Fr. John Pungente celebrating his Jesuit Communication Project that is ending its run. Over its more than 30 years, the Project has earned awards around the world for it work in media education on TV and in the classroom. (Photo by Michael Swan) Photo by Michael Swan

Pungente’s Project shed a fresh light on media literacy

By 
  • May 26, 2018

Forty years of intelligent conversation about what we see, hear and read in modern media took a breather this month as the Jesuits in English Canada wrapped up their storied Jesuit Communication Project.

Largely the brain-child of Jesuit Fr. John Pungente, the JCP has shaped media education in Ontario high schools and far beyond. Its 1987 “Media Literacy Resource Guide,” written by the Jesuit Communication Project with the Association for Media Literacy, was translated into French, Italian, Spanish and Japanese and shaped lesson plans around the world.

That success was followed up by television programs, websites, teachers’ guides and popular books that shaped how generations have thought about movies, media, technology and the power of stories in our culture.

At age 78, Pungente is stepping back from the Project, albeit with some difficulty. 

“I have tried to follow the advice of Pope Francis — to walk beside the pilgrim, helping them to watch carefully and to think critically,” he told the misty-eyed gathering at a reception at Toronto’s Regis College attended by dozens of Jesuits and collaborators who have worked with him.

Over the years the Jesuit Communication Project made its biggest impression outside the classroom with Scanning the Movies, a half-hour program which held a prime-time slot on Bravo! Canada from 1997 to 2008. Among others, the Globe and Mail loved it. 

“Pungente’s deconstruction of popular movies makes for enlightening and compelling viewing,” the national newspaper wrote at the height of its success. The Toronto Star called Scanning the Movies “TV’s best-kept secret.”

Pungente entered the Jesuits as a novice in 1957, just as his fascination with media was also blossoming.

“Sixty-one years ago this fall I walked into a windowless basement room used to store props for the drama society at the Jesuit school in Winnipeg, Man., turned on the 16mm projector — remember those? — and the titles for The Lord of the Flies flashed on the screen,” he said at the reception. “This was my first step into what was known then as Critical Thinking Skills. I never looked back.”

Scanning the Movies won a gold medal at the New York International Festival in 1998, a silver medal at the Chicago International Film and Video Festival in 1999, gold again at Chicago Film Festival in 2003, platinum at the Houston Film Festival in 2006 and silver at the Chicago Festival in 2007.

In 1997, Scanning Television was another incursion into classrooms, this time with 40 short videos and a comprehensive set of lesson plans that helped teachers get kids thinking critically about what they see on TV.

Around the same time the Jesuit Communication Project teamed up with the Canadian Association of Media Education Organizations to warn the public and educators about the danger of a proposed Youth News Network, which would have delivered commercials directly into classrooms first thing every morning. They stopped the Youth News Network then went on to persuade Ontario’s Ministry of Education to make media education mandatory in the province’s language arts curriculum in 2002. Pungente served as CAMEO’s president until 2017.

When Scanning the Movies finished its run, Pungente’s TV career wasn’t over. In 2008 he went on to host Beyond the Screen. 

The JCP also helped organize the largest-ever education convention dedicated to media education. Summit 2000: Children, Youth and the Media — Beyond the Millennium brought 1,400 delegates from 55 countries to Toronto.

In 2014 the JCP and Pungente were among the first recipients of the McLuhan Institute’s Medium and Light Award. In 2017 Pungente was given a lifetime achievement award by the global Catholic film and media organization SIGNIS.

“Media literacy, media education, media studies, call it what you will … they are the path I’ve taken to this point in my life, hopefully with more to come,” said Pungente. “Virtual reality anyone?”

Pungente continues to serve as editor of the igNation, an English Canadian Jesuit blog.

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location

Comment

Ireland women repeal abortio

Peter Stockland: Irish turn their backs on faith and history 

"A handful of generations later, lured by slavish secularism, Irish backs turned on the faith and on the foundations of the country it helped to forge anew in freedom."

Faith

Pope's homily

women pope slavery
Read the latest homily given by Pope Francis.

Features