Living Earth Television (LETV) is a nonprofit organization based in the USA that locates, licenses and adapts existing documentaries for international broadcast and education.  Our focus is on finding documentaries made by filmmakers who are from the communities and cultures they document, offering an insider’s perspective to viewers around the world.  We work with the original filmmakers to adapt their films for new audiences internationally, through culturally-sensitive translations that make the films accessible for the audiences.

The creation of Living Earth Television NFP (LETV) was inspired by the events in the weeks and months immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US in 2001.  For a brief period after the attacks, as we were all trying to understand what had happened, people around the world were saying, “We are all Americans.”  It was a rare moment of empathy and solidarity.  However, in the years since 9/11, ethnic conflict, profiling, and prejudices have only grown.

The potential of documentary to teach about other cultures, and to promote understanding and respect, is boundless.  Exposure to the ordinary lives, communities, challenges and joys of others around the world helps to dissolve misconceptions and prejudices that underlie ethnic hatred and violence. Our ultimate goal is to offer opportunities for the blossoming of empathy among peoples.  To do this, we will help create venues and curate content for the global sharing of cultural and environmental documentaries originating all over the world, in the languages of a variety of regions.  

LETV’s first national US broadcasts, of a new English-language version of a Chinese documentary called Kindergarten, took place on the national, noncommercial American satellite channel LinkTV in 2010-12.  In 2014, LETV is adapting four Chinese documentaries representing different aspects of contemporary Chinese life, from four different Chinese filmmakers, for national US broadcast on PBS World. These come from a variety of sources, including China Central Television, a provincial television station, and two independent filmmakers, one a professor in China and the other currently living in the US. 

As the organization expands, we expect to broaden our program focus to include the development of classroom materials for secondary and higher education, and to widen our geographic focus, initially to other Asian countries and to some African countries.  

LETV has received funding from many individuals, foundations, and organizations, including the Henry Luce Foundation, the American Embassy in Beijing, the US-China Educational Foundation, the Benton Foundation, and the Rotary Club of Wilmette, Illinois.                                                                                 

LETV Organizational History

On September 22nd, 2001, LETV founder Martha Foster flew from Chicago, Illinois to Chengdu, Sichuan, China, to serve as a judge for the Sichuan International Television Festival.  As the only American on the international jury, she felt a heightened urgency for finding ways to reach larger audiences – broadcast, online and classroom audiences, worldwide – with the type of social documentary films she was watching as a juror in Chengdu.  Martha had seen similar films by the hundreds during decades of work with film festivals, museums, and universities.  The time had come, and the technology was arriving, for making non-political documentaries from and about local communities – individuals, families, kids, arts, spiritual practices, peacemakers, and sustainability - available to audiences worldwide.  Kinship among all people can be felt when we have a way to see others, from different cultures and ethnic groups, as individuals and in communities with the same struggles and joys we all encounter in life.  

LETV received its 501(c)(3) status from the IRS in 2005.  With Foster as Executive Director and now President/CEO, the organization has made numerous significant steps towards realizing its goals.  A pilot program was designed involving the exchange of documentaries for live screenings, education, and broadcast between the US and China.  The LETV version of a Chinese documentary, Kindergarten,  directed by Zhang Yiqing, was broadcast on national US satellite television channel LinkTV, beginning in September 2010.  LETV facilitated the broadcast of American environmental documentaries on Myanmar (Burma) State Television in 2010, and in November of 2013, presented the first-ever program of American films, six environmental documentaries which LETV subtitled in Chinese, at the Sichuan International TV Festival, the leading documentary festival in China.

Anthropologist Dr. Nancy Jervis, a China expert, joined LETV in 2012 as Director of China Programs, and LETV has an active Board of Directors and an impressive Honorary Board, which includes global leaders and shapers of media.  In 2013, LETV forged an alliance with WTIU Public Television at Indiana University as a partner to co-produce the US broadcast versions of programs selected by LETV.  The same year, LETV received an enthusiastic response from PBS World, a relatively new sister channel of the main PBS channel (along with PBS Kids and PBS Create).  PBS World’s General Manager and Director of Programming have given LETV an enthusiastic welcome. 

Through projects such as the initial broadcast of a Chinese documentary on national American television, local screenings in the US, China, Singapore and Myanmar, and participation in conferences and festivals, LETV has realized the first phase of a large and long-term vision that we hope will someday allow filmmakers worldwide to share their documentaries in a variety of languages with audiences all over the world.