Young Filmmakers Feature – Cinema as a Learning Tool

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(KTSF by Sean Au)

Deciding on the camera angle, 12-year-old Chinese student Miles Chen looked very serious while co-directing his first short film with a team of seven. Visiting from Hong Kong, Miles decided to spend his summer in San Francisco this year to learn about film making for the first time of his life.

“I really would like to learn how to better film my subjects, in such a way that they look better,” said Miles.

On the other hand, Jake Newman, a 14-year-old Chinese American born in San Francisco, was also directing a short film with another team. He has always been interested in watching movies but this is also his first time picking up a camera.

“It looks easy but it is really difficult when you are actually doing it, ” said Jake, a student from University High School in San Francisco. “You need to film a lot within a few days. After editing, the end product is just a really short segment. This is much more difficult than you imagined,” he said.

Miles and Jake met at the Young Filmmakers’ Camp organized by the San Francisco Film Society. They were among 30 students who have signed up for the program. For the past 54 years, the Film Society has been the presenter of the longest-running film festival in America and has developed a year-round film appreciation program for local film lovers.

This is only the second year the film society has run  the Young Filmmakers’ Camp. Last year, attendees participated in a 5-day camp, learning about film theories in screen writing, cinematography, sound, editing and animation. Understanding the importance of practical training for young kids, this year, the program has expanded to two weeks, with an additional week on hands-on collaborative filmmaking, where students can actually produce their own shorts, following a week of film appreciation.

“I really like the hands-on aspects because we are seeing it from different points of view, like in filmmaking, looking through the camera is different from looking out through your eyes,” said a fellow camp participant, 14-year-old Gabrielle Alias from The Hamlin School.

During the hands-on week, the participants of the camp are divided into two teams to create a short film each. They have to brainstorm a story, write the script, cast actors, take turns to direct, and perform different technical tasks such as sound-recording, filming and editing.

Having a full experience on filmmaking, students at the camp said they learned about importance of teamwork by working closely as a group on film production.

“You have to listen to your teammates. Filmmaking is a group effort. It is not just you. Even if you are the director, you do not just go out and make film on your own. You have to listen to others,” emphasized Jake. “That is the biggest difficulty. We all take turns to speak. We do not want to fight among ourselves.”

Miles added that paying respect to each other is also necessary to make things work.  “When others are directing, we cannot tell them what to do,” he said, “We can give him ideas but he will decide on what to do.”

Those are exactly the skills the filmmakers’ camp hopes the students would take home with them. “One of the most important skill sets that they can learn is the ability to work together where everybody has a very distinct job, and everybody does that job well and everybody learns how their job relates to the other one,” noted John Dilley, an instructor with the program.

The Young Filmmaker’s Camp is just one of the programs the San Francisco Film Society designed for local students. Over the years, the film society has reached out to the school district to use films to supplement various language and social studies programs.

“We have a network of 3,500 teachers in the Bay Area. We reach out to new teachers as well. We give detailed description and age recommendation and suggest what kinds of class might like the film,” explained Keith Zwolfer, Director of the Film Appreciation Program of the Film Society.

Not only did the Film Society bring films to schools, from time to time, they also help expanding students’ learning experience in media by organizing meetings with guest filmmakers at film festivals, as well as showcasing works from young and talented filmmakers.

Lauren Lindberg is a 17 year old student filmmaker. Her short film about how visually impaired people in the Bay Area overcome challenges in their daily lives was showcased at the Youth Media Mash-Up Program in this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival.

Lauren said it was an exciting opportunity and she was surprised how filmmaking has helped her in ways that she never expected.

“It has helped me work on my time management. I think that has helped in my school work too, which is weird because you would think that with less time, you would not do as well, but really with less time, I work on managing and it has helped me.

Lauren said she also learned to become more verbal on presenting her work in front of others. “Now in class I’m participating more, I’m more confident in myself because I feel that I can speak out,” she said

Gabrielle echoed that filmmaking experience led to better time management at school “, It helps a lot in school, because there is a lot of group projects and problem scheduling. And because time management is a really big issue, and filmmaking can probably help you in school,” she shared.

By the end of the camp, students would need to showcase their short films to professionals who offer them opinion, as well as critical questions, students will need to train themselves on how to answer questions and how to express themselves in a critical tone.

Though some questions were hard to answer, all the students said they had a great time and learned a lot from the camp.

“I’m satisfied with my film because it just feels good watching something you make by yourself and your friends, on a big screen,” said Miles.

Encouraged by the accomplishment of this year’s camp, the San Francisco Film Society plans to organize this camp again next year.

San Francisco Film Society website: sffs.org

(Copyright 2011 KTSF. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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