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Show and tell for big kids

Lecture series pushes past classroom boundaries

By Katie Menzer / The Dallas Morning News

Independent filmmaker and globetrotter Adrian Belic offered the Wylie High
School students he visited last week plenty of advice on attaining their

For good measure, he also shared a few culinary tips he gathered on his
adventures through Tuva, a remote region sandwiched between Siberia and

"If you ever go to a place and they offer you animal innards, avoid the
lung," said the producer of Genghis Blues, an award-winning documentary
about an American musician's journey to a music competition in Tuva, as he
stood before a concert choir class. "The lung is one of the chewiest
substances you'll ever come across. The heart is OK because that breaks
down, but you keep chewing that lung forever."

Mr. Belic shared that life lesson, along with many more, as he made his rounds through the high school, talking to students in English, history, media and other classes. As the latest participant in the high school's second annual F.O. Birmingham Memorial Lecture Series, he discussed the 51/2 years he spent making his Academy Award-nominated documentary as students sat - many with mouths agape - in the classes and workshops he directed.

A class of awed students, said lecture series director Allen Morris, is exactly the response he hopes for when he invites a lecturer to the high school.

"I became a physicist because someone came to my class as a kid and said, 'I'm a physicist,'" said the roller-coaster designer turned high school physics teacher. "He made it sound neat and inspired me to follow."

The lecture series is funded by the F.O. Birmingham Memorial Land Trust. Established in 1940, the trust provides about $1 million each year to the district to fund programs that offer students unique experiences in the classroom.

The seeds of the lecture series were planted three years ago, when Mr. Morris invited his physicist friends to speak to his classes. The success of those lectures inspired Mr. Morris to get backing from the trust to produce a larger, multidisciplinary lecture program for the student body.

In the last two years, Mr. Morris has invited a medley of lecturers, including a Thomas Edison impersonator who could answer questions about science in Edison's own words, retired NASA astronaut Story Musgrave and the daughter of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman.

The lecturers often help Mr. Morris find other speakers to invite to the school. Michelle Feynman, a friend of Mr. Belic's, persuaded the filmmaker to take part in the series.

"I do this for a very selfish reason," Mr. Belic said. "I don't have children yet, but when I do, I want them to play with cool young people. And cool young people come from kids talking to cool old people."

A Thomas Jefferson expert from Colonial Williamsburg, a Mark Twain scholar and 1988 Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman will be included in the Wylie lecture series later this year.

"This series is all about exposure," said English teacher Leigh Spillyards before Mr. Belic spoke to her class of talented and gifted ninth- and 10th-graders. "We can't load them up and put them on a plane, but we can bring in one person to expose the students to so much."

All eyes were glued on the young filmmaker in her first-period class as he told tales of his night at this year's Academy Awards.

"I'll tell you guys a secret about the Oscars," Mr. Belic told the students, who seemed to lean in slightly as he divulged the mystery. "We had only 10 tickets but we had invited 15 people. We snuck five people into the Oscars."

Along with the amusing anecdotes, Mr. Belic related the path that led him to the Oscars that night.

The obsession with Tuva, an autonomous republic of Russia near the Mongolian border, began in childhood when Mr. Belic and his brother Roko saw a documentary on the attempted journey of Dr. Feynman and his friend Ralph Leighton to the area.

After graduating from college, the brothers sought out Mr. Leighton, who helped them befriend Paul Pena, a blind Creole-American musician from San Francisco. Mr. Pena had become a fan of Tuvan throat-singing, a genre of music in which artists create cavities in the throat and mouth to produce multiple tones simultaneously. He was planning a trip to Tuva to participate in Khoomei '95, the National Throat-singing Symposium and Competition.

Mr. Pena invited the Belic brothers, whose other obsession is filmmaking, to come along on his journey and bring their Hi-8 video cameras. After five weeks in Tuva and 31/2 years of editing, Genghis Blues was born.

Students of Ms. Spillyards' class begged Mr. Belic to demonstrate the throat-singing that had been the focus of his film. His rendition, for which he apologized beforehand, resembled sounds that might be emitted from a scared cow serenading a continually belching frog.

Freshman Jenna Vaughan said Mr. Belic's visit had inflamed her curiosity about music.

"I thought that throat-singing was really neat," the 15-year-old said. "It makes me want to listen to other types of music that you can't hear on the radio here."

Sophomore Manuel Quiles found a kindred spirit in Mr. Belic. The 15-year-old aspiring filmmaker discussed the footage he shoots of skateboard enthusiasts with Mr. Belic, who shot BMX bike racers when he was in school.

"The only difference between you and me is I made a film," Mr. Belic told Manuel's class. "I'm still learning things and trying to find my way."