explore
Activities “After 23 years of civil war, poverty, destruction, causing only
In the film, there were three main issues that need to be more self-destruction. You can’t sleep without the sound of
addressed: illegal dumping of toxic waste, illegal foreign a gun, they can’t eat without the sound of a gun, they can’t
fishing and piracy. What is the best solution for each of even pray or beg without the sound of a gun. I mean, where
these problems and what is the best method/organization to do they get all those weapons from? You know what I’m
accomplish them? saying? They have a $500 gun, AK-47, and he can’t even feed
his belly, that’s weird.” The Poet
Many countries that had been involved with Somalia left in
the 1990s. How accountable are other countries? Why is it “I think this issue of toxic waste has really gone off the
important to care about other countries and other cultures? radar and disappeared in the sense of the international
communities’ radar as well.” Nick Nuttal, UN
Piracy was initiated by Somalians to protect their land and
water from illegal activities. How and why has that initial
goal been diverted into something much different? “I just couldn’t be a part of this new code that they followed.
There was a moral code of respect before. We have no right
If you were a fisher who was protecting his or her waters
to capture innocent ships.” Hassan Yusf, pirate
from illegal fishing and the group started seizing innocent
ships, what would you do? Would you stay on to make money “Piracy is stronger than the government, and they have more
for your family or would your values make you leave the equipment to fight than the government; literally, they are
group like Hasan Yusf did? Have you or someone you know the government.” Ahmed Omar Gagale, Member of
been through something similar at school? Somali Parliament
Are pirates acting on behalf of their communities? How “We don’t see any serious action to combat piracy. The issue
would this be reflected in their actions? What do these is to hold the leaders accountable.” Matt Bryden, head of UN
communities need? Security Monitoring Group
Why would Mohammed go there and risk his life? If you “In Somalia, they say if a man didn’t kill someone, then they
were in his position, would you do the same? have no right to show off a gun. You can only go out with
a gun if you’re going to kill someone with it.” Pirate boss
Analogies can be useful to explain an issue. Finning sharks is
compared to ships in this quote: “Now we see these ships as
the sharks we catch.” Use your own analogy to describe the “Life has a value, when you have life. When you don’t have
same issue. any life, Somali’s see death as an art, the art that makes
you cry. It’s death. It’s the big thing in Somali tradition now,
How can piracy be successfully eliminated from Somalia?
to be afraid of death.” Ahmed Omar Gagale, Member of
“Somaliland, Puntland, X-land… it’s not helpful for Somalia.
Somalia is one package, one people, one country.”
Ali Mohammed Ghedi, Former PM of Somalia
POST-VIEWING ACTIVITY: WORD ANALYSIS
1. Use the reading and the film to fill in the chart below.
Reading Source: Somali Piracy, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7734985.stm
Example Use in a sentence
2. How has the definition of a pirate changed since the 19th Century? How hasn’t it changed?
3. How does this local issue become a global issue?
POST-VIEWING ACTIVITY: CAUSE AND EFFECT
Using the graphic organizer, fill in what you think were three events that led to the downfall of Somalia and any three after-
effects it caused. For each after-effect, state if it a local, regional or global effect.
CAUSE EFFECT AFTER-EFFECT
EXAMPLES OF CURRICULUM EXPECTATIONS
COURSE OVERALL EXPECTATIONS
• analyze responses at the local, national and international levels to civic issues that involve multiple
Grade 10 Civics
perspectives and differing civic purposes.
• explain power relationships among individuals, groups and governments.
Grade 11 Politics
• evaluate different approaches to conflict resolution.
• evaluate the factors that have led to conflict and war or to cooperation and peace between and within
various communities from the 16th Century to the present.
Grade 12 History
• demonstrate an understanding of the importance and use of chronology and cause and effect in
historical analyses of developments in the West and throughout the world since the 16th Century.
• demonstrate an understanding of the main questions, concepts and theories of social and
Grade 12 Philosophy political philosophy.
• illustrate the relevance of philosophical theories of ethics to concrete moral problems in everyday life.
Grade 12 Politics • analyze the factors that determine the power and influence of a country.
• compare the cultural, economic and political aspirations of selected groups and the effects of their
actions on local, national and global geographic issues.
• analyze the causes and effects of economic disparities around the world.
• evaluate the effectiveness of short-term and long-term solutions to geographic problems and issues at
the local, national and global level.
• evaluate the effectiveness of international organizations in strengthening the links among world peoples.
• analyze geographic issues that arise from the impact of human activities on the environment in different
regions of the world.
• evaluate approaches, policies and principles relating to the protection and sustainability of the planet’s
• analyze instances of international cooperation and conflict and explain the factors that contributed
Grade 12 Geography
• explain the influence of social, political, cultural, economic and environmental factors on human
environments and activities.
• analyze various types of regional economies to determine the causes of regional economic disparities.
• assess the effectiveness of measures to alleviate regional economic disparities and resolve conflicts
related to them.
• analyze and evaluate interrelationships among the environment, the economy and society.
• evaluate the effectiveness of the efforts of the international community to deal with environmental and
resource management issues.
• evaluate a variety of approaches to resolving environmental and resource management concerns on a
local, regional and national scale.
• describe the process of environmental degradation in an ecosystem and assess an existing rehabilitation
strategy or devise a new one.
WEBSITES AND ONLINE RESOURCES
About the Film as key UN documents relating to Somalia and referred to in
Security Council report publications.
The official website has a trailer, contact information and a
short video clip on the brief and relevant history of piracy.
UN Environment Program. Their mandate is to provide
About the filmmakers leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the
environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and
The production company Palmira PDC has a website with
peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising
contact information, other trailers as well as services they
that of future generations
The Independent. An article written by Johann Hari, “You Various Links for Lesson Plan Ideas,
Are Being Lied to About Pirates,” includes information about Media Awareness, Critical Literacy and
illegal nuclear waste dumping and how piracy began in
Somalia. A good homework reading.
http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/ Using Documentaries in the Classroom: This teacher
johann-hari/johann-hari-you-are-being-lied-to-about- librarian’s personal website contains excellent resources for
pirates-1225817.html teaching with documentary films.
Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch is a nonprofit,
nongovernmental human rights organization dedicated to
protecting the human rights of people around the world. Media Awareness: A Canadian non-profit media education
They work to prevent discrimination, uphold political and Internet-literacy resource library.
freedom, protect people from inhumane conduct in wartime http://www.media-awareness.ca
and bring offenders to justice. They challenge governments
and those who hold power to end abusive practices and Center for Media Literacy: A U.S. website which provides
respect. Several articles about Somalia can be printed and several resources for making, understanding and criticizing
used for homework readings. media.
BBC News Online. A page titled “Somalia in Crisis” includes The National Film Board of Canada website: On this site is an
links on recent news articles, video and audio clips, key area with teaching resources and short documentary films
profiles, a timeline and country profile. that can be used as teaching aides.
The Association for Media Literacy: This Canadian website
CBC News Online. “The Somalia Affair” is an eight-minute examines how media impacts and influences culture.
clip from December 1992 outlining the history of the conflict, http://www.aml.ca/home
clashes between clans and the roles played by the U.S. and
Hot Docs Looking at Documentaries: A teaching guide that
the former Soviet Union.
sets out questions designed to help teacher include the study
of documentary film in their curriculum.
UN Security Council. The Security Council Report is an
independent not-for-profit organization in affiliation with
Columbia University’s Center on International Organization.
Links include the chronology of events in Somalia, as well