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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Ending on a High Note

I have no say in, or knowledge of, the nominees for the Next Generation Prize, but I have a personal favorite. The contest’s final program to be screened ought to be a competitor for this prize.

“Tsehai Loves Learning” is a puppet program dealing with social and emotional issues, done on a shoestring by a husband, wife and small team in Ethiopia (Shane Etzenhouser and Radiet Alemu are here; Bruktawit Tigabu is at home, about to deliver Shane’s and her first child!). The writing is direct and clear, using simple interactivity in the style of “Blue’s Clues” to invite children at home to participate. The characters aren’t fancy, but they are well conceived and colorful, culturally familiar and empathetic.

In the competition episode, Tsehai the giraffe is trying to figure out why his friend Tsinat is sad. The storytelling is supplemented by games to identify emotions by facial expression, and by Tsehai interviewing children about their experiences with emotions. When Tsehai finds out Tsinat is sad because his mother died of AIDS, he tells a story that reassures Tsinat that his mother loved him very much and is watching from above.

The producers have such a strong sense of their culture and audience that mentoring from a developed-world producer or writer or director wouldn’t rob Tsehai or their next project of essential cultural roots or loving nature.

One in eight children in Ethiopia is an AIDS orphan.

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