Encouraging reading -- through film
|by Gina Dalfonzo|
Micheal Flaherty, president of Walden Media (the production company behind Amazing Grace; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Bridge to Terabithia; and others), recently gave a remarkable speech at Hillsdale College about one of Walden's most important goals. It is, to put it mildly, unique.
A few years ago, the National Endowment for the Arts released a report entitled “Reading at Risk.” Many people here are probably familiar with its findings, but allow me to repeat the headline: For the first time in modern history, less than half of the adult population now reads literature. The decline is across all races, all education levels, and all age groups. While this may come as a surprise to Hillsdale College students, the decline is the most pronounced in their age group. In just twenty years, young adults have declined from being those most likely to read literature to those least likely. . . .
Cultural restoration, Russell Kirk said, begins at home. Certainly the same is true of literacy. And in today’s media saturated culture, I dare to say that it may also begin at the movie theater. Walden Media was started several years ago by myself, Cary Granat, and Phil Anschutz. We wanted to create a company dedicated to recapturing imagination, rekindling curiosity, and demonstrating the rewards of knowledge and virtue. All of our films would be based on great books, great people, and great historical events. They would be made by the best talent in entertainment and they would all be linked to educational materials developed by some of the best talent in education. We were taking Henry David Thoreau’s famous advice—to march to the beat of a different drummer—to Hollywood, which is why we decided to name our company after Thoreau’s most famous book, Walden.
How does this work out in practice?
In conjunction with every film, we launch an ambitious educational campaign that places the book at its center. Since starting Walden, we have distributed hundreds of thousands of books, mostly to Title One Schools that are not able to afford them. When we released [Because of] Winn Dixie, we also launched a program in conjunction with the Girl Scouts of America and Sunrise Assisted Living Centers to draw attention to the “Reading at Risk” report. Girl Scouts across the country volunteered to read Winn Dixie at different Sunrise Centers. In doing this, we were showing one way to reverse the decline in reading and volunteerism at the same time. Recently, with the release of Charlotte’s Web, we invited teachers and students to read a section from E. B. White’s classic to break the Guinness World Record for most people reading simultaneously. The previous record was 133,000. At last count, more than 500,000 people participated in all 50 states and 28 countries.
Visit Hillsdale's site to read more.