I was drawn into media production in the 1970s as a writer and member of the academic advisory panel for a project that created two semester-length TV courses on Japanese history and culture. Japan: The Living Tradition and Japan: The Changing Tradition were products of The University of Mid-America, a short-lived broadcasting consortium of Midwestern universities. A decade later we also edited excerpts from the series onto a short-lived medium called videodisc, soon eclipsed by CD and DVD formats. These productions are no longer accessible.
During the 1990s I worked with Jackson Bailey of Earlham College, developing the Center for Educational Media, a (pre-internet) database of for teaching about Japan. We partnered with Japan?s National Institute for Media Education to produce some two dozen video programs about contemporary Japan and one on Thailand. For some of them we also developed print and online guides and background essays.
Often I am introduced as a filmmaker. That is correct in the dictionary sense: I do make films. But I think of myself not as a filmmaker but as an anthropologist who thrills to the challenge of communicating about the human condition by blending moving images, audio and text.
To me a filmmaker is somebody who went to film school, strives to invent new camera angles and editing moves, and hopes to have work chosen for the Sundance Festival and for Academy Awards. I've not had formal training in media production; what I've learned has accrued from hanging out with professional camera crews and editors.
I care about being filmically in fashion but as an anthropologist and educator I care even more about message. My target audiences are the definable one of students in high schools and colleges, and the more nebulous one of viewers of educational and public television broadcasts. I prefer to issue films that are an hour or a half-hour long---U.S. broadcast length--- subdivided into shorter segments that can stand alone. Longer formats allow for subtleties, for raising complex issues, for following extended action that cannot be conveyed in short clips. Short segments, on the other hand, are favored by many classroom instructors: they can build a class session around a brief video presentation.