The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has spent $100,000 to fund eight three-minute student films on public education at UCLA’s school of Theater, Film and Television.

Teri Schwartz, dean of the school, made the announcement Wednesday, asserting, “The Gates Foundation’s efforts on behalf of education are truly heroic, and no issue could possibly be more important.”

The graduate students spent between $8,000 and $12,000 per film — including use of outside attorneys and professional editors — to complete the projects. Department chair Barbara Boyle, who secured the financing last year, said she believes it’s the first time that the Gates foundation has supported a film school projects.

“The student films explore the critical role of teachers, opportunities for the non-traditional student, and the role of inspired, forward thinkers in creating educational opportunities,” she added.

Boyle credited Ellen Ziffren, spouse of entertainment attorney Ken Ziffren, with hatching the idea to approach the Gates foundation in April 2009. The UCLA program has used funding from Showtime to produce seven films on the “Images of War” theme and from the American Assn. of Retired Persons for 10 short films.

The films include “Leveling the Playing Field,” “Voices of a Village,” “Greater Expectations,” “Planting Hope,” “Detroit Summer,” “Burning the Midnight Oil,” “Boyz Under the Hood: West Philadelphia Auto Academy” and “Docs Rock.”

The eight films are available online at the film school’s site at http://www.tft.ucla.edu/profiles/scholarship/gates-films/ and on the Gates Foundation’s YouTube playlist: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=1ACA76A9BFD9D732.