Like so many parents, Naomi Silverstone is concerned about what her twin daughters are exposed to through the media. That’s why she and friend, Sylvia Nibley, formed a Utah chapter of the Coalition for Quality Children’s Media, a national group founded by a “mad mom” in Santa Fe, N.M.
“Children are barraged by negative images in the media every day,” says Silverstone, a University of Utah fellow for outreach and special projects. “The antidote is to teach them to develop critical thinking skills so they can be thinking members of society.”
In conjunction with the national coalition, Silverstone is producing the Utah Kids First! Film Festival, which will feature top children’s films from 2000, as identified by the national coalition; sneak previews of three children’s films scheduled for release in 2001; and selected shorts produced by Utah teenagers.
“We’ll have stimulating, creative, nurturing, age appropriate films and videos for kids,” says Silverstone, who is spearheading the March 10 activities in Salt Lake City and Park City. “This is a wonderful opportunity for children to have a quality media experience. It is my hope that this festival will really catch fire and expand to communities throughout the state in the coming years.”
The 10-year-old Coalition for Quality Children’s Media started the Kids First! Film Festival and a junior film critics/media literacy forum last spring in Santa Fe and St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. The event was so successful that the festival was expanded this year to include Utah and four other states. Six additional U.S. cities will hold festivals later in the year. The coalition collaborated with the New York Times in 1999 to publish the New York Times/KIDS FIRST! Guide to The Best Children’s Videos.
The Utah Kids First! Film Festival will feature 10 films selected by the national coalition as finalists for “Best Film Produced in 2000.” Festival-goers will be invited to vote on the films, which will be shown Saturday, March 10 in the Union Building on the University of Utah campus and at the Park City Library and Education Building. Films geared toward children ages 6-12 include Chicken Run, My Dog Skip, The Loretta Claiborne Story, Homer Winslow: An American Original and Dear America: A Picture of Freedom. In the ages 2-6 category, films include Bear in the Big Blue House, Blue’s Big Musical Movie, Goodnight Moon & Other Sleepytime Tales, Veggie Tales: Esther … the Girl Who Became Queen and George and Martha: Best Friends.
Selected short films by Utah teenagers will be screened on Saturday as well. Celebrations at both locations that day will include magicians, jugglers, live music and refreshments.
Special opening night activities on Friday, March 9 in the U. of U. Union Building begin at 4 p.m. with a silent auction followed by a 4:30 p.m. panel discussion, in which local media experts will address “What is the Media’s Responsibility to Children.” Sharon Swensen, assistant professor of film, BYU Department of Theatre and Media Arts, will moderate. Panelists will include Patrick Fugit, the East High School student who starred in Almost Famous; Nancy Melich, former drama critic for the Salt Lake Tribune; John Schaefer, director of the Children’s Media Workshop; and Debra Daniels, director of client services at the Rape Recovery Center.
The panel discussion will be followed by sneak previews of two children’s films due to be released in 2001: Columbia Tristar’s The Trumpet of the Swan and Disney’s Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure. The third sneak preview, Paramount’s The Little Bear Movie, will be shown on Saturday afternoon.
The festival also includes a Critical Thinking/ Media Literacy class in cooperation with several Salt Lake and Park City elementary schools. Students who participate in these classes will review films during a Junior Film Critics Forum Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
“The class will help young children develop critical thinking skills and sensitize them to recognize racial, ethnic, gender and socioeconomic stereotypes in films,” says Silverstone. “Trained in recognizing respectful, nurturing films and good role modeling, these junior film critics also will be taught to spot gratuitous violence and sex. This is a critical part of the mission of the coalition—developing critical thinking and media literacy skills in young people.
“Parents, children, teachers, grandparents—everyone—is invited to attend the festival. For parents weary of all the negative offerings in film, the festival offers a safe, healthy alternative of empowering films for children.”
Suggested donations are $1 for those attending the films earmarked for 2-6-year-olds; $3 for those attending films earmarked for 6-12-year-olds; and $5 for each sneak preview. An all-day pass is $10 per person. Proceeds will be used to provide scholarships for students in grades 9-12 to attend a pioneer two-week residential multimedia camp—Sight, Sound, and the Digital Age: A Multimedia Arts Camp—to be conducted this summer on the University of Utah campus. The program is a collaborative venture of the College of Fine Arts and the Youth Education division of Academic Outreach and Continuing Education.
The camp has slots for 20 students and five teachers, in addition to the teaching faculty. “Students and teachers will learn techniques for telling stories in the digital age,” says Silverstone. “The university is especially interested in recruiting a diverse group of students and teachers. We’re soliciting applications from students, teachers and counselors who want to help launch this innovative program.”
Silverstone would like to schedule related camps in 2002 that will address how the media can be used to promote greater understanding of the strengths of a diverse culture.
“The media is such a pervasive part of our culture that it’s vital we find more positive ways to harness its power,” says Silverstone.
For more information on the festival or camp, call the University of Utah Youth Education at 581-6984 or visit www.KidsFirstInternet.org. u