Up to date information about children’s entertainment – film, TV, DVD and more…. from founder and president of KIDS FIRST! Ranny Levy

Archive for April, 2008

Recommended DVD – Pearl Diver – Released April 29

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

Sidney King, the writer/director/producer of “Pearl Diver” graduated in 2000 from Goshen College where he studied German and music performance. In 2001 he wrote, produced, and directed “A Shroud for a Journey,” an award-winning historical documentary about the disappearance of a student from Goshen College. He pursued graduate studies in folklore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill before writing, directing, and producing “Pearl Diver.” “Pearl Diver” won Best Feature and Grand Jury prizes at the East Lansing Film Festival and Indianapolis International Film Festival, Best Narrative Feature at the Winnipeg International Film Festival and is showing now at the KIDS FIRST! Film Festival 2008. The film’s DVD release is handled by our good friends at Monterey Media. I recently had the opportunity to visit with Sidney about his film and his future plans. Allow me to share our conversation with you.
RL. Congratulations on the success of your film, Pearl Diver. You received some very prestigious awards for it and, of course, we’re delighted to be screening it at our KIDS FIRST! Film Festival this quarter. This is your first feature, correct. What does all of this mean to you?

SK. I produced a documentary right out of college but this is my first feature. It’s success is still yet to be seen. The awards are great! The film doesn’t have big name movie stars or the kind of narrative hook that would attract a big distributor. So, that puts it at a definite disadvantage. But, the awards make someone like Monterey Media look at it. The awards are sort of a seal of approval – they make it stand out. They are not cast awards, just icing on the cake. It did win a cash award at Heartland Features – their crystal heart award.

RL. You are a graduate of Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana – right in the midst of Amish country. I love how you portray the Mennonite people in this film – with great sensitivity, etc. How much did your experience there influence this film?

SK. It Influenced me quite a bit. I started an early draft of the script while a student there so a lot of these locations were already in my mind. The characters as well. I’m from a Mennonite background myself. My family is a little more progressive – not quite as plain as the people featured in the film. I guess it makes you more aware, more sensitive to the fact that these are not just simple, plain people. They live complicated lives – not the simple lives that media likes to portray them as. I was trying to go for a nuance that went beyond how they are usually portrayed.

I grew up in North Carolina. There aren’t the sizeable Mennonite communities like Goshen or Pennsylvania but that was my cultural background. The character of Hannah who left the community – I see that happen a lot – where people choose to leave the faith community they grew up in but they still have the values they grew up with.

What’s the difference between Mennonites and Amish?
There’s quite a range, you have the conservative Mennonites who shun technology, ride the horse & buggy. If you get to the more liberal Amish and the conservative Mennonite, there’s less of a distinction. The two women in this story are Mennonites, not Amish. They drive cars and use powered farm machinery. That was an issue. In planning the film, it was walking a fine line to distinguish between them.

RL. I read in your producer’s statement your comments about why you made this film. You tell this story: “I’m taken to a cramped basement apartment in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1971, a clogged space punctuated by the cries of a newborn and plagued with only occasionally functioning plumbing. Here a young married couple struggles to keep things going, scraping and clawing their way through medical school while raising a child, somehow managing to do both with precious little money. And it’s during a particularly lean holiday season when they find a Christmas dinner, complete with turkey and all the trappings, literally left on their doorstep. Later they will receive an anonymous gift covering their rent for several months. “Who is this story about? How did it affect you?

SK. That was my parents. It was an anecdote. It portrayed the idea of mutual aid and made an impression in me.

RL. And this story inspired you to write the Pearl Diver?

SK. I think so. It was the kind of story that showed the impact that it made on my parents, even years later as part of a faith community where people really try to take care of each other. The part in the movie about trying to cope with the accident, when they collect money at church, exhibits how the community comes together to help each other. Or, when the sister wants to help her sibling. I think the audience who sees this might side too much with the Hannah character. So, I wanted to show the value of the other perspective as well.

RL. Have you had any criticisms of the film that made you rethink it at all?

SK. Yes, I have. There was one reviewer who said this is nothing but conservative propaganda where the religious character is idolized. But, another expressed how insightful it was. It all depends on how you interpret the psychological elements of the film.

RL. Is there anything you would change at all?

SK. There were a couple of storylines that got cut from the film that I hated to see cut. One explained the criminal elements of the community which would have explained where the necklace came from. I’ve gotten some critiques about the ending because the necklace seems to pop out of nowhere and save the day. And, in some ways it’s right. But the story is not really about the necklace or the money. So, I would consider going back and finding a way to make that issue more clear. Although, if I made all those changes it would possibly bring up other stuff. Keeping things in that explained the criminal made it too long.

RL. What will success look like for you in the release of this film? Audience? Money? What’s important to you?

SK. I guess, at this point it’s played in festivals and a few theaters but hasn’t really gotten out to a mass audience. I still hear from people who want to see it but they’re not in a place where it’s been available. There was a small theatrical release and Monterey’s DVD release is on April 8. It’s being broadcast on cable in Canada, but not in US yet. I never thought of the film as geared towards younger audiences. I spoke with one Mom whose daughter was 12-years-old and she really got it. But then, I spoke with a 10-year-old for whom it was too intense.

RL. Many of us have people or experiences in our lives who have profoundly affected them in their careers and personal development. To what do you attribute your success?

SK. Artistically or personally? (both) Personally, I would say a lot of the questions in this film were inspired by a teacher at Goshen College who had this wonderful class about Mennonite or Baptist history. That class brought up a lot of issues that came out in this film. He was also instrumental in the doc I produced in college, “A Shroud for a Journey.” Peter Weir is my absolute favorite filmmakers. He directed “Witness.” There are a lot of filmmakers who present the Amish in a slapstick way but he didn’t.

RL. What advice would you give to producers who are struggling to produce their first independent film? What do you know now that if you had known at the beginning of this journey would have made your path so much easier?

SK. If I had known what I was getting into…Would I have gotten into it? I shot this in 2004 . If I had thought that I’d still be working on it in 2008, would I have started? I had no idea. But, it’s typical. You have to really be prepared for the long haul. The one thing I learned is that you can’t really wait for everything to fall together and be perfect. You have to make a decision at some point that you’re going to do it. You might not have the money you want or the locations you want. Or both. Just do it. Don’t wait for everything to line up just right. So many things can go wrong while you’re trying to plan it. If you let anything stop you – you won’t do it. I would also say to trust the audience. I’ve been so surprised, being with a lot of different audiences. They can be very smart and very perceptive and pick up on little things that you’re trying to do. So many films seem to be dumbed down for the audience. But I’ve been surprised. For example, with the character John, there’s a scene where he’s talking about what to do and I ended up cutting it from the film. But, I was surprised, it’s one thing that the audience talks a lot about. They see his internal struggle. If I was going back, I probably wouldn’t have written that monologue. I would have let the audience see it from his acting. You don’t have to spell everything out. The audience does pick up on subtleties.

RL. What’s next up for you?

SK. Actually, I was thrilled to death. I won a Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. They give out about five a year. It gives you a lot of exposure in the industry. Since that’s happened, I’ve had a lot of doors opened for me. I’ve got a lot of people interested in my writing. I’ve got two scripts – one is also set in a small mid-western town in Iowa. I’d love to get one of those scripts going. I’d love to get some other producers involved. Producing is a tough, tough road. If I can find some other producers, that would be an answer to my prayers.

To contact the writer/producer, go to his website: pearldivermovie.com

RL. Thanks for taking time to talk with me and to share your insights with KIDS FIRST! News. Best wishes for successful DVD sales and for finding a producer of your new scripts. And congratulations for winning the Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship. That’s a great feather in your cap.

New Toddworld title and Bigfoot Presents on Shelves April 22

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

ToddWorld: Making New Friends and Bigfoot Presents: Meteor And The Mighty Monster Trucks- Shifting Gears both arrive April 22nd. Both of these programs have been endorsed by KIDS FIRST! and air weekdays on Discovery Kids as part of their “Ready Set Learn!” block. Filled with simple lessons and silly fun, ToddWorld: Making New Friends and Bigfoot Presents: Meteor And The Mighty Monster Trucks- Shifting Gears both feature six fun-filled episodes and special bonus episodes of Paz and The Save-Ums!

Earth Day – April 22 – Get Involved

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

Do you remember the first Earth Day? Or the first one you celebrated? As we prepare for the 38th annual Earth Day, I encourage you to get involved. And a great organization to get involved with is Earth Day Network

Founded by the organizers of the first Earth Day in 1970, Earth Day Network (EDN) promotes environmental citizenship and year round progressive action worldwide. Earth Day Network is a driving force steering environmental awareness around the world. Through Earth Day Network, activists connect, interact, and have an impact on their communities, and create positive change in local, national, and global policies.

EDN’s international network reaches over 17,000 organizations in 174 countries. Its domestic program engages 5,000 groups and over 25,000 educators who coordinates millions of community development and environmental protection activities throughout the year.

Earth Day is the only event celebrated simultaneously around the globe by people of all backgrounds, faiths and nationalities. More than a half billion people participate in Earth Day campaigns every year. EDN’s mission is to grow and diversify the environmental movement worldwide and to mobilize it as the most effective vehicle for promoting a healthy, sustainable planet. They pursue these goals through education, politics, events, and consumer activism.
EDN is committed to expanding the definition of “environment” to include all issues that affect our health, our communities and our environment, such as air and water pollution, deteriorating schools, public transportation and access to jobs, rising rates of asthma and cancer, and lack of funding for parks and recreation. Their latest research document, the Urban Environment Report, ranks the health of 72 U.S. cities by more than 200 environmental, health and quality of life indicators.
Earth Day, April 22, is the largest secular holiday in the world, now celebrated by more than one billion people. Since the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, Earth Day has been an annual event for people around the world to celebrate the earth and renew our commitment to building a safer, healthier and cleaner world for all of us.
Earth Day 2008 is expected to be the biggest yet! From Tokyo to Togo, to the flagship event on the National Mall in Washington, DC and 7 other U.S. cities, millions of people around the world will galvinize behind a Call for Climate, EDN’s global warming action theme. Hundreds of events are popping up all over the globe and April 22 should be a most memorable Earth Day.
U.S. events, produced by Green Apple Festival, will include A-list musicians and actors, environmental and community leaders, and dozens of exhibits. These special events are the place to be on April 20, right before Earth Day. In Washington, DC you can listen to Roots, Toots and the Maytals, and Warren Haynes. In Denver, the lineup includes The Neville Brothers, Benevento Russo, Saul Williams, Rose Hill Drive, and Jackie Greene. The Call for Climate will go out to the U.S. Congress on Earth Day, April 22 with a goal to to generate 1-million phone calls to lawmakers! Mark your calendar!
New York City’s Green Apple Festival
For the third consecutive year, Central Park will host New York’s Green Apple Festival to celebrate Earth Day 2008. Environmental leaders, community activists, A-list talent and top speakers will all CALL FOR CLIMATE, a demand for immediate, effective and equitable action against global warming that will culminate on Earth Day, April 22nd, when we hope to generate ONE MILLION CALLS TO CONGRESS.
Stay tuned! More information to come soon.
2008 Earth Day Network/Green Apple Festival Free Line-up NEW YORK
Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder
Big Head Todd and the Monsters
Vusi Mahlasela
Vienna Teng

To celebrate Earth Day 2008, Green Apple Festival comes to Denver for the first time with an event for the whole family.Environmental leaders, community activists, A-list talent and top speakers will all CALL FOR CLIMATE, a demand for immediate, effective and equitable action against global warming that will culminate on Earth Day, April 22nd, when we hope to generate ONE MILLION CALLS TO CONGRESS.
Stay tuned! More information to come soon.
2008 Earth Day Network/Green Apple Festival Free Line-up DENVER
The Neville Brothers
The Benevento/Russo Duo
Rose Hill Drive
To celebrate Earth Day 2008, Green Apple Festival comes to Los Angeles for the first time with an event for the whole family.
Environmental leaders, community activists, A-list talent and top speakers will all CALL FOR CLIMATE, a demand for immediate, effective and equitable action against global warming that will culminate on Earth Day, April 22nd, when we hope to generate ONE MILLION CALLS TO CONGRESS.
Stay tuned! More information to come soon.
2008 Earth Day Network/Green Apple Festival Free Line-up LOS ANGELES
Taj Mahal
Ziggy Marley solo acoustic
Juliette and the Licks
School of Rock Hollywood Allstars
The Frequency
Coby Brown
To celebrate Earth Day 2008, Green Apple Festival comes to Miami for the first time with an event for the whole family.Environmental leaders, community activists, A-list talent and top speakers will all CALL FOR CLIMATE, a demand for immediate, effective and equitable action against global warming that will culminate on Earth Day, April 22nd, when we hope to generate ONE MILLION CALLS TO CONGRESS.
Stay tuned! More information to come soon.
2008 Earth Day Network/Green Apple Festival Free Line-up MIAMI
Menudo
Arrested Development
Baby Loves Salsa
Caravan of Thieves

Three Future of Children Events about Children and Electronic Media

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

Mark Your celendars for these three events from The Future of Children. They are free and open to the public.

Children and Electronic Media
Trends in Children’s Media Use, The Role of Government Policy, and Social MarketingWednesday, April 23, 20089:00 am — 11:00 amThe Brookings Institution, Falk Auditorium,1775 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DCRSVP: http://onlinepressroom.net/brookings/new.%20

Children and Electronic Media: Parenting in the Technological Age
Thursday, May 1, 20087:00 pm – 9:00 pmPrinceton University,Robertson Hall, Bowl 16Corner of Washington and Prospect StreetsPrinceton, NJRSVP: http://www.futureofchildren.princeton.edu/media/parents/.%20

Children and Electronic Media: Teaching in the Technological Age
Friday, May 2, 20088:00 am – 3:15 pmPrinceton University,Robertson Hall, Dodds AuditoriumCorner of Washington and Prospect StreetsPrinceton, NJRSVP: http://www.futureofchildren.princeton.edu/MEDIA/.%20

Electronic media has become an integral part of students’ lives and a major point of interest for educators. Questions about the impact of electronic media on student learning and wellbeing have led many school districts to question how and why they should be using technology.
The purpose of this conference is to showcase innovative uses of technology in the classroom and provide school district with ways that they can enhance their classroom curriculums and professional development programs. An overview of the research regarding electronic media and its links to achievement and social development will be provided as well.
This conference is designed in conjunction with the latest journal issue of the Future of Children “Children and Electronic Media”. This issue, due to be released in April 2008 shines a spotlight on Electronic Media, focusing mainly on its impact on childhood wellbeing and policy implications.
Click here for the “Children and Electronic Media: Parenting in the Technological Age” Seminar

These events will present findings from The Future of Children: Children and Electronic Media, which is available free-of-charge on our website, http://www.futureofchildren.org/
The Future of Children is a co-production of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and the Brookings Institution.
For more information, email [email protected].

PBS KIDS Celebrates Earth Day (April 22)

Monday, April 14th, 2008

PBS KIDS is celebrating the Earth with PBS KIDS Share the Earth Day,” a special programming and online event on Tuesday, April 22. Curious George, Clifford, Arthur and an all new episode of Super Why will explore fun and engaging ways to keep the planet beautiful. PBS Parents (pbsparents.org) will offer an Earth Day expert Q&A; with Jamie Durie, host of The Victory Garden, discussing how to introduce gardening concepts to kids and what they can learn by digging in the dirt.

On the PBS KIDS preschool block, Miss Lori and Hooper teach kids how to recycle their trash, while new stories from Dot’s Story Factory show how kids at home celebrate the planet. A special never-before-seen episode of Super Why all about the importance of water conservation will debut and join the line-up with Earth Day-themed episodes from Curious George, Clifford the Big Red Dog and It’s A Big Big World, airing alongside themed music videos from the award-winning kids’ rock band, Milkshake.

PBS KIDS GO!, for elementary school kids, celebrates Earth Day with themed programming from Arthur, Maya & Miguel, and Cyberchase. Throughout the late afternoon programming block, PBS KIDS GO! presents creative ideas of how kids can take care of the environment by recycling, cleaning up their neighborhoods and more.

To help parents connect these lessons back to kids’ daily lives, PBS Parents (pbsparents.org) will recommend ideas, resources and activities for parents to share with their children and encourage them to spend more time exploring nature and take an active role in protecting the planet.

New web content on pbskids.org and pbskidsgo.org includes a reduce, reuse and recycling theme for Dot’s Story Factory so kids can tell their own stories about saving the planet; a newly redesigned EekoWorld web site (pbskidsgo.org/eekoworld), where kids can build their own creatures and learn the basics of how life survives in different ecosystems; and a sustainability and green living site titled “Meet the Greens” (pbskids.org/meetthegreens). The Greens are an environmentally conscious family who explore different methods of saving power and reducing waste in a series of short animated episodes.

Episodes for April 22 (check local listings)

SUPER WHY! “Tiddalick the Frog”
Whyatt’s mom tells him that he’s wasting water. This is a really big problem and he’s not sure how to fix it. So the Super Readers dash into the Australian folk tale of Tiddalick the Frog and make the acquaintance of a funny amphibian whose puddle jumping is using up all the water and leaving his neighbors in the dust – literally! As the Super Readers help Tiddalick and his dry friends, they learn how important water is to the planet along with a valuable lesson about conservation.

CURIOUS GEORGE “The Times of Sand”
A hard hat, a shovel, a wheelbarrow and a ladder – George learns that all four items are necessary when digging a gigantic hole. But why are George and the Man With the Yellow (Hard) Hat digging in their own yard?

CLIFFORD THE BIG RED DOG “Doggie Garden/Captain Birdwell’s Treasure”
It’s “Keep Birdwell Beautiful” month and the kids are doing their part by planting a flower garden. Seeing this, the dogs decide to create a doggie flower garden of their own.

IT’S A BIG BIG WORLD “World Tree Day/World Tree Cuisine”“World Tree Day” — It is World Tree Day and Snook has made badges to give to all of the residents who do something nice for the tree. “World Tree Cuisine” — It is time to celebrate the World Tree’s birthday and Madge and Snook are planning a surprise party for the tree’s residents.

PBS KIDS GO! Episodes for April 22 (check local listings):
ARTHUR “Feeling Flush”
“Feeling Flush” — When Elwood City experiences a drought, Francine bets Arthur that her family can use less water than his.

CYBERCHASE “EcoHaven Ooze”
When Hacker discovers that the liquid ooze that feeds the animals of EcoHaven also gives him a super energy boost, he decides to drain the pond and take the ooze home.

MAYA & MIGUEL “Every Day Is Earth Day”
“Every Day Is Earth Day” — For a school Earth Day project, the kids decide to clean up an old lot and plant a community garden.

Kids Pick the President – Sunday, April 13

Friday, April 11th, 2008

Nickelodeon’s Kids Pick the President campaign, a year-long initiative to build young citizens’ awareness of the election process and issues for the 2008 U.S. Presidential election, continues this month with Nick News with Linda Ellerbee: Election Issues ’08, the second of four specials, premiering Sunday, April 13, at 9:00 p.m. (ET/PT). In this special, kids speak out on the campaign issues that affect their lives, including the war in Iraq, terrorism, the economy, education, the environment, healthcare and immigration.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a kid voting for practice or an adult voting for real,” said Ellerbee. “What really matters is that the stakes today are higher than ever before. When it comes to voting, the more you know, the better off you are and so is your country.”

Following Election Issues ’08, Nick’s Kids Pick the President campaign will continue throughout the year, airing two additional specials. Tails from the Trail, which premieres in August, will feature stories from kids actively campaigning for specific candidates. In the final special, Kids Pick the President, which premieres in October, Ellerbee will take kids’ questions to the presidential candidates and then encourage kids to go online to www.nick.com/kpp and vote for the next U.S. President.

In Election Issues ’08, kids have conflicting views on the war in Iraq. Lydia says, “The next president should continue to support our troops in Iraq and to try to continue this stabilization of Iraq and creating a more democratic government,” while Ashley says, “We should get out of Iraq before things get even worse than they already are.”

Another important issue to kids is terrorism. Joe believes America needs “more border security on the ports of entry in our country through boats, ships, planes…a lot of boxes go unchecked that terrorists can use for bombs.” However, Mischa says, “The government should not be allowed to read your letters, wire tap your conversations or collect any personal information.”

Education concerns kids because they are directly affected by this issue, especially the No Child Left Behind Act. Tiffany, from Oakland, Calif., attends Caslemount High School, which the government considers to be a “failing school” due to students’ poor tests scores. “The education I’m getting right now is how to take a test,” Tiffany says. “I want to learn something else.” Adrienne believes “testing is not a good way to see how a child is learning because not all children are really good test takers.”

With eight million kids in the U.S. living without health insurance, health care has emerged as one of the main issues facing presidential candidates this year. And it’s not just kids’ health at stake. Tasha’s mother has asthma, an enlarged heart, and no health insurance. Tasha says she worries every day that her mother “is just gonna collapse from her heart.” Zach believes “healthcare should be the government’s responsibility. I think that if you’re an American citizen that healthcare should be free.” But Christine thinks “the government’s involvement with health care should be limited” and that universal health care is not the way to approach this issue.

As prices on gas, heating oil and food continue to rise, and as some parents are losing their jobs and unable to meet their housing costs, kids are affected. Eyke says, “The rich can afford a yacht, the rich can afford to buy stock on Wall Street but, frankly, the regular American is having a tough time paying for their health care, they’re having a tough time paying their rent and that’s not right.” Alex has another take on the issue. “Instead of using the hundreds of billions of dollars on the war on terror, maybe we should really use it on things we really need here.”

About immigration, Vika says, “I understand why the fence between Mexico and the U.S. is being built, but I don’t think that it should be there. I feel like it’s creating a barrier — it’s actually creating a physical barrier between Mexico and the U.S. and it’s making tensions rise and it really just shows our distrust of Mexico.” But Michele says, “They come here for a better life; they should be able to get a better life.”

Nickelodeon’s campaign includes four Kids Pick the President television specials created and produced by the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning Nick News with Linda Ellerbee, and a special online election website http://www.nick.com/kpp/. The website features explanations of the election process, photographs and information about each candidate and their issues, as well as a calendar of the major election events. In January, the first campaign special, The Kids’ Primary — explained how presidents are elected in the United States, the primary system, the current candidates, and what it means to be a Democrat or a Republican. After the special, kids were encouraged to go online and vote in Nickelodeon’s first ever kids’ primary, at www.nick.com/kpp. In the election, kids chose Barack Obama and John McCain.

The campaign specials will also air on Cable in the Classroom (schedule will be announced), which airs Wednesday and Friday mornings at 6:00 a.m. (ET/PT). Cable in the Classroom provides schools with commercial-free educational television programming. To complement the Kids Pick the President campaign, supplementary materials are available as resources for teachers at http://teachers.nick.com.

Nick News, produced by Lucky Duck Productions, is now in its 18th year, and is the longest-running kids’ news show in television history. It has built its reputation on the respectful and direct way it speaks to kids about the important issues of the day. Over the years, Nick News has received more than 20 Emmy nominations and numerous Emmy wins. Most recently, in 2007, “Private Worlds: Kids and Autism” won the Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Programming. In 1994, the entire series, Nick News, won the Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Programming. In 1998, “What Are You Staring At?” a program about kids with physical disabilities, won the Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Programming. In 2002, “Faces of Hope: The Kids of Afghanistan,” won the Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Programming. In 2004, two Nick News Specials, “The Courage to Live: Kids, South Africa and AIDS” and “There’s No Place Like Home,” a special about homeless kids in America, were both nominated for the Outstanding Children’s Programming Emmy. In 2005, it won the Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Programming for its show, “From the Holocaust to the Sudan.” Nick News, produced by Lucky Duck Productions, is also the recipient of three Peabody Awards, including a personal award given to Ellerbee for her coverage for kids of the President Clinton investigation. The series has also received two Columbia duPont Awards.

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