The Tribe: A Continuing Vehicle for Conversation

The Tribe: From Sundance to The Classroom

by H. Glenn Rosenkrantz, for The Covenant Foundation

For an 18-minute film, it’s sure created lots of buzz.

It premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. It’s been screened at dozens more. It’s picked up prestigious awards. It hit the top of the ITunes most downloaded short film chart. It appears in eight languages. And the half million-plus people who’ve seen it all want to talk about it.

“We always thought it would have an impact, but it’s completely exceeded any expectations we ever had for the types of groups using it and the scope of the discussions it’s inspired,” said Tiffany Shlain, co-founder and executive director of The Moxie Institute, the Bay Area media group that conceived of and produced The Tribe.

Moxie made its mark using film and emerging media to promote engagement in – and spur conversations about – social, political and cultural issues. The Tribe is produced in the hippest sort of style and with imagery to appeal to young Jews who aren’t necessarily buying into the communal line, and who live in a technological environment that spawns free, independent thinking.

“It has definitely gotten people in the door,” Shlain said, noting that the film is now firmly established as a starting point and framework for debate about 21st century Jewish identity. “It raises lots of compelling questions.”

Jewish educators haven’t overlooked The Tribe’s sheer power as a catalyst for conversation, especially as they make sense of the place of new media on the educational landscape.

“The Tribe has a new look and feel and texture, different from anything that’s out there,” said Dr. Marc Kramer, executive director of RAVSAK: The Jewish Community Day School Network. “The images are fast and they turn and they blend and it provokes thought and reaction. It is a piece that is definitely of this age, and so it speaks to Jewish youth. It’s dynamite.”

Many educators have known of the film’s existence since soon after it premiered, such was the buzz surrounding it. The challenge, many noted, was incorporating it into the classroom to unleash its full power as a tool to explore Jewish identity.

In response, The Moxie Institute introduced high school and college-level curriculum guides in 2007 to fortify use of The Tribe. These were developed in partnership with the Center for Cultural Judaism and major universities and are now part of educational screening packages that also include a DVD of the film, conversation cards and a film guide.

“The curriculum package offers depth, context and insight into subjects addressed in the film,” said Dr. Carlton Evans, educational coordinator at The Moxie Institute. “The new curriculum is meeting a demand from educators for a teaching package to be used alongside The Tribe. In high schools and colleges, this can now reach a new audience of young Jews, helping the unaffiliated delve into their heritage and identity for the first time and allowing the affiliated to consider their identity more deeply.”

About 20 Jewish educators attended a forum in San Francisco in May to discuss with each other and Moxie officials the power of the film and use of the curriculum package.

An added bonus was leaving with a free copy of the kit. This, thanks to a recent Covenant Foundation grant making it available to day schools, high schools, universities, libraries and other Jewish educational organizations that would otherwise not be able to afford its price tag of a few hundred dollars.

The Foundation’s grant made the difference between using the film and curriculum, or not, educators said.

“For many, $300 may not seem like a lot of money, but in my experience that level of cost can be a deal breaker,” said Michael Lederman, director of the Battat Educational Resource Center of the Bureau of Jewish Education in San Francisco. “Education is underfunded, so without a financial subsidy, there is just little chance I would be able to use this.”

As many as 400 educational institutions across the country are expected to benefit, exposing up to 200,000 young Jews to the film and the new curriculum during the next four years, officials of The Moxie Institute and The Covenant Foundation said.

RAVSAK itself will make the film and curriculum package available to 40 Jewish high schools within its network across the country, and will train educators on how to use it most effectively. This sort of use and exposure would not have been possible without the Covenant grant to the film’s producers, Kramer said.

More broadly, some noted, use of the film and curriculum guide is about more than just The Tribe itself.

“Education in the 21st century is not just about books, but the media that people use every day – films and the web, for instance – that bring them to a new place in a different way,” Shlain said. “The Covenant Foundation gets this. There’s a history there of experimenting with new ways of engaging and educating.”

Here’s more information about The Moxie Institute and The Tribe.

Also see Tribe: The Film – Now on YouTube