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Shine a Light teaches the digital arts to marginalized children all over Latin America, so that their communities can come to see themselves -- and show themselves -- in a new light.





Nuevo Libro: Trincheras Ciudadanas

Kurt Shaw

Por muchos años, Rio de Janeiro y Medellín han sido dos de los lugares más violentas en el mundo, pero líderes jóvenes en las dos ciudades han encontrado técnicas inovadoras para construir la paz, aún en barrios controlados por pandillas. Trincheras Cidadanas, una extense investigación sobre los esfuerzos, pone el conocimiento de los constructores de paz en diálogo con la teoría crítica para sugerir caminos para construir la paz en otros barrios violentos.

Sólo US$3.50 en

Novo Livro no

Kurt Shaw

Por muitos anos, Rio de Janeiro e Medellín têm sido conhecidas como duas das cidades mais violentas na Terra, mas jovens líderes das favelas acharam novas maneiras de fazer a paz, ainda nos bairros mais perigosos. Trincheiras Cidadãs documenta uma pesquisa que durou três anos dos melhores programas nas cidades, colocando o seu conhecimento em diálogo com a teoria crítica para propor novos modelos da construção de paz em bairros controlados por gangues.

Agora disponível por Kindle em

Top 25 Shorts, #22: The shaman who saved the woman from the Mermaids

Kurt Shaw

Among the Kuna indians, the Shaman plays a fundamental role in health care.  In this story, Idalides Colman, granddaughter of the leader of the 1925 Kuna revolution, tells how a shaman went onto the mainland and found a woman suffering from a mysterious illness.  Using his knowledge of the spiritual and modern world (watch out for the airplane!), the shaman (Nele) was able to rescue the woman's soul from the mermaids who held it prisoner.  With that adventure, the woman became healthy once again.

Story filmed by Kuna children and animated with Molas, the supreme art form of Kuna women.

Beginning a new project: Quilombos do Sul

Kurt Shaw

        Brazil was the last country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery, but long before Princess Isabel signed the paper to manumit the slaves, black men and women had taken their freedom into their own hands.  Millions fled into the jungles and deserts of Brazil's backlands to create small communities and even several independent countries, like Palmares.  With the end of slavery, these "quilombos" were often forgotten, but in Brazil's progressive 1988 Constitution, the framers made a nod to the injustice in the country's past by recognizing the land rights of the decedents of runaway slaves who still live in the quilombos.
    In the south of Brazil, this right to ancestral land has brought the quilombos into conflict with many of the traditional powers of the region.  Communities close to large cities have given up their claims in exchange for a pittance from real estate speculators, while more remote quilombos face threats from ranchers, lumber interests, and developers of tourism.  Until the government formally recognizes the extent of their land, the promises of the Constitution are a dead letter.
    Two weeks ago, Shine a Light began a long-term series of projects with children from these black communities, first teaching kids how to make films and other digital media, and then (with the help of history professors from the local university) to develop oral histories of the quilombos.  In this way, children, parents, and grandparents will all participate in the judicial process that confirms their tenure on the land, not through legal briefs but through documentaries, historical comic books, and historical re-inactions where children represent the roles played by their great-great grandparents in resisting slavery.
    We expect two important results from this work: First, we will make an important contribution to the quilombos' struggle to gain legal title to their land. The second consequence may be even more important: though Brazil has become increasingly egalitarian over the last decade, social mobility into the elite is still restricted by who can pass the rigorous exams into the Federal University system.  Few children from quilombos even try to pass the test: in one study we did of five public schools in the south of the island of Santa Catarina -- schools where many students are the descendants of slaves -- not a single graduate went on to the Federal University.  By bringing children from quilombos into contact with university professors, and with the world of formal learning, we will break down the high wall that has long excluded blacks from Brazil's elite.

    Last Saturday, we did some wonderful filming with a group of ten kids from the community of Morro do Fortunato, high on the mountain above the tourist town of Garopaba.  Today it is a tourist town... when Fortunato founded the place as a young slave who had just won his freedom, the town's only fame was as a whaling center, the Nantucket of the south.
   We began the project in a simple way, asking the kids -- from 4-10 years old -- to tell us about their community.  One boy showed the house where he lived, and pointed to the fruit trees his mother had carefully pruned.  The whole group then ran through the deep mud to the stream that rushes down the valley; one boy told a story of a friend who had almost drowned, while that friend -- who was filming at the time! -- protested that it didn't happen than way at all.  The smallest children then showed the well-maintained playground their parents had built, and all of the kids became distracted on the slides, swings, and merry go round.
     Finally, we interviewed one of the kids' grandfather, and he told about the games he played as a kid, pointed to how the community had changed and improved.  Far from the nostalgia for the past we hear from many older people, he was excited to explain how much better life is today.  And then, just as we were getting to the meat of the interview... the skies opened up in a tropical downpour.

   Next week, we will continue the interview and move on to the history and day to day life o the community.  With kids as enthusiastic as this group is, the project is going to be great!

Top 25 Shorts, #23: Fire

Kurt Shaw

When we first arrived in the Baniwa community of Itacoatiara-Mirim, near São Gabriel da Cachoeira in the Amazon, we showed the children a movie that we had made with the Kuna indians of Panamá.  That movie, The Iskar, illustrates the myth of how humans stole fire from the Jaguar who wanted to keep it for himself.  Seeing this movie, two Baniwa teenagers wanted to tell the same story as it comes form their own culture.  This movie, which uses Baniwa petroglyphs as the basis for the art, tells that story.

Top 25 Shorts, #24. Refugees in Usme

Kurt Shaw

In 2007, we worked with refugee children in the slum of Usme, south of Bogotá.  The teenagers created a video production group and decided to draw a video portrait of their neighborhood, showing the place in all of its complexity.  This short documentary is one of the best in the series, an interview with a family who war forced from its home in the countryside.

La violencia política desplazó Cecilia y su familia a Bogotá, y con este video, ellos cuentan cómo han superado su tragedia personal para construir una nueva vida. Este video forma parte de la serie "Las Caras de Usme", la historia de un barrio periférico de Bogotá, contada a través de la vida de sus habitantes.

The Children's Media Critic: Charlotte's Web

Kurt Shaw

With that, we have to remember the social practice of reading Charlotte's Web.  My father read it to me.  I read it to Helena.  Though some kids may read the book on their own, mostly it is a family event, something that we do together.  The effort of reading many pages to a child says "I want to put this much effort into being with you.  I like to be with you and tell stories."  Both the message of the book and the messenger (the parent reading it) carry the same meaning to the child: "You are special because I love you."

More at

Top 25 Shorts: #25: a Casa Cai

Kurt Shaw

As we've been rebuilding the SAL website, it's been fun to go back through the hundreds of movies we have made over the last 10 years.  As a kind or arbitrary exercise, we're chosen our 25 favorite short films.  We'll be doing a top 25 countdown over the next couple of weeks.

A Casa Cai (Your House is Gonna Fall!) is a music video by MC Okado, one of the hosts of our FavelaNews channel.  In addition to his talents as a journalist, Okado is also one of the top breakdancers in Latin America and an accomplished rapper.  This song tells the life story of a childhood friend of his, who thought that dealing drugs would be is way to riches... until he found it was only his road to prison.

Cine Infantil y Educación Popular

Kurt Shaw

En los últimos meses, Shine a Light se ha dedicado a la publicación digital de todos nuestros libros.  Hoy, está disponible Cine Infantil y Educación Popular, un libro innovador y desafiador de 2007.

Aunque a menudo lo descartan como algo insignificante, Cine Infantil puede ser una poderosa herramienta educativa y no solo una forma de recompensar, entretener o distraer a los chicos. Además del intento conciente de los que hacen las películas para niños de enseñar lecciones morales en sus películas, a menudo podemos leer mensajes aún más interesantes y poderosos. Cine Infantil y Educación Popular enseña nuevas formas para pensar acerca de los medios y de la educación.

Children's Media Critic: The Jungle Book

Kurt Shaw

Oh, oobee doo

I wanna be like you

I wanna walk like you

Talk like you, too

You'll see it's true

An ape like me

Can learn to be human too..."


Here is the basic conceit of colonialism, especially in the "White Man's Burden" form defended by Kipling: the poor, black, deprived "other" in the non-European world wants to be like Europeans.  London is the culmination and apex of what it means to be human, so any way that the Europeans can help these poor deprived people become like Europeans -- even if it means stealing their resources, running their lives, destroying their culture, and even killing them -- is completely right and justified.  Perhaps some jungle kings did want to "walk like [Kipling], talk like [Kipling]," but the truth is that most people would prefer to be in charge of their own lives and make their own decisions.

For more, see