Study Guide Lesson 1

DVD Feature: Out of the Shadows (Documentary)

SCREEN: Ghosts of the River Documentary  

Before screening the film here are a few 5-minute activities you can do to get students started thinking about the topics presented in the documentary film about the stage play, “Ghosts of the River”.

  • Have a ‘Do Now’ Prompt on the board so when students come in, they may brainstorm individually before sharing out.  An example of a good prompt is: “What words or images come to mind when you hear the word ‘immigrant’. These can be things you have heard other people say, or things you think.  They may be true or they may be stereotypes, they may be positive or negative. Make a list.”
  • Choose a vocabulary word from the lists in this guide (i.e. La Migra, Xenophobia, Stereotypes, Myths) and ask students to define the term in their own words.
  • What is a recent news story you heard about immigration policy in the United States today? 

Write the following graphic organizer on the board and have students copy it down on paper (you may also consider making a simple worksheet to save time.) Tell them these are the titles for 5 Ghost Stories they will learn about in a film about a play entitled “Ghosts of the River”. As the film is playing, students should jot down quick notes to complete the graph.


  1. What stood out the most to you about the film? Were there any moments that really surprised you? (Students may mention the shadow puppet methodology and it’s aesthetic or collaborative nature, they may name characters that were significant to them, they may name aspects of the immigrant or border experience they never knew before. Guide the discussion towards any or all of the topics mentioned to appeal to student interests.)
  2. We hear about immigration today in the media, but not everyone knows people who have personally experienced immigration to the United States. Having met the characters and actors in the film, who often have personal connections or are immigrants themselves, has your perspective changed or shifted when you think about people crossing the Rio Grande/ US/ Mexico border to come to the United States? 
  3. Go around the class or circle and have students name one new thing that they learned about immigration from the Ghosts of the River film.

1.  History of Place: The playwright, Octavio Solis, states early in the film that The Rio Grande defined who he was as a young boy. Think of a physical border or actual place that is personal to you. It should be a place that tells a story that demonstrates something about you that is beyond your personal interests, a story that says something about who you are as a person. This can be a story about your ancestors, your family, or simply an experience you had - it should have physical and emotional components. Write this story and share with the class. 

2.  Who is the “Other”?
A) Share the following quote from the film with students

  • “A soon as we start saying, ‘You’re the other’, then that’s how we start building these imaginary walls and fences... Those walls where people’s viewpoints get so stratified … that you can’t break through and hear the other side.” - Octavio Solis

B) Ask students what are some other stories of oppression or discrimination that they know, and how might they relate to these immigration stories? How are they similar? How are they different?  

C) Story and Play Activity: 

  • If you were to write a shadow play about one of these stories, which would you choose? From whose perspective would the story be told? Write a brief description of your story idea. How does it begin? What is the climax? How does it end? Come up with a title and perhaps the names of a few characters, and then share your story. Stories can become small shadow puppet plays that the class presents to the public.

3.  There is no Us and Them
A) Post and read aloud the following quote. Ask students to reflect in writing for 5 minutes on how they understand the meaning behind the quote. What does this quote mean to you ?

  • “I wanted to present all the issues so that everybody would relate to everyone’s situation. Because in the end, there is no ‘us and them’. They’re all us and we’re all them, and the sooner we start to hold up the mirror to ourselves in this way, the more understanding will arise between us as people, just as people.” – Octavio Solís

B) Share responses to the quote and discuss as a class. If not mentioned during discussion, consider bringing up some of the following interpretations of the quote:

1) Despite the cultural, racial, ethnic, religious, socio-economic, political differences that can divide us, people are still people and should be treated equally.
2) Sometimes when humans don’t experience something personally, it’s difficult for them to imagine why it might be important to know more about it.
3) One person’s struggle is not there’s alone; even if the effects aren’t evident right away, we are all affected by one another’s struggles.