Courtesy of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service

Montana State University film students have tapped a new technology that enables worldwide audiences to view their cutting-edge nature films free of charge.

Students from MSU's Science and Natural History Filmmaking graduate program, in partnership with Montana PBS, are using the webcasting, also called video podcasting or vodcasts, to post their films online.
The film series, about topics ranging from grizzly bears to Mars, is called "TERRA: The Nature of Our World."

"Since we believe that scheduled television is quickly becoming a thing of the past, and that it will be replaced with on-demand content available through the Web, making TERRA available to anyone who has a computer is a way of reaching audiences around the world," Ronald Tobias, director of the program, said.

TERRA films have been downloaded more than 7,000 times since the site was launched in October, according to Eric Bendick, a student filmmaker from Rhode Island and associate producer of the TERRA series.

"We're looking at a new means of delivering science education," Bendick said. "There are no fees for any of our shows. One of the things we were aware of is that there will be no limit to who can access (the films.)"

Tobias said he and his students believe that there will be more than 75,000 downloads from the site by the six-month anniversary of its launch in April.

Bendick, a former marine science teacher who has a bachelor's degree from Brown University, was the one who thought Internet delivery of the films might be possible.

He said the idea was rooted in his experience as a teacher who knows it's difficult to find good educational content in the science and the arts.

Bendick works to keep the content fresh on the site, posting at least one new film a month. At this point, there are seven full-length films and six short preview videos ranging from eight to 28 minutes available for download.

While the bulk of the films come from MSU filmmakers, there is also some non-MSU derived content from independent filmmakers, such as Darren Kipp's "View from the Shore," a Native American view of Lewis and Clark, which includes commentary from Henrietta Mann, a prominent Indian scholar and MSU professor.

"If we can keep the content fresh, we may expand our horizons even more during the next year," Tobias said. "Eric put us at the forefront of this new movement (with the podcasts).

"Normally one doesn't expect this quality of work from students before they even graduate, but they are already making an impressive mark in the world of science and natural history film."

The films can be accessed at the TERRA Web site. The TERRA site includes a detailed question and answer section about how to download the films and the necessary software.

Visitors to the site may subscribe to an e-mail alerting them to new offerings.