Oscar winner for Angel & Big Joe,
1975 With fellow Oscar winner Bob Godfrey,
___ . ___
View Bert's films Angel & Big Joe, Felipa: North of the Border, Geronimo Jones, Joshua: Black Boy of Harlem, Lee Suzuki: Home in Hawaii, Matthew Aliuk: Eskimo in Two Worlds, Me and You: Kangaroo, Miguel: Up from Puerto Rico, and Shopping Bag Lady on the Internet Archive
The early to mid-1970s were truly heady times for the educational film world. Fueled by the Johnson administration's "Great Society" philosophy, educational programs embraced themes of ethnic awareness and diversity, and school districts nationwide began demanding professional quality 16mm films that both encouraged and provoked classroom discussion. Two critical demands were made of these types of films: 1) the story must be an engaging one so that adults as well as learners would be involved and interested, and 2), the story had to be told completely in twenty minutes or less to allow time for adequate discussion in a 55 minute class .
Learning Corporation of America (LCA) was a prime source for these types of films, and the maker of several of its most profound and dynamic films was Bert Salzman. Born in New York City in 1931, Salzman was already an successful artist before embarking on a career as a filmmaker. His film career began as a result of his self-discovery of electric theory applied to stage and set lighting, which led him to become Production Manager and Assistant Director to documentary filmmaker George Stoney from 1961 to 1964. In 1970, Linda Gottlieb of LCA asked him to choose three ethnic groups as focal points for his first LCA films. His LCA series encompassed eight films, including the Oscar-winning Angel & Big Joe. Salzman infused each of these films (which he both wrote and directed) with elements essential to great film of any genre: pathos, passion, and humor, and did it all in twenty minutes.
Salzman, who grew up in a Foster home and was a New York City high-school dropout who prided himself on becoming self-educated, based much of his dramatic structure on Aristotle's Poetics. When asked how he felt about receiving the Oscar, the ever-philosophical filmmaker thought a moment and replied: "it's like the best pastrami sandwich I ever ate".
At the young age of 51, the filmmaker left the cinema world for a house in
the French countryside to continue his life-long study of art and
literature. "My life is my career", said Salzman to people who
questioned the impact of the move on his future in film. He now
lives in northern California with wife Jeanne, where he paints and teaches meditation.
His book, Being a Buddha on Broadway: Access the Power of Your
Naturally Peaceful Mind (ISBN 1-878019-22-8), was released in the summer of 2004.
Angel and Big Joe (1975) An Academy Award winner for best Live Action Short as well as eight other festival awards, 'Angel' stars Paul Sorvino in a story about a Puerto Rican migrant boy having to make a tough decision to co-run a business with a valuable new friend, or leave with his family toward an unknown future.
Felipa: North of the Border, (1971) A bilingual girl of Mexican-American parents has ambitions to be teacher. She gets early experience when she helps her uncle learn English so he can obtain a driver’s license for a new job. Shows a relentless desire on the part of an extended family to succeed. See a "now" picture of young actress Phyllis Valencia at Lost & Found FilmKids.
Geronimo Jones (1970). Possibly Salzman's hardest hitting film, Geronimo is a Papago-Apache youth who has been given the gift of an amulet worn by his grandfather. In buying a birthday present for the grandfather, Geronimo trades the amulet for a TV, which he places before the grandfather. When Geronimo turns on the TV, the two are instantly reminded or the relationship of the native American to contemporary society. A gripping film, winner of numerous festival awards, and perhaps the first and only educational film ever screened in the giant Radio City Music Hall in New York.
How Things Get Done (1964) Tells the story of 12 square blocks of land in New York City and of what goes on when the area is pinpointed for change. Documents the pressures, speculation, finances and politics of an urban renewal plan. Made for the Adult Education Association as part of the Metropolis: Creator or Destroyer? series, co-produced by George Stoney.
Joshua: Black Boy in Harlem (1969, ACI Films). It’s Joshua’s last day in Harlem before leaving for a college in Texas where he has earned a track and field scholarship. He runs joyfully through New York’s central park but his joy ends when he is the victim of a racial slur uttered by a five year old boy that he had befriended. Later, on his way home Joshua is able to work out his anger during a fight with a boy his age.
Lee Suzuki: Home in Hawaii (1973) The melting pot of the Pacific is the settling for this story of a teenager whose ingenuity enables his proud grandfather to retain his precious way of life. See Suzuki represents not only the rich racial mix of his unique state, but also its hope for the future.
Matthew Aliuk: Eskimo in Two Worlds (1973) Here, Matthew's Uncle Isak comes to visit the family in Anchorage after undergoing harsh and unfruitful hunting conditions in the North. Uncle Isak's challenges in dealing with a more structured environment presents the Aliuk family with a new series of questions.
Me and You, Kangaroo (1975) In a touching tale a boy raises an orphaned baby kangaroo in the outback of Australia but due to events beyond his control is forced to return the animal to the wild. Nicely filmed, with no spoken dialogue.
Miguel: Up from Puerto Rico (1970) Miguel, a Puerto Rican boy has moved to New York City with his family. He finds his ability to speak English and Spanish puts him at an advantage in assisting his family in their new surroundings. Miguel later stretches his ingenuity to an extreme when, to put food on his family’s table, he goes fishing in the heavily polluted East River.
Shopping Bag Lady (1975) Twenty years ahead of its time in addressing the issues surrounding people without fixed addresses, this film also explores the cruel ways humans often interact with each other, the ignorance responsible for those actions, and the accidental event that transforms the antagonist into one who better understands the events surrounding the misfortune of others.
From 1975 to 1982, Salzman wrote, directed, and produced several television shows in the US and France, and wrote and directed the Canadian 1977 feature film Just Jessie.