Evidence, Godfrey Reggio’s Short Film on What TV Does to Kids’ Brains

Between 1982 and 2002, director Godfrey Reggio shot his well known Qatsi trilogy – Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, and Naqoyqatsi. Somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd installment, Reggio took a little detour and directed a short eight minute film called Evidence. The main characters? Kids watching cartoons (Dumbo, actually) and looking “drugged,” “like the patients of a mental hospital,” he writes on his web site.

The villain? “Television technology,” which “is eating the subjects who sit before its gaze.” The weapon? Television again. That “radiation gun aimed at the viewer” “holds its subjects in total control.” A little house of horrors, to be sure. We have added Koyaanisqatsi (featuring the music of Philip Glass) and Evidence to our collection of Free Movies Online.

via @katciz, the director of the new interactive film Out My Window.

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Comments (23)
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  • Hank says:

    “drugged”? “like the patients of a mental hospital”? “villain”? “…eating the subjects”? “weapon”? “radiation gun”? puh-leeze. i saw kids engrossed, focused, processing, rapt, perhaps. i agree that kids ought to be sheltered from tv for the most part but please make a reasonable case for that and spare me the histrionics.

  • stef says:


    the kids have the deadpan stare of junkies, take another look.

  • Hank says:

    stef – meaning what, exactly? that therefore they really are junkies or even like junkies. honestly, in any way at all, “like junkies”? it’s a poor analogy. you are projecting a bias. you see a deadpan stare, i see rapt attention. by definition a “deadpan stare” would indicate little or no comprehension where i think quite the opposite is the case here.

  • Peter Dixon says:

    I agree. These kids are full of “rapt attention.” They are watching a movie (granted … Dumbo!), their imaginations interacting with a combination of storytelling and imagery. If it was just mindless t.v. with it’s general paucity of storytelling value, and disgusting advertising, then I might agree with the “radiation gun” figuration.

  • Steve says:

    Personally, what I hope people take from this is the reminder that television is indeed a powerful drug. There can be valuable television, of course. But those who are unaware that it is used as a weapon (extreme repetition/manipulation by a corporate “authority”) are living in the dark, and likely afraid to reconsider the role of TV in their lives. If TV is essential to our happiness or the happiness of our children, we are in big trouble.

  • Hank says:

    last post i promise. i agree that tv is mostly bad for kids. what i question is whether the faces of kids can be used as evidence of that. not only do i think not, but in this case the evidence is entirely unconvincing. (the heavy-lidded eyes of the drug user is nowhere here in the faces of these wide-eyed kids) this is simply knee jerk reaction against tv. i suspect that if someone else had presented this clip and reported that the kids were watching a concert of classical music or a puppet show or a story hour story, the kids would have looked quite the same and the responses would have been quite different if there’d be a response at all. my only point is that tv’s harm is one thing, kids looking at something is another. we should be able to regard what facts we have without prejudice.

  • Dani says:

    I think this is very sensationalist and I wouldn’t call it “evidence” in any way. Some kids might look a bit “drugged” but a lot of them look, to me, just focus. Also, knowing they were watching Dumbo, who can tell if they weren’t watching the Pink Elephants on Parade sequence??? I would look like that if I was watching that sequence even today… More seriously, the editing here does a LOT of difference and it serves the “drugged kids” point really well. I mean, this isn’t uncut. We only see the points where the kids were really staring at the tv but how do we know that’s how they stayed for the whole thing? Didn’t the kids laugh? Commented about what they were watching??? If it was one kid alone in a room watching, I might buy that, but with all of them sitting together like that, I find it really hard to believe. Also, notice how when the camera is passing through the kids, it goes to the kid with the weirdest look in their face. That’s camera editing right there. I don’t see what’s not on camera. I don’t see all the kid’s reactions all the time, I see what the filmmaker wants me to see. If the filmmaker is trying to prove a point – “kids look like drug addicts when watching tv” – that’s what he’s gonna try to show. Also, there’s the music, which REALLY adds to the dark tone of it all.

    Tv is bad for kids??? Well, I watched a lot of tv when I was a kid… I’m not the best one to say, but I think I grew up alright. Granted, I didn’t watch tv ALL THE TIME. I played outside, with other people too. I ran around, climbed trees, played tag with other kids, AND I watched tv. I mean, hey, don’t let your kid watching tv 24 hours a day and definitely watch out for what exactly your kid is watching on tv, but this “tv is a weapon (…) eating the subjects who sit before its gaze” is an old, sensationalist view. When this was made, it’s acceptable, but nowadays… I don’t buy it.

  • Sandra says:

    I remember seeing identical expressions on dozens of kids years ago. Why? In grade school, I used to volunteer to read to the younger classes. They would sit clustered around a chair, listening with rapt attention while Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or some other book was read aloud.

    When they were thoroughly engaged they would sit motionless, mouths open, eyes fixed, waiting for the next turn of the page.

    Does that make literature a “radiation gun” that “holds its subjects in total control”? Give me a break.

  • Judith says:

    Interesting. Sadly, this is how many parents like to see their kids, using television as a sedative.
    Sandra, didn’t you have the opportunity to express your individuality into your reading? Didn’t you respond to your audience when the need arose? Didn’t you engage them with questions? Didn’t you expect they would turn the words into pictures using their own imaginations or were they simply engrossed in your voice?

  • Mike says:

    I very much agree with Hank and Sandra. These children are enchanted. I feel that way myself sometimes, when I’m attending a play or a symphony. Sadly, those moments are rare now that I’ve grown up and have lost the sense of wonder that all little children have.

  • Nicolas says:

    Such an old, retarded speculative theory!
    This is just simply the human facial expression of being truly engaged. Similar gaze can be seen on adult faces while surfing the net, at the movie, theater, church, concert, museum…

  • Mike says:

    One more thing. It’s funny that a filmmaker would use a film to make his indictment. “Dumbo” was released in 1941 — eight years before the birth of network television, and long before home TV sets were in wide use. Ask yourself: If these children were watching the film for the first time on the big screen in a theatre, would they appear any less entranced? Or is there just something about that evil cathode ray tube?

  • ChadK says:

    I think anyone with the experience of being a parent of a 6-8 year will tell you, they can’t even imagine speaking to their child for a minute solid with unbroken eye contact, no fidgeting, no wandering around. That’s what is so striking about this video. The hidden camera gives us something we won’t see any other way.

  • Sean Callinan says:

    The scary thing is comparable kids today can rarely focus on something with this degree of attention.

  • Marianwhit says:

    Away from TV for three years now, I am more creative, productive, and free of marketing messages, and I love it. The director makes observations, and puts them out there for you to interpret. Try this…as he cuts to each kid, blink only as often as they do. Your eyes will water up just as some of the kid’s do. Speaking of all this, I’ve wasted too much time looking at this screen…got to go do something to account for myself:)

  • Kirsty says:

    These kids are gorgeous! Dumbo is one of the most moving beautiful films ever made. It’s quite heart wrenching in parts. Cartoons are a relatively new art form that I believe will be valued far more in the future.
    My kids watch a lot of science programs and documentaries and the stuff they come out with sometimes is amazing. Just avoid advertising.

  • Maxwell Warszawski says:

    If anything this shows something with multiple stimuli needs to be added to our education systems. No longer can we teach by one method of learning, if we wish to hold the attention of students and kids. This shows the amount of attention and mutiple facets of the brain being engaged. Beautiful, in doses, with a guide (With a teacher or parents to lead creativity and deduction). Nothing to fear but that which we need to embrace! nnWhat I don’t want to see is a video of kids listening to a teacher give a lecture or copy this from the board activity! :)

  • Ed says:

    What does he think the viewers of his films look like?

  • terry hill says:

    You all need to read Jerry Manderʻs book which came out in the 70ʻs http://www.amazon.com/Arguments-Elimination-Television-Jerry-Mander/dp/0688082742/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1403972625&sr=8-2&keywords=jerry+mander
    Also listen to the second and the last sentence of George Orwell in this “final warning” video clip from his deathbed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLFWRyEhf4A&channel=GLOBALPOLITICALAWAKE …then comment again. Aloha

  • Areta says:

    Actually, I thought they all looked quite “Enchanted and Engrossed” by what they were watching, and, the emotions they were portraying, their stances they were taking – watch their hands, the stillness, even if slightly and impliedly portrayed by the camera, and myself watching them, all served the purpose of allowing myself to just simply enjoy the vision that had by this ‘dramatization?’, been presented to I as the viewer of the computer delivered film that I could then enjoy after having set out to explore such for my pleasure, that, I had discovered to be seen. So Thank you the the somewhat apparently pessimistic researcher for your view via the delivery of your captured images in motion – Tena Koe and Kei Te Pai.

  • Erich says:

    Profound statement that “this is generally how children’s faces appear when they are watching television.” The question remains, however: Does watching television make us dumb enough to accept the annoying soundtrack as serious music? I wonder.

  • Skye says:

    Or isthe music cheesy on purpose? Treading the line between giving a message forcefully and showing up the mind bending effect of music and image? Same with the editing.

  • olivier bolton says:

    Intense…and young minds under the sway of virtual reality…aren’t we all
    under the spell of this powerful tool? If there is the right balance between
    dream and reality, night and day he and she, us and them, nature/nurture
    Life can become a truly transmutational experience…don’t you think!?

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