The Channel 5 series Rooted returns in the New Year and, as Robin Buss reports, it is as fascinating as ever.
Rooted. Channel 5, January 2006. www.five.tv
The children's documentary series Rooted returns for a third series in the New Year, with programmes set in locations that include Jordan, Uganda, Bulgaria and Dharamsala ("Little Tibet", the centre of Tibetan exiles in northern India). The format of the programmes is simple: a British child with roots in another country takes a journey there and reports on what he or she finds, particularly in terms of faith, culture and lifestyles. The children's reactions are honest and spontaneous, which may be why the two earlier series have appealed as much to adults as to the target audience of 7 to 13-year-olds. As for the educational value of the films, teachers have been able to use them in a number of contexts, for geography, PSHE and, especially, religious education.
The aims are a "large thing" and a "smaller thing", according to the producer, Dominique Young. The large thing is to provide a better understanding of the lives of people around the world, evoking a sympathetic response to differences in customs, lifestyles and levels of development. The smaller thing is to give a greater understanding of contemporary British society, with its diversity of cultures and religions.
Having said that, the virtue of the films is precisely that they do not generalise: these are individual experiences which vary considerably and may sometimes run counter to our expectations.
There are, however, some general lessons to be drawn from the films, even though the children come from different countries, backgrounds and faiths, and are very different in personality. For example, Dima, the Jordanian girl, is a charming mixture of seriousness and naivete as she explains about her life in Wembley, at home, at school and in the mosque. On her visit to her family in Jordan, which includes an excursion to see a Roman theatre and other remains, she tells us solemnly that "living here with all this ancient history stuff could be really exciting". Much harder to please is the Bulgarian boy, Jamie, who finds a children's camp "boring", "ugly"
and, in short, "rubbish" - and doesn't mind telling us so. In the end, he comes to revise this opinion and, however outspoken he may be, he is always willing to take part and make friends. He also finds the experience of being "holiarised" in a Bulgarian Orthodox church "really fun".
Interestingly, like others in the films, Jamie has the impression that the lives of children in his country of origin are freer than in England.
The subjects were chosen through a lengthy process of auditioning, after recommendations from community groups and centres for worship. The production company, Rooftop, was set up in 1997 with funding from Christian Aid, to produce programmes for mainstream television that increase awareness of the developing world. The company now aims for an audience that is not necessarily interested in aid or emergency work. And the films do stand on their own, as documentaries - hence the success of previous series with adult audiences.
For schools, their value lies chiefly in the way that the narrative is centred on the children and their outlook: 7 to 11-year-olds will find it easy to identify with Dima, Jerome, Mingjur and Jamie as they travel back to the countries of their origins. "I feel different," Dima says, with respect to life in Jordan, a sentiment that could no doubt be echoed by all the children who have taken part in the project. Yet at the same time, these films show how one can live with such differences and they give a positive sense of the part played by culture and religion in these young people's lives.