The World According To Sesame Street (USA, 2005, Director: Linda Goldstein Knowlton and Linda Hawkins, 105 minutes): Sesame Street has proven to be a very successful American export, now being seen in more than 120 countries. This film looks at the very unique process of establishing co-productions with local educators, producers and puppeteers, focusing on two challenging locations: Kosovo and Bangladesh.
By far the most time is spent on the Bangladeshi production, and the real star of the film is Sesame Workshop producer Nadia Zylstra, who began her job three weeks before filming began. We follow this very excitable South African woman as she begins the process of defining what the program will look like in Bangladesh. The film shows us the nuts and bolts of how the production comes together, and some of the challenges involved when dealing with local opposition and delays.
I enjoyed the film and found it very inspiring, but I think it missed a chance to dig a bit deeper into the issue of what some audience members called “cultural imperialism.” Though they’re very careful to “partner” with local people, the Sesame Street organization is still American and fuelled by American values and definitions of success. Some of the questions surrounding the “export” of an American model would have been very interesting to explore.