Film for young " and not so young " minds
Fans of Aspen Filmfest’s fall program may associate the festival with autumn in the Roaring Fork Valley ” yellow aspen leaves and crisp weather paired with a cozy, darkened theater.
But year-round, moviegoers of all ages enjoy Filmfest, thanks in part to the nonprofit’s educational outreach program. Formally launched in 1998, more than 7,600 children and adults from Aspen to Rifle take part in Filmfest’s classes and clinics each year.
In area schools, students rub elbows with filmmakers in town for local screenings. Hands-on clinics and workshops teach aspiring filmmakers of all ages to appreciate and make their own films. And for families, the nonprofit has developed a searchable database of recommended family films.
“Bringing new educational opportunities through film is crucial to our community, especially during a time of budget cutbacks and decreased funding for the arts in public schools and libraries,” says Amy Townsend, Filmfest’s associate film programmer.
The best witnesses to what Filmfest strives to do in the Roaring Fork Valley are the educators, who see small (and big) eyes light up while exploring and learning about the world of film and what the nonprofit calls “visual literacy.”
At the Pitkin County Library, children’s librarian Susan Keenan watches children enjoy videos made directly from books. Preschool Pix has video adaptations of new books often read by actors and actresses, complete with illustrations from books.
“It’s different than story hour, when I just have a small book in my hand,” Keenan says. “They get to see the illustrated pictures on a bigger format, told in a different form, and it’s great. The more they are exposed to stories in different ways, the better.”
Plus, the productions aren’t live action or cartoons, which can be overwhelming for little minds, she says. “It’s geared just for them,” she says of the 3- to 6-year-old audience members. After the video, Keenan points out the featured book on the library shelves and encourages the kids to check them out.
“It’s like having a story read to you, but even better because you get to watch it happen, kinda like a movie. And then you can also read the book later,” says 5-year-old Hannah Small, a regular at Preschool Pix. “And they always pick good stories, sometimes they’re funny or silly. And you get a cookie after. It’s just really fun.”
Local high school teachers are equally impressed with the opportunities afforded through Filmfest. Aspen High School English teacher Nancy Roach Fehrmann considers the Schools to the Theatre and Filmmakers to the Classroom programs “an incredible treat.”
“The most exciting thing for me as an English teacher is having filmmakers in my classroom,” she says. “Sometimes directors, writers or producers come to speak, and since I teach senior creative writing, it’s incredible to have them talk to the kids.”
Her students recently watched “Spellbound,” a documentary on children competing in the National Spelling Bee, and got to speak with the two young producers about their experience following 20 kids in a quest to win the contest. They were also visited by the mother of the young girl who wrote “From the 104th Floor,” a poem about someone in a tower of the World Trade Center during the Sept. 11 attacks.
The poem was made into a movie, and the students were able to discuss how the poem was written and what inspired the author.
“Filmfest has really reached out to these kids, and I’m inspired by the fact that where we live, there are some incredibly artistic people coming here, and exposing kids to them is fabulous,” she says.
Aspen Middle School teacher Amy Hall has also had filmmakers and producers speak to her students. She calls Filmfest “a great resource.”
“They’re absolutely wonderful, and got my kids interested in different types of film,” she says.
At Basalt High School, English and media teacher Bryan Koster says his students were enthralled last year when Morgan Spurlock, star and director of the mega-hit documentary “Supersize Me” stopped by to answer questions and share a laugh.
The nonprofit also loans teachers short films for educational purposes.
“Aspen Filmfest’s contribution is invaluable ” we’ve used some great short films,” he says. “In that respect, we can expose students to things they’d never see in a mainstream cinema, like multicultural films and the ability to get different perspectives on issues.”
Another program Filmfest has created to broaden its audience is the Latino Youth Documentary Project, where 11- to 18-year-olds learn video production skills in a two-week workshop focusing on documentary storytelling.
“Exposure to a rich variety of cultures, customs and languages, as well as timely universal issues and ideas is vitally important to young residents,” Filmfest’s Townsend says. “Especially as their access to quality, age-appropriate film experiences is extremely limited.”
The annual Local Filmmakers Competition further stimulates local filmmaking by screening and judging films produced by local teens and adults. For families, the ScreenPlay! program shows award-wining international and American films for families with kids ages 10 and up; foreign-language films are screened with a live translator.
“Our programs provide youth with a unique insight into their world and themselves, while developing valuable visual literacy and critical thinking skills,” Townsend says.
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