Ronald Tobias, director of Montana State University’s Science and Natural History Filmmaking program, and his student Eric Bendick co-produce Terra, a popular video podcast dedicated to educating the world about local, national, and international environmental issues through independent documentary filmmaking. Along with PBS and a multinational team from Australia, the UK, and North and South America, Bendick and Tobias have produced weekly podcasts since their launch in October 2005. In mid-August 2006, the site celebrated its one-millionth download.
Each of the seven- to ten-minute episodes is preceded by a shorter 20- or 30-second preview, giving viewers a taste of the episode before they dive in. Featuring both concerns about the environment and lush appreciations of its splendor, Bendick and Tobias’ site covers everything you could hope for in a progressive, eco-conscious podcast. Conventions, Spinner dolphins, activists, artists, Yellowstone, bison, and Mars all have equal footing here and viewers can search the site by topic for easy browsing. The best videos tend to involve investigative journalism, like Hannah Walker’s piece called “The Principles of Mosquito Warfare.” Shot back in The Great Bird Flu Scare of 2006, the video explains not only what scientists were doing to dissect the strain and discover counteragents, but also how their work embodied countless years of medical exploration. Though some content comes from outside organizations like INCEF, the podcasts are privately funded and exorbitantly so, resulting in videos of the highest quality of independent filmmaking, without the bureaucratic restraints of sponsorship deals and cable networks.
Of all the great content available on the site, the investigative journalism is the best. Hands down. Owen Bissell’s three–part series on northern California’s plummeting salmon population and his analysis of what it means for an indicator species like salmon to deteriorate is phenomenal. Henry Harrison uses a piece on how absinthe came to be erroneously banned to illustrate a thesis on how “bad science” and economy can influence public opinion and public policy. The piece which lends itself to profitable discussions about oil and stem cell research.