25th February 2000 at 00:00
At the end of next month, The Miracle Maker will be released in 100 cinemas and shown at Easter in America on the ABC network. Nothing unusual about that - except that this is a full-length animation using models from the same stable as the Shakespeare: the Animated Tales series. What's more, it tells a religious story without irony.

Based on St Luke's Gospel, the film follows Jesus' ministry through the eyes of young Tamar, Jairus' daughter, whom Jesus brings back to life. Some very big cinema names give the characters voice: there's Ralph Fiennes as Jesus, Miranda Richardson as Mary Magdalene (played as a disturbed prostitute), Ian Holm as Pilate, William Hurt as Jairus and Julie Christie as his wife.

Like the Shakespeare films, this is a joint venture by the award-winning team from Wales (S4C and BBC) and Russia, and it surpasses even their high standards. At the risk of seeming to join the marketing campaign which aims to sell a million tickets to schools and churches at Easter, I have to report that this is a beautiful piece of work. Christian schools will welcome the way the story is told taking the latest scholarship into account, but everyone will be stunned by the techniques that give 30cm models character and expression. There are tumbling crowd scenes, emotional and humorous encounters and real tension, despite the familiarity of events. For screenings: 0845 30 30 005.

Michael Cacoyannis' version of The Cherry Orchard is a less happy cinematic experience. Best known for the 1965 film Zorba the Greek, he can certainly tell a story, but the ennui which afflicts Chekhov's characters, unable to move with the times or make decisions necessary to save their way of life, should not envelop the audience.

The naturalistic medium merely causes the piece, opened out to take advantage of a truly gorgeous orchard in full blossom, to slow down and become over-explicit. Despite starry performances, especially by Charlotte Rampling as the grande dame about to lose her estate, Alan Bates as her childish brother and Owen Teale as the former serf who buys their home, the best scene is a silent one. The characters stand in their own spaces, without communicating, in the soon-to-be-lost wooded acres. Students may find the film helpful, but seek out a stage version if you can. The Cherry Orchard is on general release.

There's a feast awaiting students of the cinema at The Bradford Film Festival 2000. The week-long festival includes a French cinema study day, for which a teacher's pack is available in advance, and a Film Buff Challenge quiz, as well as dozens of screenings and other events. It runs March 3-18, and details are available from the National Mueum of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford on 01274 202030. A dedicated website,, will be running towards the end of the month.

If cinema has its superstars, so does the recorder. Piers Adams is one, and he has been running a Recorder Roadshow for five years. His Recorder Roadshow 2000, supported by maufacturers Aulos, is on the move again and will visit venues all over the country until the autumn. Schools wishing to participate are contacted six months in advance and provided with practice material, workshops and mini-recitals. The prepared classes take part in a gala concert with Piers Adams. Information: 020 8773 1223.

Music teachers looking for a pre-Easter source of ideas should check out the 6th Leeds International Jazz Educators' Conference at Leeds College of Music on April 10 and 11. Performers include the BBC Big Band and the Andrew Colman Quintet. Information: 0113 222 3442.

Or they could look in on the open day with the Orchestra of St John's, Smith Square, and sing or play in Carl Orff's Carmina Burana on March 12, one of many events all over the country marking National Orchestra Week, March 4-12. Details: 020 7287 7016 website: County Hall in London at one time provided surreal experiences for would-be teachers being interviewed for jobs in the Inner London Education Authority. Now a real surrealist (if that's not a contradiction in terms) is moving in. The Salvador Dal! Universe will open in May, the same month as the spectacularly redesigned power station, Tate Modern, opens its doors just down river. Among Dal! exhibits on show will be the original painting he created for the dream sequence in the film Spellbound, the classic 1945 Hitchcock psychological thriller, and four of his monumental sculptures, such as the log-legged Space Elephant and the dripping watch, properly entitled Nobility of Time. There will be educational facilities available.

Public art is the special interest of artist Hattie Coppard. Her guide, Artists and School Grounds, was distributed to all the schools in the London borough of Hackney last year. During the week beginning March 6, Hattie will lead a series of experimental projects to "investigate the life of the playground through a series of daily transformations". Pupils at Daubeney school, Hackney, will experiment with text, carpet, screens, light and audio effects to explore their territory. Between April and December, they will arrive at a permanent design for their playground. Copies of Artists and School Grounds will be available from Learning Design. Information about both the book and the project: 020 8340 9989.

Heather Neill

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