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Paris Middle Schoolers Earn Acclaim for Film Roles


Students from a tough middle school in Paris are earning accolades after a movie they acted in won the top prize at the Cannes film festival Sunday. From Paris, Lisa Bryant reports the celebrations shed a rare, positive light on diversity in France and troubles in the country's education system.

Students from the Francoise Dolto school in northeastern Paris came home to a hero's welcome this week, after a semi-documentary film about their institution won the coveted Palme d'Or at the Cannes film festival.

Titled, Entre les Murs, The Class in English, the movie is about the relationship between a teacher and his students. While the movie is based on a book, the school is real and the students play themselves.

Francoise Dolto is not just any middle school. It is considered a ZEP - a French acronym for a tough and needy school - and it has a high percentage of ethnic-immigrant students.

One Francoise Dolto student told French radio the film showed that students going to such difficult schools are capable of great things.

France's roughest schools have struggled against negative stereotypes. Some of their students were blamed for rioting in France's poorer, ethnic-immigrant suburbs that shook the country in 2005. Teachers and other experts often point to their low success rates.

Activists like Mouloud Aounit hope The Class will help erase these assumptions.

Aounit, who heads the French anti-discrimination group MRAP, says the film exposes the real France - a country that is complex and ethnically diverse. He says it is a diversity that is still not visible enough in politics, business, and the media.

France Education Minister Xavier Darcos has hailed the movie for testifying to the difficult conditions French teachers must often work under. But the celebrations occur during student and teacher protests of government plans to cut more than 11,000 teaching posts.

Several French schools have also been at the forefront of another movement - to prevent the government from deporting illegal immigrants who count among their student bodies. And The Class has unwittingly brought up this subject as well - one Congolese student who acted in the movie is living illegally in France.

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