Twitter, Tumblr, iPad, Tweet

If you’re a fan of 1970s spy novels, you probably know George Smiley, the main character is John Le Carre’s novel-turned-movie, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The book’s adapted screenplay is now vying for Oscar gold. George is a retired intelligence officer recruited to find a mole. Like any spy novel, it’s full of twists and turns, red herrings and dead ends. One clue, one revelation, one discovery leads to yet another question.

In this case, it leads me to this question: Why are we so enthralled by movies? If you don’t think we are, consider how much Oscar discussion is going on right now…..think of it as Twitter, Tumblr, iPad, Tweet.

We are captivated by movies. None more so than today’s students who are incredibly video saavy. Film studies, in fact, has been one of the fastest growing majors across the country for a decade or so. At JMU, the always popular and cutting edge School of Media Arts is churning out videographers every year into industry careers that, their professor tell them, “don’t yet exist.”

Much of the growing influence and interest in movies and film is its ubiquity. We are surrounded by it, largely due to technology. Film is —literally — at our fingertips.

Case in point: According to Wikipedia, after the iPad launched 21 months ago, it sold 3 million devices in 80 days. By the end of  2010, that number had jumped to 14.8 million. Recently, Bloomberg’s Peter Burrows reported that Apple is worming its way into business. Burrows wrote that iPad seems to be the mole that is burrowing (sorry, couldn’t resist) into the corporate world. The iPad, Burrows observed, “has become a standard business tool.”

While technology is changing business, it is changing us as well. Psychologists tell us that social media is altering the way we interact and technology is transforming how — and how fast — we communicate. Platforms like Vimeo and YouTube have wrestled film out of the hands of big studios, giving independent filmmakers a place. New technologies such as High Definition are sinking in price. Creative 3-D graphics are more available to independent filmmakers who continue to increase their market share, as films move from studios and theaters onto laptops and iPads.

We are all filmmakers or partakers of the craft. Who today doesn’t have a camera phone that takes videos or who, at least, hasn’t laughed at a YouTube video. Widely quoted, it is said that we absorb 10 percent of what we read, 20 percent of what we hear, 30 percent of what we see and 50 percent of what we see and hear. And that brings us back to the impact of film. Because of film’s ubiquity, availability and popularity, it is a potent medium of change.

Most of us can point to a movie that has changed our lives. For me, it’s To Kill a Mockingbird. You’re thinking of one that changed your life, right? For others who stand on the other side of the camera, like JMU alum Steve James (’77), film is the means for delivering a powerful message and changing others’ lives. Right now, Steve’s documentary  The Interrupters is changing minds about inner city life. Sadly, however — and perhaps as a commentary on Hollywood’s fickleness —  it was overlooked by the Oscars this year.

Last summer, SMAD major Peter Jackson (’12) made a video to promote the work of Every Orphan’s Hope, an organization building homes for children orphaned by HIV/AIDS in Zambia. And last summer as well, SMAD students  interned in Los Angeles, preparing the enter this powerful world of influence. You can read about them on JMU’s website.

The ability to reach millions of people with an uploaded video is a stunning opportunity. When such an opportunity is coupled with a sincere and honest desire to improve the future for others, to solve problems, to rally forces for positive change — and when it falls into responsible, compassionate hands like those of Steve or Peter — it will change the world.

To learn more about Steve James and The Interrupters, visit
Peter’s video is finished and you can view it here
And check out SMAD at Here you can read about how video has changed the lives of two alumni — to the tune of a million dollars.
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