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The World According to Sesame Street
IMDB Rating: 7.4/10 from 123 votes
Release: 19 January 1996 (USA) /

The World According to Sesame Street

Genre: Documentary
Director: Linda Goldstein Knowlton,
Synopsis: A documentary which examines the creation and co-production of the popular children's television program in three developing countries: Bangladesh, Kosovo and South Africa.

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Critic Reviews

One of the fundamental takeaways from The World According to Sesame Street, a documentary on the iconic children's Television show and its global variants, is that Sesame Street doesn't teach American values. A Television show that we see so widely loved and licensed in the United States can easily been seen as promotion of American values, however, this documentary reminds us that the kind of core principles and early learning skills taught in Sesame Street are something that transcends social and regional boundaries. These are things that children from all walks of life can appreciate and understood and in no way what is shown on Sesame Street only accepted by Americans.

Gary E. Knoll, the CEO of Sesame Workshop, states that Sesame Street's original purpose was to give kids in low-income or more urbanized areas a leg-up in the education game, working to give children the same kind of information that more affluent or middle-class preschools were giving children. Knoll reminds that the 1960's was a tumultuous decade in America for race relations, war, and poverty and Sesame Street was conceived to be the safe window children could utilize every day to better themselves and further their education in a way that was fun and communicable to them.

This was a radical move, to say the least. Television's 1950's inception caused a wave of controversy - controversy that even still holds ground today by people who claim the medium promotes idiocy and passivity when it comes to peddling information. Sesame Street, a show that nearly every child, rich or poor, watched when they were little, worked to tell people that it was all in what people watched that reflected their attitudes and ideas and this was a show that could seriously better children all over the world.

The World According to Sesame Street works to show the Sesame Street offices in Bangladesh, South Africa, and Kosovo, where people work tirelessly, around-the-clock, to develop a program that communicates their ways of life and their social issues in a way that's extractable and meaningful for young children. Consider the staff in South Africa, who work to seamlessly incorporate a character on Sesame Street that is HIV positive, in order to respond to and teach kids about the AIDS epidemic occurring in South Africa. The incorporation of the character sparks a lot of positive reactions and incredible love from children in South Africa, but in America, however, news outlets are calling the move outrageous and an affront to children's Television. No, the particular news outlet isn't Fox News, it's actually MSNBC.

Meanwhile, the Kosovo offices are looking to aspire love and generosity in the new generation by trying to put an end to the longheld conflict between Albanians and Serbians. The staff here are looking to try and peddle ideas of peer acceptance and, at the very least, greatly limit stereotypes and misinformation regarding Serbians and the frigid relationships held between both groups of people. Finally, there's the Bangladesh version of Sesame Street, which looks to reach to kids with ideas about freedom, playing time, and being a kid where, in the city, it's not uncommon for kids to start working at age five or six.

The World According to Sesame Street is evidently a low-budget documentary, with notable amounts of film grain and static audio sounds that don't so much as distract but occasionally remind us of their presence. Furthermore, interestingly enough, for a documentary about Sesame Street, not a great deal of footage from the show is actually shown. Directors Linda Hawkins Costigan and Linda Goldstein-Knowlton are much more focused on process rather than result here, showing the offices furiously meeting deadlines and trying to respond to criticism whilst doing some of the most difficult work for Television imaginable. This makes for a documentary that, in turn, winds up a bit structurally uneven, especially when jumping across different countries and trying to stay focused during a great deal of board meetings.

This, however, is a real behind the scenes look at the massive amounts of planning and work that it takes to build a children's Television show from the ground up, especially around the world. The World According to Sesame Street may not always be the most intriguing documentary, at least in terms of approach and structure, but it's nonetheless an important reminder of the impact and global reach of Sesame Street in addition to its significance as a whole.

Directed by: Linda Hawkins Costigan and Linda Goldstein-Knowlton.

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