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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Cinema for Schoolchildren: A Learning Experience on the Big Screen

The San Francisco Film Festival teaches movies and media literacy to students.
By James Daly

The San Francisco International Film Festival, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year, is one of the nation's most prestigious cinematic gatherings, and it kicks into high gear this week with a heavy dose of activities for educators and students.

First, the event's Schools at the Festival program invites students and teachers to attend special matinee screenings of selected documentaries and feature films, then have an opportunity to ask questions of a given movie's director.

Then, the year-round Film Society Education Program, which involves K-12 students from public and private schools as well as home-schooled children, "uses film as a way of teaching students about the arts and issues of the day," says Keith Zwölfer, the festival's education program manager.

Teachers are provided with study guides for their students so that, before and after attending a screening, they can discuss the issues presented in the film. "At a time when schools are being forced to cut their arts programs due to budgetary concerns, sometimes our program serves as students' only exposure to the arts," Zwölfer adds.

Recent films the festival has presented for young audiences include Freedom Writers, Mad Hot Ballroom, Super Size Me, Whale Rider, and Winged Migration. This year, the education program is heavy on films with an international angle and includes documentaries on the election of a middle school's student body president and about celebrated film editor and sound mixer Walter Murch.

The program is expected to bring in more than 4,000 students and teachers and to send dozens of local and international filmmakers into classrooms to share their work with students.

Teachers are also invited to participate in a two-day hands-on workshop that shows them how to integrate film and video into their classroom in creative and instructional ways. "Kids are bombarded with media, and they need to know how to interpret the messages that are coming at them," says Graham Leggat, executive director of the San Francisco Film Society, which organizes the film festival and its educational programs.

Check out these Edutopia magazine articles about film and filmmaking:

James Daly is the former editorial director of Edutopia.

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