CINEKID REPORTS: Cinekid’s Head of Education at ECFA conference

Last week Tessa Stoke, Cinekid’s Head of Education, made a speedy visit to Stockholm for the ECFA conference together with festival director Floor van Spaendonck. Tessa wrote a report on her fulfilling experience:

Going to Stockholm for the ECFA conference on screening for children? Sounds great. Count me in.

But wait… it’s on September 20? About a month before our festival, while I’m in the midst of finalizing schedules, rounding up the program, publishing materials and having hotline crises with schools that keep changing their registrations?

Suddenly this sounds just a little less appealing... Hey, keep in mind the bigger picture and take a step back - these emails can wait. So let's go.

How to engage children with cinema

To refresh your memory, ECFA is the organisation for all professionals interested in high quality films for children and young people: filmmakers, producers, promotors, distributors, exhibitors, TV-programmers, festival organizers and film educators. This conference would be zooming in on how to screen and discuss cinema for (and with) children in order to engage them with the medium and its history, and on film literacy.

For me it was a very useful day, full of inspiring insights and interesting examples from my European colleagues. The opening speech was given by Karen Lury from Glasgow University, who made us take a closer look at balloons, kites and bicycles. These being three objects that are often central within children’s films: what do they represent and what makes them such strong metaphors for growing up, letting go, the innocence of childhood and the connection between generations?

Three main lines of film literacy

The rest of the day was full of film literacy examples from organisations across Europe; cinemas, festivals, film institutes and scholars. Three main lines that could be distilled during the day:

1)    Engaging schools

Talks on film literacy within the 'school-context', such as by Swedish film educator Anna Soderburg on the importance of discussions immediately after the film screening. Besides that, two researchers from Finland, Heat Mulari and Marjo Kovanen, presented a fascinating assessment of study guides. It was very refreshing to hear a critical overview of this subject in terms of who is writing these study guides and which perspectives they take.

2)    Making more of the film experience

Away from schools, inspiring insights were given on film literacy by engaging public audiences. Our Dutch partners in the Taartrovers Film Festival explained how they are passionately laying the first base for toddlers’ love for film by creating thematic worlds around their film program. And Petra Slastinsek from the Ljublana cinema Kinodvor gave an enthusiastic speech on how they are successfully developing a love for cinema by making their audience feel special and to experience diversity with their ‘Event Cinema’.

3)    Lobbies on film literacy in the curricula of schools

The most inspiring talk of the day for me was from Linda Sternö who managed to really ‘wake everybody up’. Her topic and plea for film literacy in school curricula is so relevant and inspiring: reading and producing images with a camera should be a democratic right.

Instead of film, she talks about the camera and the image. Since kids are no longer just communicating with words but are surrounded by images all the time, it’s essential that we make them aware of how to see these images and how we are all influenced by them.

Her plea was for the practice of seeing; seeing images through eyes and through the camera. It's all about finding an attitude towards the camera, both moving and still. The essence of film literacy is the frame you are given: what is included and what is left out? And with teaching kids to create, it is absolutely important to keep an open mind. Try to see how your imagination and creativity is influenced by what you know already. Try to think of what images are lacking.

Taking children seriously

The last talk of the day, ‘The child and difficult subject matter’ from Malena Janson, closed the circle for me, as I was listening from my Cinekid perspective. The notion on taking children seriously and to stop being overly protective and treating them as fragile figures connected the conference to my everyday business and returned my thoughts to this festival, where one of our programs for schools is called ‘Not suited for children… or is it?’

And here I am now, back in the office. Time to zoom back in on my schedules and all my production stuff. Thank you ECFA. Cinekid Festival, here we come.