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Film festival brings the arts to Providence kids

A tower of miniature cupcakes, flutes of sparkling apple cider, a visit from the mayor and — of course — bags upon bags of fresh, buttery popcorn. After almost a year of planning and with hundreds of kids squirming in their seats, the first annual Providence Children's Film Festival officially kicked off Friday night at Providence's Cable Car Cinema.

The festival, which wrapped up on Monday, featured screenings of children's films, animations and documentaries at both the Cable Car and Rhode Island School of Design's Metcalf Auditorium. Over 1,800 people attended the festival's screenings and workshops, according to Brenda Shannon, vice president of the festival's Board of Directors.

"It's just another example of the importance of arts and culture to the city," Mayor David Cicilline '83 told The Herald. He presented the Festival Board with a proclamation from the city on Friday evening, calling up all the children from the audience for the subsequent photo op.

Smiling among the peace signs and bunny ears, Cicilline pushed the smallest kids to the front of the crowd. Though he has no children himself, he said he has the "23,000 in the Providence school system" to keep him on his game.

"It's a great idea to teach children the art of movies at a young age," said Deborah

Gutman '93, mother of Kaya Suner, third grader at Providence's Gordon Elementary School. In preparation for Friday night's sold-out screening of the Oscar-nominated animated feature "The Secret of Kells," Gutman and Suner had read the storybook version of the film the evening before.

"It's nice to have something quality to do that's family-oriented in Providence," she said.

The Providence Children's Film Festival was incorporated as a nonprofit in September. Since that time, the eight-member board has been working "tirelessly" on organizing the festival, said Abby Stranahan, its treasurer.

Originally from New York City, she was inspired by the children's film festival there, and said she knew upon arriving in Providence that "the people and families would embrace (a similar) experience."

"Providence just presents itself as a rich, vital, creative community," she said.

Though many of the festival's films are of international origin, some of the films were produced by local filmmakers and local children. For the short film "How Birds Got Their Song," RISD graduate and local director Jo Dery worked with children to animate the story.

In the coming years, the festival will try to incorporate more children's productions, Stranahan said.

Local animators held production workshops for children on Saturday and Sunday on different animation techniques. The resulting short projects were screened on Sunday at Metcalf Auditorium.

The Cable Car charged a reduced admission fee for tickets for the festival, and profits from sales went to covering costs and toward programming for the future, Stanahan said. All screenings at Metcalf Auditorium were offered free of charge.

"Kids," said Daniel Kamil, owner of the Cable Car, "are not our normal fare." He said the festival amazed him in its seamless execution, "from the soup to the nuts."

"Everything went extremely smoothly, without a hitch," said Karina Wood, a member of the festival committee.

"We're incredibly thankful to the RISD Museum for providing space for workshops for free," Stanahan said, pointing as well to the generosity of local arts organizations including the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities and the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts.


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