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Kids' Film Festival Spotlights The Next Generation

This article is more than 8 years old.

When Kathryn Dietz started floating the idea to create a kids’ film festival, everyone she talked to wanted in. “I’ve never seen such momentum,” she says.

Cities like Chicago and New York have had festivals with programs by, for, or about young people for decades but Boston’s have flickered on and off. For Dietz, that left a wide-open space for this weekend’s first Boston International Kids Film Festival, which gets under way Friday, Nov. 1 at the Somerville Theatre and runs through Sunday.

The array of films, earmarked for either ages 10 and up or 12 and up, tell stories about young people living as far away as Pakistan (“Making of Malala”), or as nearby as Roxbury (“Jahmol’s Vision for Youth Peace”). Many of the short films were made by local teens enrolled in afterschool youth media programs. There’s also a separate track devoted to media literacy.

The festival is the newest program of the Waltham-based Filmmakers Collaborative, where Dietz is executive director and Laura Azevedo is associate director. The organization has offered fiscal sponsorship, mentoring, and media education to independent filmmakers for 25 years. Azevedo says this festival will help them reach Boston’s next generation of filmmakers.

While Dietz helped create the media literacy track in partnership with Tufts University, Azevedo headed up film selection with a committee of adults plus impromptu screenings in her own living room. “My kids have seen every one,” says Azevedo.

At first Azevedo worried that it was a chore for her 10- and 12-year-old daughter and son. Then they started asking her, ‘Did anything new come in?’ Now they are invested and can’t wait to meet the festival’s special guests, she says.

Canadian director Slater Jewell-Kemker was just 15 when she started tracking stories about youth climate change activism for her documentary, “An Inconvenient Youth.” She’ll be present along with one of the film’s subjects, Alina Pokhrel (from Nepal), to discuss the overlap between filmmaking and advocacy.

A scene from “The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963," playing at the Boston International Kids Film Festival at the Somerville Theatre.
A scene from “The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963," playing at the Boston International Kids Film Festival at the Somerville Theatre.

“The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963” is a popular Newbery Medal-winning book about a Flint, Michigan family that road-trips to Alabama at the height of the civil rights movement. Walden Media, which has offices in Burlington, produced the adaptation as part of “Walden Family Theater” for the Hallmark Channel. A discussion led by Walden’s vice president of education, Dr. Randy Testa, follows the screening.

Though the film slate is family-friendly, it doesn’t shy from tough subjects. “Girl Rising” and “Graceland Girls” are two of a handful of films that address the often-harrowing barriers girls face when seeking an education, especially in the developing world. Even the opening night film, “Arcadia,” a coming of age family drama about a father (John Hawkes) who moves his three kids cross-country, pushes way past saccharine and into the fallout of mental illness.

“That’s exactly why we’re showing it,” says Dietz about the film program as a whole, especially the foreign films that veer off the narrative structure that American youth audiences have come to expect. “My kids think what they see on reality TV is reality,” she says with a laugh.

That’s where the media literacy track, which takes place on the Tufts campus, comes in. “Parents are struggling to understand media platforms and how to put parameters around them,” says Dietz. Kids can learn about “Cyberbullying 101” for example, while parents attend “Social Media Boot Camp” in the room next door. Tufts students pursuing graduate degrees in child development will lead both workshops.

Filmmaker Signe Taylor, whose delightful “Circus Dreams” screens in the festival, will lead “Decoding Film Language” to explain the effects of different camera moves such as the zoom, pan, or close-up shot.

When it comes to understanding how and why media images are created, media educator Alan Berry says that the United States lags behind most other parts of the world. He’ll be on hand in the “Deconstructing Ads” workshop to demonstrate a new, free software called Media Breaker. It allows anyone with a computer and Internet connection to download and remix multimedia content with personalized, critical commentary.

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An ad that features a racially diverse cast may have text added to draw attention to that fact (“Racial diversity: check” one example reads). The transformed media must adhere to the principles of Fair Use, says Berry, and if approved, could be included on the YouTube channel of Lamp NYC, the organization that developed the software.

Dietz mentions several other of the weekend’s highlights then says that next year, it will be bigger. “In a world that’s 24/7 media, it’s only going to get more important for kids to have tools,” she says.

Erin Trahan edits The Independent (www.independent-magazine.org) an online magazine about independent film.

This program aired on October 31, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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