A Touch of Greatness

Lives are transformed by a maverick elementary school teacher who enabled children to embrace their own inner greatness.

Film Signature Image
Independent Lens
Premiere Date
January 11, 2005
60 minutes
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2004 Hamptons International Film Festival-Golden Starfish Award for Best Documentary
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2004 Starz Denver International Festival-People's Choice Award
  • Nominated laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2005 News and Documentary Emmy Awards-Best Documentary
  • Director

    Leslie Sullivan

    Leslie Sullivan has been the executive producer for two independent films, The Other Olympians and Because the Dawn. Funded by Canon, The Other Olympians focuses on physically disabled athletes and gained critical acclaim through its screening on PBS in 1989. Because the Dawn was shown at the Berlin and Toronto Film Festivals in 1988, and has become a cult Show more favorite at independent art house theaters. From 1991 until 2001, Sullivan also served as the director of development for Poets House, a national literary center and poetry archive founded by U.S. Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz. A Touch of Greatness is her directorial debut. Show less


    Catherine Gund

    Catherine Gund is an Emmy-nominated producer, director, writer, and organizer. Her media work focuses on arts and culture, HIV/AIDS and reproductive health, the environment, and other social justice issues. Her films have screened around the world in festivals, theaters, museums, and schools; on PBS, Discovery’s Planet Green, and the Sundance Show more Channel. Before Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity, Gund directed What’s on Your Plate? , a critically-acclaimed multimedia project about kids and food politics, featuring a documentary, book, and standards-based curriculum. Gund’s previous works include Motherland Afghanistan (PBS broadcast); A Touch of Greatness (Best Documentary Award: Hamptons Film Festival, Ohio Film Festival, and Denver International Film Festival; PBS broadcast; Emmy nomination); and Hallelujah! Ron Athey: A Story of Deliverance. In 1996, she co-founded the Third Wave Foundation, which targets grants and programs to young women between 15 and 30, as well as Aubin Pictures, a non-profit media production company, which promotes cultural and social awareness and change. Gund lives with her four children in New York City. Show less

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    The Film

    You won’t find 10-year-old children reciting Shakespeare soliloquies, acting out the Cuban Missile Crisis, or performing Sophocles’s plays in most American classrooms today. But Albert Cullum’s elementary school students did all this and more. Combining interviews with Cullum and his former students with stunning archival footage filmed by director Robert Downey, Sr., A Touch of Greatness documents the extraordinary work of this maverick public school teacher who embraced creativity, motivation, and self-esteem in the classroom through the use of poetry, drama, and imaginative play.

    Regarded by academics as one of the most influential educators of the 1960s and ’70s, Cullum championed what is, by today’s standards, an unorthodox educational approach. Cullum regularly taught his elementary school children literary masterpieces, exposed them to great works of art, and engaged them in the events of world history. Without leaving the classroom, his students visited King Tut’s tomb, attended joint sessions of the U.S. Congress, operated on “bleeding” nouns in his “grammar hospital,” and clamored to play the timeless roles of Julius Caesar, Lady Macbeth, and Hamlet.

    Inspiring and joyous, A Touch of Greatness weaves footage from rare television broadcasts with lively, provocative comments from former students as they speak about how these experiences resonate in their lives today. A Touch of Greatness is a portrait of the lives transformed by a teacher who, with passion and aplomb, enabled a generation of children to embrace their own “heroic deeds” and inner greatness.