Teaching Children Through Film

The worldwide COVID-19 outbreak has forced schools to transfer to online classes or extend their spring break, leaving many at-home parents with the taxing job of monitoring their children’s schoolwork or keeping them preoccupied during the day with educational activities. Film is a mind-stimulating and convenient educational tool that parents can use during this period of confinement. Many streaming sites offer intriguing documentaries or hundreds of instructional videos that can keep children engaged with the outside world and expose them to a myriad of subjects they may not have necessarily explored in school.

Kanopy offers an incredible resource called “The Great Courses,” a series of videos on virtually any subject. One of them is “How to Become a SuperStar Student” series, which would be perfect for children currently out of school to brush up on before returning to school. The series features helpful videos to improve classroom and learning skills such as “Thinking Critically” and “Writing Well.” There are literature courses about folklore and fairy tales, history lessons on Aborigine Art, or a “Your Body” class geared to kindergartners through third graders. The choices are endless in this incredible online resource.

Another engrossing documentary is Spellbound, available to watch on Tubi. The film follows the Olympic-level pressures put on eight kids from disparate ethnic, class, and regional backgrounds who travel to Washington D.C. for the National Spelling Bee Finals. A simple story about something that may be considered dull is actually utterly gripping and often humorous. Plus, children can learn a host of new vocabulary words. Read our Video Librarian review here

Dream Big: Engineering Our World is a fascinating peek into the incredible world of engineers and the marvels they make—big and small—from the Great Wall of China to underwater robots, the world’s tallest buildings, solar cars, and sustainable cities. These rousing stories reveal STEM-workers’ grit and intelligence, and the hard work it takes to create better lives. The documentary motivates future generations to change the world. This film offers real world examples of science put into action so parents can plan their next science class around this film on Netflix. Read our Video Librarian review here

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Documentary Educational Resources Offering Free Streaming of Curated Collection Through June 1, 2020

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Documentary Educational Resources (DER) is offering free unlimited streaming access through June 1, 2020 to a curated selection of films—a mix of new releases and classic titles from their collection. The 24 titles available include An Autobiography of Michelle Maren (VL-3/17), Live from UB: Rock & Freedom in the New Mongolia (VL-3/18), Tashi’s Turbine (VL Online-11/17), Tender (VL-9/16), and Visible Silence (VL-7/17). A Vimeo account is required (it is free to sign up). To watch any film, click on “Rent” in the top right corner of the video player and log in to your Vimeo account. On checkout, click “Apply promo code” and enter: WFH2020. For a listing of films and more information, please visit DER’s “Watch From Home” page at

Video Distributors Respond to COVID-19 with Special Streaming Deals

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, many video distributors are offering reduced digital streaming costs as well as lower prices or free streaming for titles owned by libraries on physical media. Gisèle Tanasse, Film & Media Services Librarian for UC Berkeley, has put together a continually expanding list of distributors (currently 30) with information on special streaming offers. Here’s the link to the Google doc:

MVD to Release Doc on Pauline Kael on June 16

On June 16, Juno Films and MVD Entertainment Group will release filmmaker Rob Garver’s What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael (DVD: $24.95).Tagged by Roger Ebert as the most influential film critic of the late 20th century, the documentary tells the story of Pauline’s turbulent life and work through never-seen archival footage, her published writing and personal letters, and interviews with both friends and foes of her pen. Pauline is voiced by Sarah Jessica Parker, and participants include Quentin Tarantino, Camille Paglia, David O. Russell, Molly Haskell, Francis Ford Coppola, and daughter Gina James. Pauline Kael (1919-2001) was likely the most powerful, and personal, movie critic of the 20th century. Writing for The New Yorker and publishing a dozen bestselling books, she ruthlessly pursued what made a movie or an actor’s performance work, or not, and why. Her passion made her both admired and despised amongst her readers and her subjects. Pauline’s own story is one of struggle and obsession: the fight to establish her voice and have it heard, and to raise a daughter on her own in a time when the obstacles were high. The latter golden age of movies of the 1960s and ‘70s are the focus of this film that pursues the question of what made Pauline Kael’s work so individual, so controversial–and so good. Bonus features will include a never before released interview of Pauline Kael with Alfred Hitchcock, deleted scenes, and interview excerpts with Tarantino and Paul Schrader.

Taxidermy as Art Doc “Stuffed” Arrives March 10 from Music Box Films

On March 10, Music Box Films will release Erin Derham’s documentary Stuffed (DVD: $29.95), which looks at the fascinating and surprising world of taxidermy, as told through the eyes and hands of acclaimed taxidermy artists across the world. The film plunges viewers into the remarkably diverse subculture of taxidermy, a world where its practitioners must be masters of a collection of unique disciplines. Along with having an understanding of sculpting and painting, they also need to have a grasp of chemistry and biology, animal behavior and movement, and they also must know hundreds of species’ habitats. From an all-female studio in Los Angeles that has elevated taxidermy to the forefront of fashion and modern art, to a handful of fine artists in the Netherlands, to a big game taxidermist in Ohio and an anatomical sculptor in South Africa, the taxidermy artists of Stuffed are a collection of passionate experts who constantly push the creative boundaries of their profession.


First Run to Release Immigration Doc “Colossus” on March 10

First Run Features is releasing filmmaker Jonathan Schienberg’s documentary Colossus (DVD: $24.95) on March 10. Told through the eyes of 15-year-old Jamil Sunsin, this is a modern-day immigrant tale of one family’s desperate struggle after deportation leads to family separation, and the elusive search for the American dream. Jamil is the only person in his family born in the U.S. His parents and sister came from Honduras and lived in America for a decade before Jamil’s father was arrested for being undocumented. The entire family was forced to return to Honduras, a country wracked with violence. After a knife attack traumatizes Jamil, his family makes an excruciating choice to send him back to the America – alone. This intimate portrait offers a rare look into the aftermath of deportation and family separation, amidst the current backlash against America’s immigrants.


ALA-FMRT Notable Videos for Adults List Announced

The American Library Association (ALA) Film and Media Round Table (FMRT) Notable Videos for Adults Committee has compiled its 2020 list of Notable Videos for Adults, a list of 15 outstanding films released on video within the past two years and suitable for all libraries serving adults. Its purpose is to call attention to recent video releases that make a significant contribution to the world of video. The list is compiled for use by librarians and the general adult populace. The complete list can be found here: Several of the titles were reviewed by Video Librarian, including Crime + Punishment (VL-9/19, also a VL Best Docs selection), Dawnland (VL Online-11/19), Hail Satan? (VL-9/19), Kusama: Infinity (VL-3/19), Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (VL Online-12/19), Maiden (VL-11/19, also a VL Best Docs selection), Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins (review posting soon), and Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am (VL-11/19, also a VL Best Docs selection).

Sex! Gossip! Scandal! Magnolia to Release National Enquirer Doc “Scandalous” on February 18

Sex! Gossip! Scandal! For over 60 years, the National Enquirer has pumped out salacious, shocking stories, stretching the limits of journalism and blurring the lines between truth and fiction. On February 18, Magnolia Home Entertainment will release filmmaker Mark Landsman’s Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer (DVD: $26.99), which tells the sensational true story of the most infamous tabloid in U.S. history, offering a wild, probing look at how one newspaper’s prescient grasp of its’ readers darkest curiosities led it to massive profits and influence. From its coverage of Elvis’s death, to the O.J. Simpson murder trial, the National Enquirer rattled the foundations of American culture and politics, sometimes allegedly using payoffs and blackmail to get its scoops. Drawing on rare archival footage and featuring comments from former Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein and New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, the film examines our obsession with the rich, famous, and powerful, as revealed in the tabloid that has fed those obsessions for generations of Americans.

“The Recruits” Child Military Program Doc Now Available from The Video Project

The Video Project ( has just released filmmakers Carl Brown and Sean Donnelly’s The Recruits (DVD: $89: public libraries; $275: colleges & universities; digital rights available). The Young Marines has existed for over 50 years, but few are aware of this taxpayer-funded military camp for adolescents and teens. Young Marines is a Department of Defense funded youth-oriented military program consisting of tens of thousands of children in more than 300 units across 46 states. Designed to train children on how to think and behave like soldiers as they go through a grueling nine-week recruit process modeled after Marine Corps Boot Camp Training, children as young as eight are taught close order drill, military rank structure, and firearm training with the end goal of training them to think and behave like soldiers. The funding for the program falls under “drug demand reduction” education which is under the bigger umbrella of counter-narco terrorism. The Recruits puts this Department of Defense supported organization under the microscope, investigating its operation as well as its effects on the children enrolled, while also exploring American culture’s infatuation with the military and the consequences of a country desensitized to war.

KimStim Releasing Powerful Doc “What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire?” in February

On February 11, KimStim will release What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire? (DVD: $29.99). Roberto Minervini, an Italian filmmaker and academic long based in Texas, presents an intimate look at African Americans in Louisiana and Mississippi, including struggling female business owners facing gentrification in a post-Katrina New Orleans, single mothers trying to keep their young black sons safe, and New Black Panther Party members protesting the latest wrongful death. The documentary serves up a searing portrait of the lives of those who struggle for justice, dignity, and survival in an increasingly hostile country.