Close encounters of the global kind

Gerard Benson

SMALL WORLD BBC2 Sundays 11.30am September 29 to November 3 Age range: 12-15

A black girl born and brought up in Norway moves with her mother to the land of her fore-fathers: South Africa. An Apache girl, at home with basketball and video games, performs an ancient puberty ritual, the Sunrise Dance. Erik, a bright, hearing-impaired Swedish lad, discovers that he is diabetic - and learns to cope.

In this excellent series, film-makers from Germany, Scandinavia, the US and Great Britain have co-operated to present important periods of change in the lives of seven young people.

These 15-minute films are uniformly made. The photography is sharp and clear without any loss of sympathy with its subjects. The youngsters who form the theme of the series are remarkably natural in front of the camera.

Erik injects himself with insulin before the fearful and fascinated eyes of his classmates; and there is a moving ceremony round the grave of the South African Nosizwe Baqwa's great-great-grandfather as she is accepted into the tribe. "Now he knows about me," she says.

This is the same girl that we see larking about in a thoroughly modern manner in a Johannesburg shopping centre; the same girl who is irked by her uniform at her new all-girls' school where the black girls play with black girls and the white girls play with white girls. "In South Africa," she says, "you're kind of more black than you really are . . . If I'm together with white friends, they look at me in a different way than how they did in Norway."

These programmes would make an excellent teaching resource for pupils aged between 12 and 14, or 15. As well as addressing crucial problems of identity and lifestyle, they present a small world in which the similarities between people are more important than the differences. Suijetta Croker's Apache Sunrise Dance is light-years away from most British children's experience - but Suijetta herself, you feel, would not look out of place at the next table to yours in Form 3X.

Indeed, Kira Langer, the subject of one of the films, might be there already. She is the girl who combines the life of a "rising young fashion model" with that of comprehensive school pupil. She swans off to Paris for a shoot; later she walks the school corridors.

In truth her circumstances seem the least interesting, but they do epitomise one of the themes common to all these youngsters and to all potential pupil viewers: the problem of growing up, how to negotiate the complex boundaries between childhood and adulthood, the difficulty of maintaining integrity while responding to the demands of varied situations remain the same wherever you are. There is a mass of material here for fruitful classroom discussion.

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