Saturday, November 7, 2009

Ready to Explore

One of my longtime laments is that most film documentaries are too long for classroom use. Fifteen minutes is a maximum usefulness of a video that I'm trying to fit into a 40 minute period, and I tend to get excited by a good 30-minute film. So when introduced to Explore with a variety of high-quality films designed "to champion the selfless acts of others, " I was pleased to find varying lengths of clips from 2 minutes to 48.

These films, found at, are developed under the leadership of Charles Annenberg Weingarten with the support of the Annenberg Foundation. I have long been a fan of Anneberg Media's American Passages, Literary Visions, and Voices and Visions online features for Americna literature at
My first impression of the site's concept--films deal with particular individuals in specific nonprofit pursuits around the globe--was that this site was going to be too esoteric for classroom use, but I was mistaken. Although each short film does feature an individual, this approach presents an engaging human element to the topic. The focus is not on the individual so much as the individual's passion. His or her passion sheds light on some cultural, political, and ecological aspect of our world.
The documentaries are arranged by geographical region. As a teacher of world literatures I am especially drawn to the 2-to-8-minute short features that enrich my students' study of a culture. They can be viewed from the site or streamed through a class website or wiki and launch to a full screen view. Unfortunately, they cannot be downloaded for more remote use, and I don't see any mention of DVD options.
Several of documentaries have printed transcripts of the interviews with experts that can be downloaded and there are online viewable files of dramatic and instructive scenes from the documentaries.
I use shorts on Indian Dance with Bhagavad Gita, on Blue Mosque with poetry of Rumi, and Caligraphy Master with Chinese Philosophers. And I'm signed up to get updates when new films are added. On my wish list: Mexico, Norway, Greece, Iraq, Japan, Peru.

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