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

Archive for March, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire Coming March 31st

Thursday, March 26th, 2009
This is not a kid’s movie but it is something I highly recommend for adults, and of course swept the Oscars. A young boy from the slums of Mumbai, India discovers love and fortune by way of his cruel and harsh childhood when Slumdog Millionaire finds its way to DVD March 31st . Winner of four Golden Globe Awards including Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director – Danny Boyle, Best Original Score – A. R. Rahman, and Best Screenplay – Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire is “a gaudy, gorgeous rush of color, sound and motion” (Manohla Dargis, New York Times).

Loosely based on the fictional novel “Q and A” by Indian writer Vikas Swarup, Slumdog Millionaire tracks the life of Jamal Malik, an impoverished child living in Mumbai’s sprawling slums. After his mother is brutally killed, Jamal (played as a teen by Dev Patel) and his brother Salim (played as a teen by Madhur Mittal) must do whatever necessary to survive. Jamal’s travels are filled with memorable encounters, mostly unpleasant, but along the way he meets another orphan child, Latika (played as a teen by Freida Pinto). When Jamal and Latika become separated, he becomes romantically determined to reunite with Latika… Even if it means appearing on the Indian version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” Jamal begins drawing on his past experiences to answer the 12 questions that will inevitably lead him to vast wealth and lost love. But after lasting longer than anyone ever expected, Jamal is accused of cheating and must prove to the police and the show’s producers how he knows the answers by retelling his arduous childhood in a series of flashbacks.

Providing a glimpse into the harsh existence of homeless children in Mumbai while juxtaposing optimism and love, director Danny Boyle’s (Trainspotting, Millions) “beautifully rendered and energetic tale celebrates resilience, the power of knowledge and the vitality of the human experience” (Claudia Puig, USA Today). Featuring heartfelt performances by a largely Indian cast, Slumdog Millionaire stars Dev Patel (Skins), Freida Pinto, Madhur Mittal (Say Salaam India), Irfan Kahn (The Namesake, Haasil) and Anil Kapoor (Taal, Pukar). Boasting a memorable and flawless soundtrack that blends modern and traditional Indian music by acclaimed Indian composer A. R. Rahman (Lagaan: Once Upon A Time In India, Taal), Slumdog Millionaire also features tracks from artist M.I.A. including the Grammy nominated song for Record of the Year “Paper Planes.”

PBS KIDS GO! Pioneers In-Video Gaming on Its Educational Broadband Service

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009
PBS KIDS GO! announced the expansion of its video player capabilities to include new in-video gaming on pbskidsgo.org (www.pbskids.org/go/video). Embedded in PBS KIDS GO! popular curriculum-based series, the new games foster greater learning comprehension and enhance the digital experience for early elementary school children. Currently, the PBS KIDS GO! video player offers hundreds of video clips and dozens of full-length episodes, and is streaming more than one million clips each week.

The first series adding the game overlay to online videos include ARTHUR, FETCH! WITH RUFF RUFFMAN, CYBERCHASE and WORDGIRL. THE ELECTRIC COMPANY and other series will feature this new gaming option in the coming months.

“PBS is committed to raising the bar when it comes to developing kids interactive experiences that are fun and educational,” said Jason Seiken, SVP of PBS Interactive. “Kids are accessing and using media in myriad ways. As pioneers of this new technology, PBS KIDS GO! is creating an even more immersive and enriching experience for children to further their learning alongside their favorite characters.”

“We’ve combined two of the things that kids love most – great TV shows and cool games – and are thrilled to bring such incredible interactivity to kids whenever they want it,” added Sara DeWitt, Senior Director of PBS KIDS Interactive. “As the leader in educational media, PBS KIDS GO! will continue to reach out to this audience with content that will bring learning with media to a new level.”

With full screen, closed captioning, Spanish audio, and sharing and voting features, the PBS KIDS GO! video player showcases full episodes, sneak previews and clip highlights from PBS KIDS GO! broadcast properties primarily serving children ages 6 to 8, an audience with limited age-appropriate media choices. With fresh content added weekly, properties include ANIMALIA, ARTHUR, CYBERCHASE, DESIGN SQUAD, DRAGONFLYTV, THE ELECTRIC COMPANY, FETCH! WITH RUFF RUFFMAN, MARTHA SPEAKS, MAYA & MIGUEL, POSTCARDS FROM BUSTER, WISHBONE, WORDGIRL and ZOOM. Additionally, kids can browse by themes, such as “robots” and “Earth Day,” and enjoy Web-exclusive content from pbskidsgo.org series including THE GREENS, KRATTS’ CREATURES and KIDS WORLD SPORTS.

Available on both Macs and PCs, the PBS KIDS GO! video player is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and is available at www.pbskids.org/go/video. The video player is also available via Web sites of participating local PBS member stations.

Earth Hour 2009 8:30 p.m. March 28

Saturday, March 21st, 2009
Nickelodeon Australia launches The Big Green Help, Nickelodeon’s multiplatform pro-social campaign that encourages kids to participate in earth friendly and energy saving daily activities. As part of The Big Green Help and its ongoing environment-centric efforts Nickelodeon Australia joins World Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) Earth Hour 2009. Nickelodeon will feature an Earth Hour mini-site encouraging kids/families to sign up for Earth Hour 2009 and help save the planet by turning off the lights from 8.30-9.30p on Saturday March 28. Additionally, an Earth Hour PSA featuring Nick host Maude Garrett will run on both Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. channels. Nickelodeon’s The Big Green Help project is now 19 countries and in seven different languages.

March 20 is “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Day

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009
In honor of Mister Rogers’ birthday,  celebrate what it means to be a neighbor!

I loved Fred Rogers and had the opportunity to meet him on two occasions. Once, at a meeting of the Annenberg Foundation where he received a lifetime achievement award, he brought an entire room of adults to tears when he invited them to join him in silent meditation honoring the people in everyone’s life for whom they were thankful and probably had never told them, or told them in adequate terms. At the time, my mother was in the final stages of her life. As I closed my eyes and thought of all the things she had done for me, tears flowed down my face. When the meditation ended and I opened my eyes to look around the room, I was shocked to see wet faces of every single person around me. Fred’s simple invitation made a tremendous impact. And, fortunately, his life’s work continues to do just that.

Fred Rogers began each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with this question in song: “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” His company, Family Communications (the nonprofit company founded by Fred Rogers) is building on that invitation by asking people around the country to join in celebrating his legacy of neighborliness on his birthday, March 20.

“It started simply enough,” explains Margy Whitmer of Family Communications, Inc.. “We wanted to recognize Fred in a way that would reflect his deep appreciation of what it means to be a neighbor. Originally part of Pittsburgh’s 250th anniversary in 2008, it was so successful that we’re making it an annual national event.”

Once again this year a variety of organizations are participating by hosting activities and family-friendly events in their communities. Museums are offering free or discounted admissions. Libraries are providing “neighborhood” themed activities and story hours. Community organizations are launching Mister Rogers’ Sweater Drives or food drives.

“To mark the day, we’re also asking everyone everywhere to wear a sweater,” says David Newell. FCI’s PR Director and Mr. McFeely. “It doesn’t have to have a zipper down the front like the one Mister Rogers wore on the program, it just has to be one of your favorites,” he says.

“What’s been so encouraging,” says FCI president Bill Isler, “is the enthusiastic response from leaders at the cultural treasures in our region. By offering free or reduced admissions, they are providing opportunities for children and families that may change and enrich their lives in unexpected, wonderful ways. Through the generosity of these caring ‘neighbors,’ children will be able to enjoy puppet making, musical presentations, and much more.”

Mr. McFeely — aka David Newell, the public relations director for Family Communications, Inc. (the nonprofit company founded in 1971 by Fred Rogers) — has a special request. “We’re asking everyone everywhere to wear their favorite sweater on that day,” he asks in his best speedy delivery voice. “It doesn’t have to have a zipper down the front like the one Mister Rogers wore on the program, it just has to be special to you.”

“We wanted to recognize Fred in a way that would reflect his deep appreciation of what it means to be a caring neighbor,” explains FCI’s Margy Whitmer.

As a result, “’Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Days — WYBMND for short, although not by much — was born as a means of promoting neighborliness throughout America.

Won’t you wear a sweater on March 20?
For more information about “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Day visit www.fci.org/neighbor.
Schedule of Neighbor Day Events in Southwestern Pennsylvania
Ideas for “Won’t You be my Neighbor?” Day
Special benefit screenings of the new film My Tale of Two Cities in honor of “Won’t You be My Neighbor?” Day

Fred Rogers named his company Family Communications because what he most wanted was to help families with the imposrtnat tlak – talk about thoughts, feelings and concerns. Family Communications offers a wealth of insights, tips and activity suggestions for parents and other caregivers to help young children grow and learn. Subjects include: angry feelings, bedtime, child care, curioisityu, death, disabilities, diversity, divorce, environment, fears, learning and literacy, mealtime, medical experiences, moving, music, new baby, play and creativity, potty training, rules and discipline, self-esteen, sharing and tragic events in the news. To learn more, go here.

Film Piracy and Its Connection to Organized Crime and Terrorism

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009
Organized crime increasingly is involved in the piracy of feature films, with syndicates active along the entire supply chain from manufacture to street sales of pirated movies, according to a new RAND Corporation report. While crime syndicates have added piracy to criminal portfolios that include drugs, money laundering, extortion and human smuggling, the profits from film piracy also have been used on occasion to support the activities of terrorist groups, according to researchers.

“Given the enormous profit margins, it’s no surprise that organized crime has moved into film piracy,” said Greg Treverton, the report’s lead author and director of the Center for Global Risk and Security at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “The profits are high and penalties for being caught are relatively low.” RAND researchers found no evidence terrorists are widely involved with film piracy, but they outline three cases where film piracy supported terror groups and warn that such connections could grow in the future.

“If you buy pirated DVDs, there is a good chance that at least part of the money will go to organized crime and those proceeds fund more-dangerous criminal activities, possibly terrorism,” Treverton said. Much film piracy involves making copies to share with friends or individuals swapping copies on the Internet, activities that usually do not generate any payment. The RAND report, supported by a grant from the Motion Picture Association, was intended to examine to what extent criminal and terrorist groups are engaging in counterfeiting, using film piracy as an example.

RAND researchers detail 14 case studies of film piracy, providing compelling evidence of a broad, geographically dispersed and continuing connection between piracy and organized crime. As well as documenting cases in North America and Europe, the report outlines the involvement of organized crime with film piracy in South America, Russia and many parts of Asia.

The report draws on a global pool of research that produced case studies to explore the extent of the connections among organized crime, terrorism and counterfeiting. The research is based upon 2,000 pages of documents and interviews with more than 120 law enforcement and intelligence agents from more than 20 countries.

Because of its image as a victimless crime and the fact that those who buy are complicit in the crime, information about counterfeiting is sparse and information about the involvement of organized crime sparser still, Treverton said. Because most instances of counterfeiting go unaddressed, there is reason to believe that the more formal data, like arrests and convictions, understate the extent of counterfeiting.

The RAND report outlines three cases where film piracy has helped support terrorist groups: Historically the best documented case involves the Irish Republican Army that used many criminal activities, including film piracy, to support its efforts to drive the British from Northern Ireland. A political agreement in 1998 ended its violent acts, but at least parts of the IRA continue to operate as a criminal enterprise that remains involved in counterfeiting activities.

The D-Company is an organized crime group active for generations in India. Since the 1980s, it has been the major syndicate involved with film piracy in India. The group was transformed into a terrorist organization when it carried out the “Black Friday” bombings in Mumbai in 1993 that killed more than 257 people and injured hundreds more. It continues to advance a political agenda with its actions funded at least partly by the proceeds of crime.

Another case involves the tri-border area of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay that has emerged as the most important financing center for Islamic terrorism outside of the Middle East, channeling $20 million annually to Hezbollah. At least one transfer of $3.5 million was made to Hezbollah by known DVD pirate Assad Ahmad Barakat, who received a thank-you note from the Hez­bollah leader. Barakat was labeled a “specially designated global ter­rorist” by the U.S. government in 2004.

Researchers say that the losses from film piracy have grown as the expansion of digital technology makes it easier to create high-quality counterfeit copies of movies.

Film piracy can be even more profitable than drug trafficking or other enterprises commonly linked to organized crime. In one example cited in the report, a pirated DVD made in Malaysia for 70 cents was marked up more than 1,000 percent and sold on the street in London for about $9. The profit margin was more than three times higher than the markup for Iranian heroin and higher than the profit for Columbian cocaine, according to the report.

Worldwide, the criminal penalties for counterfeiting are relatively light and prosecution is sparse, researchers say. In France, for example, selling counterfeit products is punishable by a two-year prison term and a $190,000 fine, while selling drugs is punishable by a 10-year prison term and a $9.5 million fine. Meanwhile, just 134 people were sentenced in U.S. federal courts for intellectual property crimes during 2002, contrasted to more than 1.5 million arrests for drug offenses nationally in 2003.

The RAND report says that counterfeiting levels are not likely to decline unless governments worldwide commit more resources and create greater accountability for intellectual property protections. Such a commitment would need to produce stronger anti-counterfeiting laws, consistent enforcement against pirating and stronger penalties, including larger fines and prison sentences.

Other potential solutions include customs and immigration efforts to stop counterfeit goods at national borders, and help from the financial community in spotting piracy syndicates’ money-laundering tactics.

The study, “Film Piracy: Organized Crime and Terrorism,” is available at http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG742/ Other authors of the study are Carl Matthies, Karla Cunningham, Jeremiah Goulka, Greg Ridgeway and Anny Wong.

The study was conducted by the RAND Center for Global Risk and Security, and the RAND Safety and Justice Program.

DRAGON TALES: OUR AMAZING PETS! Debuts on DVD on March 17

Monday, March 16th, 2009
One of the top-rated shows for pre-schoolers on PBS KIDS returns to DVD in an all-new, charming edition: DRAGON TALES: OUR AMAZING PETS! DRAGON TALES: OUR AMAZING PETS! includes fun and educational episodes that teach children the importance of caring for their special pet friends. Whether an orange furball, a leaping frog, a baby rhyming bird or a fuzzy pet caterpoozle, Dragon Land is full of many unique animals – each of which has its own set of special needs to discover! The DVD also includes a fun Dragon Tales song, “Come On, Let’s Blow,” which parents and kids can enjoy singing together

Episodes Include:

Wheezie’s Hairball -Emmy and Max are greeted in Dragon Land by a strange orange fur ball, Zak and Wheezie’s new pet, Slurpy. They’re learning how to take care of him, and it isn’t easy! Since he can’t talk, Slurpy tries to communicate by bouncing twice and spinning around.

Frog Prints – When Quetzal takes the gang on a ride through Dragon Lagoon, Max finds a new friend. He immediately loves “Hoppy,” a little uni-croaker frog, and decides to take him home to keep as a pet. But Quetzal gently explains that’s not possible.

Bye Bye Birdie – When Emmy finds a baby rhyming bird left behind by its family, she wants to keep it for a pet. She names it Cutie Pie and becomes attached to the little bird. Her friends and Quetzal help her realize she must return the baby bird to its parents. Emmy feels very sad knowing she’ll have to say goodbye to Cutie Pie, so her friends show her support, making the journey with her to find the bird’s family.

Goodbye Little Caterpoozle – Everyone loves to play with Cassie’s fuzzy pet caterpoozle, especially Cassie. When Cassie discovers a transparent cocoon in the cage, they all believe that Poozie has died. To help Cassie feel better, the friends share favorite memories of Poozie and offer to help find another pet. None will do, until a caterpoozle a lot like Poozie crawls up Cassie’s arm, nuzzles her neck and smiles at her.

Green Thumbs- When the group finds a lost baby plant, they have to figure out how to care for her properly on their long journey to return her to her family and home.

Running Time 64 minutes

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