When you think about kids and movies, what comes to mind?
How much violence is on the screen nowadays?
How many films glorify irresponsibility and self-gratification at any cost?
How few of the heroes are positive role models for today's youth?
How little motivation or opportunity there is for young people to think and talk about what they see?
Well, has the Virgin Islands Film Society got a festival for you! Actually it's for the kids but adults will be admitted, and in the case of younger children, encouraged to attend.
The first Virgin Islands Children's Film Festival will be held first on St. John, on Saturday, July 15, and then repreated on St. Thomas on Sunday, July 16. The St. John viewings will be at the Westin Resort; those on St. Thomas will be at Wyndham Sugar Bay.
The festival is the brainchild of Karrl Foster, the Reichhold Center for the Arts staffer who brought the first V.I. International Film and Video Festival into being at the Reichhold in February. He created the not-for-profit film society soon after that and has been getting award-winning movies to St. John for periodic weekend showings in the Westin ballroom ever since.
Now, Foster has teamed up with the Coalition for Quality Children's Media / Kids First, a not-for-profit group based in Santa Fe, N.M., to put the kids' film fest together. It will consist of a day's worth of movies (shown in video format) for specified age groups, the youngest being 2-5 years and the oldest, 12-18, interspersed with evaluations and discussions by the kids themselves.
Presented by the film society in association with the Reichhold Center, the festival is being sponsored by St. Thomas Source, Knight Quality Stations (WVWI, KISS-FM and 105-JAMZ), AT&T of the Virgin Islands, Banco Popular and The West Indian Company, with grant support from the V.I. Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. Festival hours are 10 a.m. to between 4 and 5 p.m.
Schedule of film festival showings
Screening Room A:
10:30 – 11:45 a.m. Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland (ages 2-5)
Noon – 1 p.m. Dr. Seuss: My Many Colored Days (ages 3-8)
1:15 – 1:45 p.m. Veggie Tales: King George and the Ducky (ages 5-8)
2 – 2:30 p.m. Snow Jam (ages 5-12)
2:45 – 3:15 p.m. Magic School Bus: Rainforest (ages 3-8)
Screening Room B:
10:30 – 11:25 a.m. Degas and the Dancer (ages 8-12)
11:45 a.m. – 12:45 p.m. Galileo: On the Shoulders of Giants (ages 8-18)
1 – 2 p.m. Our Friend Martin (ages 8-18)
2 – 3:15 p.m. critics' session
3:15 – 4:45 p.m. The Iron Giant (ages 5-18)
Elmo and Magic School Bus, of course are from PBS. Many Colored Days blends animation, live acting and the words of Dr. Seuss to introduce young people to orchestral music, literature and art. The Veggie Tales video is the 13th in a series that features Larry the Cucumber, Bob the Tomato et al. playing other characters in this case Larry being the king of a land at war who doesn't want to deal with it.
Martin combines animation, live action and time travel in a film about Martin Luther King Jr. Degas is about the 19th Century French painter as he late in life changes his thinking because of his interaction with a ballerina. Galileo is fictionalized account of the 16th and 17th Century "father of modern science" that artfully integrates lessons in physics, astronomy, the scientific method and history.
The Iron Giant, about xenophobia the fear of others not like you is set in the 1950s amid American paranoia about invasion from outer space and communist conspiracies. The story of a boy and a 50-foot robot "is definitely of the action-adventure genre," according to Ranny Levy, co-founder (in 1992) and executive director of the Coalition for Quality Children's Media. And Snow Jam, about an inner city boy who literally does want it to snow, is from an independent producer and "is essentially a world premier," she says.
Young viewers to be critics, too
Levy, a former teacher and video producer, is coming to the territory to help direct the festival and to talk about the CQCM program and its related Kids First! rating system for videos, CD-ROMs and television that was "created to identify programing based on its integrity and not on its hype." Kids First! relies on panels of young and adult critics to critique materials being considered for endorsement, and that approach will be a part of the film festival, too.
There will be a few minutes of discussion after each showing, including comments from the audience, and then everyone will mark evaluation forms and turn them in. For the younger children, icons of happy faces, neutral faces and frowning faces are employed, with older folks on hand to help with questions such as: "Do you think your friends would like this video? Why?" and "How much did watching this video make you want to learn more about something you saw?" For the older kids, the questions include "How well did you like the technical presentation?" and "Is it respectful of persons your age? (Explain)."
The critics' session will be a panel discussion by a jury of young people who will get some training first in how to critique a film. Foster has lined up some volunteers but is looking for more, ages 12 to 18. Levy will conduct a training session of less than two hours for those who want to serve on the panel, at a time and place to be determined.
"We understand kids' ability to look at deeper messages in stories and films," Levy says. "We're not showing any goody two-shoes' pictures. We've selected films that have some chewy issues. . . We're challenging the youngsters to come see for themselves. All of these titles have been endorsed by kids their ages, and we wouldn't be showing them if we hadn't gotten great reviews."
Tickets are $4 per person (child or adult) per movie. However, there are two ways around that: First, for $10 you can get a day pass good for everything. Second, Foster is hoping to have enough corporate support for scholarships to make sure "that nobody is turned away who wants to come especially if there are four or five children in a family."
Can "good" (if not "goody two-shoes") films draw an audience of blasé and terminally bored teenagers? Foster and Levy hope so, and the movies they've selected for the 12- to 18-year-olds have passed the viewer-feedback test from that age group with flying colors. Still, Foster concedes it may be the hardest sell of the festival's targeted outreach. If he gets enough scholarship funding, he says, he'll let the teenagers "who are too cool to come to films like these" in for free.
Why a kids' film fest? They need this'
The decision to produce such a festival came shortly after the Reichhold fest, Foster says. "One day I was reading how many child rapes there had been in the islands," he recalls. "I had been focusing on the adult festival and wanted to do a children's film segment in the one for next year. All of a sudden, I said, I can't wait for that. I need to do it now.' My motivation was, They need this'. . . So many films at the theaters aren't for kids. There's no message in any of these pictures for them."
While there's no requirement that children be accompanied by grown-ups at the festival, Foster says, "I would like to see someone with the younger ones, because there will be no other supervision." Also, he adds, "what we are doing is partly for the parents, to let them know what's out there."
To preview the festival, the V.I. Film Society will host cocktail receptions for any
and all adults interested in finding out what it's all about. The St. John gathering will be Thursday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the St. John School of the Arts. The one on St. Thomas will take place Friday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Café Amici in Riise's Alley. Admission's free and there will be complimentary hors d'oeuvres and wine.
Foster says his goal is "to keep the consciousness up." He's hoping "to develop a showcase once a month where we would do just one film," and he already has his eye on a couple of prospective pictures.
To volunteer as a youth panelist, offer scholarship support or learn more about the kids' fest or the film society, call Foster at 693-1552.
For more information about the Coalition for Quality Children's Media, check out the organization's web page at www.cqcm.org.
CHILDREN'S FILM FEST IS SATURDAY ON ST. JOHN
When you think about kids and movies, what comes to mind?
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