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A Touch of Greatness (2005)

Leslie Sullivan , Albert Cullum  |  NR |  DVD
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Leslie Sullivan, Albert Cullum, Laurie Heineman
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • DVD Release Date: March 22, 2005
  • Run Time: 54 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0006Z2NL8
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #143,020 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "A Touch of Greatness" on IMDb

Special Features

  • Includes three original films by Albert Cullum and Robert Downey Sr.
  • Two complete episodes of Camera Three (a CBS television series) featuring Albert Cullum and his students
  • archival stills gallery
  • filmmaker biographies

Editorial Reviews

Product Description

{Winner! GOLDEN STARFISH AWARD: Best Documentary- Hamptons Film Festival}

{Winner! AUDIENCE AWARD: Best Documentary- Denver International Film Festival}

As an elementary school teacher for more than twenty years and a pioneer in teacher education, Albert Cullum galvanized students and shook up parents through the use of poetry, drama and imaginative play. Cullum championed a radical educational philosophy that spoke directly to his student's hearts through his passionate use of poetry and drama including literary masterpieces from Shakespeare, Sophocles, and Shaw. Cullum went well beyond the textbook and instead allowed his students to find their own inspiration in the works while discovering new heights of originality and joy in learning.

Sullivan's one-of-a-kind film weaves rare archival television broadcasts and remarkable vintage footage from films documenting these projects (several recorded in the early 1960's by Robert Downey Sr., the director of the 60's independent classic Putney Swope), as well as recent interviews with Cullum, Downey, and Cullum's students. What emerges is an inspiring portrait of a maverick teacher who transformed a generation of young people by enabling them to discover their own inner greatness through the power of learning. At a time when the American educational system is under scrutiny, this film is an important look at where it has been and an inspiration for where it can go.


Shows what extraordinary things can happen (with) a visionary child advocate like Albert Cullum. --Cleveland Plain Dealer

Unusually moving with an authenticity that is rare. --Howard Gardner, award-winning author and educator

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Master Teacher's Genius January 26, 2005
How fortunate that Mr. Cullum had a talented friend in Robert Downey, Sr. who was skillful and sensitive to the magical moments fostered by an inspired teacher. The old black & white clips still capture the thrill children feel, when allowed to interpret information and learn from each other, while being guided by a teacher who wanted the very best for each of them.

The reunion at Rye, NY with some of his early students provided a thoughtful analysis of what his methods meant to them, and how they prospered under his tutelage.

I recommend that elementary & middle school teachers show this DVD at least once every year. It's that inspiring.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone in education needs to see this film January 11, 2005
I just watched this documentary on PBS (aired as part of the Independent Lens series) and it is both entertaining and touching. I am going to buy a copy for each person I know in education - it will give them a new energy about their position! The film is beautifully created as a documentary of the life of a teacher in NY during the 50's and 60's named Albert Cullum. The film features both recent and historical footage of him, including old classroom footage, teaching children and sharing his philosophies. His methods were innovative and creative - it is a real inspiration! [...]
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars NO MEDIOCRITY ALLOWED! June 4, 2005
This documentary is absolutely wonderful. Albert Cullum was a gift to education and his methods should be adopted by every teacher hoping to not only teach children but to change their lives.

There are too many kids these days who grow up without good reading skills and, oftentimes, no interest in reading whatsoever.

Our society is being dummed down by the minute. We need more teachers like Cullum to show us what is possible in each and every child.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What teaching success looks like November 30, 2005
I'm a high school English teacher and this film is going to change what happens in my classroom.

In this film, Albert Cullum says what are perhaps the most courageous words I've ever heard come out of a teacher's mouth: "Day after day I was having discipline problems, and I thought to myself, 'It must be me. I must be doing something wrong.'"

As a child, my own experience with public education taught me that what was important was to sit down, shut up, and think the way they wanted me to.

I was never any good at any of those things, and (now that I'm an adult with twenty years of life experience outside of education,) as a new teacher I plan to stand up, speak up and open wide the arena of the possible for ALL of my kids, regardless of their backgrounds or previous performance.

If you are a like-minded teacher, this film is simply mandatory viewing. Buy it, rent it, get it at the library; just see it soon. It will help remind you that teaching success does not come from obsessing about what is in the way or from blaming the kids, but from ceaselessly inquiring into what is possible and making no excuses for them or to yourself.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Touched my heart June 24, 2005
I just watched this documentary last night during a class I am taking in the Graduate School. It absolutely touched my heart. After watching the film, I asked myself, "Where are the passionate teachers?" We all complain that are not getting "enough" money. What happened with the passion for teaching? Changing childrens' lives? This is one of the most inspirational films I've seen (check out "Stand and Deliver"). I would recommend this film to be shown at a teacher inservice before school starts. It might inspire some of the teachers who lost the flame that got them into teaching to begin with. This film has nothing to do with NCLB, parenting, and so forth, as one of the readers mentioned in her review. Let's stop blaming everybody else and look into our own hearts and search the real reasons we are here as teachers. And, if someone is so sour about teaching and the system, then maybe it's time to find something else to do. There is no room for mediocrity among teachers either.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant work for our times in Education January 18, 2005
A must see for all educators frustrated by "No Child Left Behind" initiatives. This work chronicles the lifelong dedication of one teacher to bring every child forward in a learning environment which was beyond its times in creativity of teaching in the 50s and 60s.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars MUST-SEE T.V. February 24, 2005
I grew up in the town next to Rye around the time Cullum was teaching as his legend was growing. Seeing this film was a step through the looking glass to a time when education was a sea of possibilities, and it makes you mourn for what's going on now with the Bush initiatives. Then there's the artistry of the old I watched I thought it looked like some of the old great poetic film from the "New American Cinema," the ancestors of "indie film" from the early 1960s chronicled so well by the great Jonas Mekas. And then Robert Downey Sr. comes on to talk about how he shot this film and it all made sense--Downey was a peripheral part of that scene. He was a friend of Cullum and went out to Rye to shoot this these B&W beauties before he had really become a full-blown filmmaker, it seemed. I was always an immense fan of Downey's work...this footage of Cullum and his kids is stunning, it says more about how kids can develop when given the stimulus and energy of a great teacher as any educational tract you'd ever read. Even if you aren't into education this film will get you on some level.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Movie
Great movie
Published 2 months ago by Nicki B. Harris
5.0 out of 5 stars Touch of Gretaness
I use this film for teaching pre-service teachers, both how they should approach teaching and what they cannot do in today's world due to regulations and changes in social... Read more
Published 7 months ago by E. Baker
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring
A Touch of Greatness is wonderful, especially for aspiring or long time teachers! This is one at I watch every year.
Published 14 months ago by K. Nickens
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must-See
This charming black & white documentary captures the essence of what a creative master teacher can do to make learning a transformative experience.
Published 16 months ago by Paul A. Reynolds
5.0 out of 5 stars How To Teach Children
This documentary will make you cry when you realize what forces of mediocrity are out there to destroy children's imaginations and spirits and how one man fought to keep that... Read more
Published 20 months ago by G. Charles Steiner
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just for teachers...
This is a totally inspiring film about an incredible man who gave his life to teaching. His originality and courage in defying the customary methods of education are wonderful for... Read more
Published on October 20, 2012 by Promise
5.0 out of 5 stars great documentary
I chose to watch this because I had a teacher who would have us act out historical events, and he was my favorite childhood teacher. Read more
Published on October 3, 2012 by Michael Beary
5.0 out of 5 stars A model educator
A Touch of Greatness is an hour-long biographical film about Albert Cullum, an elementary-school teacher whose inspired teaching methods in the 1950s and 60s were ahead of his... Read more
Published on September 25, 2012 by Joyce
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most inspirational movies ever!
There are no words to describe the beauty of this man and the work that he had done throughout his teaching career. I cannot say that everyone who watches will be in tears. Read more
Published on May 6, 2012 by Shelby41
5.0 out of 5 stars This DVD will excite you about teaching!
Myself and everyone if let watch this have been ENERGIZED about wanting to teach. A must have for anyone thinking about or working with kids! Buy it!!!
Published on March 10, 2011 by buckaroo
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The book is Circus by Lois Ehlert, copyright 1992.
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