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Arts & Culture

Festival fast-forwards childrens’ ability to appreciate film

Providence Children’s Film Festival to host workshops for parents, kids to learn together

Staff Writer
Friday, February 20, 2015

The Providence Children’s Film Festival will screen at four key locations: the Granoff Center for the Creative and Performing Arts, the Avon, The Wheeler School, and RISD’s Metcalf Auditorium, pictured above.

On a snowy Tuesday afternoon, a drab conference room was lit up by the excitement and laughter of three 8-year-olds animatedly chatting. “Why am I the only boy here?” asked one in cartoonish exasperation. They talked cheerfully about gym class, art and bubbles, all while eyeing the conspicuous jumble of materials at the front of the table. The bubble wrap, packing peanuts, plastic easter eggs, coffee lids, apple juice bottles and cardboard tubes presented an intriguing mystery for the trio, one of whom asked, “Do we get to take this stuff home?”

An adult explained to the kids that they would not use the materials to create physical work but instead to explore sound. The workshop, an event at the Providence Children’s Film Festival, opened with a short presentation of the art of sound effects titled “Foley Art.” Kids banged, barked and squealed, creating their own sound effects to accompany short clips of silly silent films. The festival’s partnership with the museum is in its second year and is one of many organizational partnerships that make the film festival a multifaceted community event.

When the festival started six years ago, it lasted for three days. It has now expanded to span eight days, and attendance is growing every year, said Anisa Raoof, executive director of the festival.

The idea of the festival is to expose kids to movies beyond Disney classics and to teach them how to think more deeply about the films that they watch, Raoof said. “Kids consume so much media all the time. We want them to become critical viewers.”

The festival receives hundreds of submissions from around the world every year, Raoof said. Submissions are first reviewed by the director of programming and then screened for a panel of 40 jurors, who evaluate it using a number of criteria.

The panel includes both adults and children, Raoof said. While adults can evaluate a number of aspects such as cinematography and editing, kids help determine if a movie will sustain interest or feel relevant to its audience. In addition to reviewing submissions, a selection team travels to other children’s festivals to view other films.

The festival does not only screen films made exclusively for children. Films that are intended for adult audiences but appropriate for children are also shown. Some notable films from this year’s lineup include “Song of the Sea,” “Scrapwood War” and “On the Way to School.”

“Song of the Sea,” directed by Tomm Moore, was nominated for an Academy Award for best animated film this year­ — the festival’s screening was its Rhode Island premiere.

“Scrapwood War” focuses on a group of kids at a summer camp tasked with building the tallest possible wooden structure. The story follows two boys through a period of transition in their lives, as they move to different schools and face the possibility of a future without each other.

“On the Way to School” documents the journey that children in four different countries take to get to school every day, encountering conditions and obstacles far different from everyday routines in the United States.

“After we put this in the festival, someone connected us to The Walking School Bus,” an organization that escorts children in dangerous areas of Providence to school in the mornings, Raoof said.

Aside from this partnership and one with the Rhode Island Museum of Science and Art, the festival collaborates with Providence Public Libraries. The films are primarily screened in four key locations: the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, The Wheeler School, the Avon Cinema and the Rhode Island School of Design Museum.

But by adding four public libraries to the list of locations, festival organizers aimed to reach out to the Providence community off of College Hill, Raoof said.  She hoped this partnership would help libraries expand their film collections past traditional offerings to include more independent and international selections, she added.

Another recent addition to the festival is the Youth Filmmaker Showcase. Last year, for the first time, filmmakers under 18 from around the world submitted to the program. Submissions included one from a group of six-year-olds who did a stop-motion project with their toys and one from Italian students who worked on a film with their school.

The program is seeing success so far, Raoof said. Last year, the films were all shown at once, but this year, the immense volume of submissions were displayed in two separate showcases.

The festival strives to be educational and dynamic, often holding workshops related to the film’s material in order to help kids engage even more with the films. For example, after a screening of “Singing in the Rain,” a tap dancer was invited to teach the kids about the evolution of tap dance. Following a movie called “Maya the Bee,” a beekeeper came to teach kids about bee colonies, hives and honey collecting, Raoof said.

“We try to challenge the kids and help them see things that they might not otherwise,” Raoof explained.

The festival runs through Feb. 22.

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