In 14 minutes, social studies and ELA educators can take advantage of a haunting new film about the buildings on Ellis Island which served as a United States immigrant inspection station from 1892 until 1954. The film titled Ellis stars Robert De Niro, and the setting is the present day in the abandoned Ellis Island Hospital complex on the island between New York and New Jersey.
These empty buildings are in decay, but they are decorated with the artist JR’s unframed installations of photographs, which have been enlarged and pasted around the complex.The screenplay is by Eric Roth, and the promotional materials for the film explain that Ellis,
“…tells the forgotten story of the immigrants who built America. It is the story of the ghosts of our countries past, the individuals who fled poverty, discrimination, and dictatorships, for a chance at a new life and eerily foreshadows the plight of those who currently seek the same opportunities and safety in this country and other parts of the world.”
The film is available on Youtube (below) to share with students.
At one point in the film, the footage of the icy waters of the Hudson highlights the dangers of the passage hundreds of thousands made. The icy water is the short distance between Ellis and the US mainland.
To see the buildings in the New York City skyline, even veiled in an snowy fog, was a welcome sign for so many immigrants. But for those in the Ellis Island hospital, there was a different story. Immigrants could be sometimes housed for illnesses or , worse yet, sent back to return to their native country.
While low on action, the film can provide talking points to help students discuss immigration that has been a large part of the Nation’s past….and continues to be a large part of the future.