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GRADES: 6-12

TABLE OF CONTENTS Instructor Resources A Letter to Educators Discussion Questions Interpretive Essay Prompt Additional Resources Standards About CFI

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Student Handouts About the Film Contextual Information Viewing Activities Extension Activities

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Dear Educators, Thank you for attending the California Film Institute’s DocLands screening of Carbon: The Unauthorized Biography. Our DocLands Education screenings focus on increasingly relevant issues of global empathy and active citizenship, and we believe this film will be a powerful and engaging text to use in your classroom. We know that this year is likely one of the most challenging of your professional career, and we hope that this film and study guide can support the incredible work you’re already doing. These curricular materials are designed to get students to engage deeply with film by the common-core aligned skills of developing an evidence-based interpretation of a text. The discussion questions on the following page offer a variety of options for fostering small-group or whole-class dialogue. If your students are already familiar with a process of writing evidence-based interpretive essays, consider using one of the suggested essay prompts for a short writing piece. Additionally, individual handouts for before, during, and after viewing are provided as stand-alone activities to be used individually or in sequence. Lastly, some ideas for art-based extension activities are included on the final page. Thank you so much for your tireless work! Sincerely, The CFI Education Team

Carbon: The Unauthorized Biography Curriculum Guide | CFI Education



What are the central issues addressed in this documentary? What has changed between the start and the end?


What are some surprising facts you learned from this film? How do these facts shape your understanding of the central issue of the film?


Does this documentary feel objective and/or balanced in its presentation of the issues? Why or why not?


What did you see in this film that reminds you of other stories from your life or other stories you know?


Were there any perspectives relevant to the central issues of the documentary that were not included? How would those voices have changed the film?


What are some background details you noticed in this film? How do these details provide information about the time or place in which this film was made?


Consider other films you’ve seen. What makes this film unique or important? What are some connections between this film and other films?


What are the most immediate ways that carbon affects your daily life?


What were some of the personality traits associated with carbon? Do these traits remind you of anyone you know? What does this tell you about carbon?

10. How was animation used throughout this film? What features or processes of carbon did the animations help clarify?


What do people need to realize about the role of carbon in our lives and in the universe?

Carbon: The Unauthorized Biography Curriculum Guide | CFI Education


ADDITIONAL RESOURCES Modeling the Carbon Cycle to Inform Others A National Geographic Society set of Grade 6-8 lessons for further exploration of the carbon cycle. 8 Billion Trees: Carbon Calculator A free-to-use online carbon footprint calculator for teachers and students. Can Carbon Offsetting Save the Planet? A three-minute animated video produced by the BBC explaining and critiquing the practice of carbon offsetting.

STANDARDS CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text. NGSS. HS-LS2-3 Construct and revise an explanation based on evidence for the cycling of matter and flow of energy in aerobic and anaerobic conditions.

ABOUT CFI The nonprofit California Film Institute celebrates and promotes film as art and education through year-round programming at the independent Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, presentation of the acclaimed Mill Valley Film Festival and DocLands Documentary Film Festival, as well as cultivation of the next generation of filmmakers and audiences through CFI Education programs. Follow the California Film Institute on social media @cafilm @californiafilminstitute @cafilminstitute californiafilminstitute Carbon: The Unauthorized Biography Curriculum Guide | CFI Education



ABOUT THE FILM With carbon in the news every day, you might think you know everything about it. But you’d be wrong. This spectacular and surprisingly unorthodox documentary reveals the paradoxical story of the element that builds all life, and yet may end it all. Narrated in first person by Sarah Snook (Succession), Carbon tells of the element’s birth in the violent core of an exploding star and of turbulent sagas through the fabric of our evolving Earth. Accompanied by celebrated scientists, unique animation and a stunning orchestral score, Carbon reminds us of our humble participation in the most extraordinary story in the universe. Carbon: The Unauthorized Biography Curriculum Guide | CFI Education



NIOBE THOMPSON & DANIELLA ORTEGA The documentaries of anthropologist filmmaker Niobe Thompson reach back to our human origins, explore the mysteries of evolution, and tackle the environmental dilemmas of the Anthropocene. As a science and adventure host, he makes a laboratory of his body and mind, a storytelling style the Globe & Mail calls “indescribable, but brilliant.” As a verité director, he brings unique and powerful moments in the human experience to the screen, from Siberian reindeer herders, to ancient DNA laboratories, to the organ transplant surgeries. Thompson’s work has won three Canadian Screen Awards for Best Science and Nature Documentary, wins at Sundance and Jackson Hole, and two Emmy nominations. A long-time collaborator with Canadian-born composer Darren Fung, he presents select documentaries to live audiences as orchestral performances. After co-directing and co-producing the feature documentary Carbon: The Unauthorized Biography, Thompson will start filming in 2022 on a new documentary for Tangled Bank Studios called Before the Ice, about the ancient DNA revolution. Daniella Ortega is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and screen professional dedicated to excellence in storytelling and communicating complex concepts in innovative ways. Ortega is the originator, writer and co-director of Carbon: The Unauthorized Biography, an unconventional documentary project responding to the climate emergency we are living in. Focused on high-end documentaries about science, history and natural history, Ortega’s work traverses subjects as diverse as archaeological discovery, colonial violence and the mysteries of the teenage brain. An accomplished series producer, she has steered major complex projects for a variety of international broadcasters. Ortega has recently joined the documentary team at Screen Australia as a Development and Investment Manager, a role that allows her to draw on her experience to support the wider documentary industry.

Carbon: The Unauthorized Biography Curriculum Guide | CFI Education



KNOW / WANT TO KNOW CHART Directions: The film you are about to watch is all about the element of carbon. You might already know a few things about carbon, or have at least heard some related terms, such as “carbon emissions” or “carbon footprint.” Fill out this chart to activate your prior knowledge before watching the film, first listing the things you know in the left column, then listing things you want to know in the right column.


What do you already know about carbon and any related terms?


What questions do you have about carbon and any related terms?

Carbon: The Unauthorized Biography Curriculum Guide | CFI Education



CARBON NOTECATCHER Directions: This film is full of information about carbon ‘s role in the universe and how it impacts our lives as humans. Use this notecatcher to record important facts about carbon in the four categories identified in each box.


What are some internal characteristics of carbon? When scientists describe carbon as a person, what personality traits do they use to describe it?


What bonds does carbon form with other elements? What do these bonds do? What other natural processes is carbon a part of?

Carbon: The Unauthorized Biography Curriculum Guide | CFI Education




How has the presence or levels of carbon changed over time? What changes in the environment are related to processes connected to carbon?


What will happen to carbon in the future? How is carbon likely to impact life on Earth in the future??

Carbon: The Unauthorized Biography Curriculum Guide | CFI Education



RESPONSE QUESTIONS Directions: Respond to each question, referring to specific scenes, events, and dialogue from the film as evidence for your interpretation. 1. What were the most important characteristics of carbon or processes related to carbon that you learned? ________________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________________ 2. Why do you think the filmmakers chose to depict carbon as a human? Why do you think they assigned carbon a female gender identity? ________________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________________ 3. The filmmakers interviewed a variety of types of experts: geologists, astrophysicists, climate scientists, biologists, indigenous land stewards, and more. Why do you think so many perspectives were included? What does this tell you about carbon? ________________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________________ 4. Do you think the film predicts a mostly positive or mostly negative future for humanity and for the planet? ________________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________________

Carbon: The Unauthorized Biography Curriculum Guide | CFI Education



Directions: Respond to each prompt in complete sentences, citing specific scenes, events, and dialogue from the film as evidence for your response.



What connections do you draw between the film and your own life or your other learning?

What ideas, positions, or assumptions do you want to challenge or debate in the film?



What key concepts or ideas do you think are important and worth holding on to from the film?

What changes in attitudes, thinking, or action are suggested by the film, either for you or others?

Adapted from Harvard Project Zero’s Thinking Routine Toolbox: Carbon: The Unauthorized Biography Curriculum Guide | CFI Education



CARBON ART INTERPRETATION IDEAS Directions: The film Carbon uses a unique storytelling approach of personifying the element of carbon as though it were a human. Below are six choices for art projects based on that same idea of treating carbon as a person. Pick one of the project ideas and use information from the film along with additional research to synthesize your understanding of carbon in a creative piece. Have fun while also making sure your interpretation is accurate to carbon’s “personality traits” and role in the universe!

Design a “Missing Persons” Poster for Carbon

Write and Perform a Monologue from Carbon’s Perspective

Create a one-page “Personal Ad” for Carbon

Include details like where they might have been seen last, who they might be with, etc.

Share observations on current events in the world and environmental issues from carbon’s perspective.

Include details like interests, personality traits, and what they might be looking for in a partner.

Draw a Comic Strip of a Day in the Life of Carbon

Film an Interview with Carbon

Write a Song About Carbon’s Role in the Universe

You can either depict actual processes of carbon in the real world, or create a character personification of carbon.

Partner with a friend, to film a news style interview in which one of you plays a personification of carbon and the other plays a journalist. Discuss carbon’s role as a member of your community.

Either compose original music or write parody lyrics to an existing song. You can find Karaoke versions of songs online to perform your lyrics over.

Carbon: The Unauthorized Biography Curriculum Guide | CFI Education


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