Volume 17, Issue 9 / September 2013

Scenarios USA: Cinema & Education

For this issue Offscreen places a mini focus on an organisation that impressed me the more I learned about them, Scenarios USA. Scenarios USA is grass roots organisation that not only has its proverbial “heart in the right place” but succeeds in the very difficult task of blending education, social commitment, social awareness, and entertainment. What Scenarios USA has done is ostensibly blend social worker with filmmaker by taking real, honest social issues that matter to American teenagers and taking them, not to the streets, but to the screening room. Scenarios USA develops pedagogical tools that help inner city teachers make their work more vital and relevant to their students; and design curriculum based on issues that matter directly to inner city high school students. Scenarios USA creates a nurturing environment where teenagers can write scripts that will then be brought to the screen as a short film by professional Hollywood directors, cinematographers, and crews. In the opening piece I present an overview of some key films produced thus far under the Scenarios USA banner, focusing on some of the recurring themes and stylistic approaches. This is followed by an interview with Rob York, who brought his extensive experience in various aspects of film production to Scenarios USA in 2008, and has been working full-time with them since. Although not tied to Scenarios USA, it is appropriate that the distributor Icarus Films be involved in this focus on education issue because they are one of the premiere distributors of innovative documentary, learning and educational films (and their work has been covered in Offscreen before). The Icarus Films work being featured here by Daniel Garrett is a review of the multi-part documentary Islam Unknown. The complexities of the world of Islam, as a culture, religion and as it relates to the West are challenges that have occupied scholars for centuries. Since 9/11 the North American media has given greater attention to the ‘darker’ side of Islam (terrorism, violent conflict), often at the expense of broader context and sense of awareness of its rich and long cultural tradition. The continuing national, political and ideological struggles in the Middle East, including the current power struggle in Syria, has kept the balancing of religion as a spiritual practice and a political tool in the public mind. Garrett’s review focuses on a film which tackles the world of Islam from the point of view of eight prominent intellectuals of the Islamic World, Islam Unknown. One of these eight scholars interviewed in the book, Reza Aslam, made headline news recently after his contentious interview with Fox News reporter Lauren Greene went viral. Reporter Greene could not get her head around the fact that a Muslim had written a book on Christianity, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, and challenged Aslam’s credentials to do so, even after Aslam explained that as a scholar of religion, it was his “job” to do so. The fourth article this month is Elaine Lennon’s review of Larry Ceplair’s biography of blacklisted writer Paul Jarrico, whose life was itself a study in self-education. The concluding essay, also from Daniel Garrett, is tied to the issue’s theme by the content of its subject: education. The Canadian, Montreal-set film Monsieur Lazhar tells the engrossing story of a Algerian immigrant man, Bachir Lazhar, who is hired to teach at an elementary school after the suicidal death of a former teacher. Phillippe Falardeau’s critically lauded film is a nuanced yet simple story about shared grief, mentoring and cultural understanding. (Donato Totaro, ed)

← Previous Issue

Next Issue →

Recent Issues

More →