MVFF Education Helps Students Learn the Craft of Filmmaking


Whether it’s uploading clips to TikTok, editing vlogs on YouTube, or posting Instagram Stories, most young people these days engage in the art and craft of filmmaking on a daily basis, whether they know it or not. “Students are all creators and media-makers in one way or another,” says CFI Education Director of Education Joanne Parsont. “It’s something that they live and breathe all the time, and film speaks to them particularly because of the storytelling.”

MVFF Education, which is put on each year by California Film Institute (CFI) Education, offers schools free screenings, filmmaker Q&As and study guides that immerse students in the world of filmmaking. The goal of the programs is to introduce students to the ins and outs of the craft and show them the viability of filmmaking and film curation as a career path.

“I have the greatest job in the world, and these students can also have this job,” says CFI Outreach Manager Shakira Refos. “We’re demystifying the path toward becoming a filmmaker, a film programmer or an arts administrator.”

Shakira Refos
Shakira Refos Photo Courtesy of California Film Institute.

This year, Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF) Education is offering 11 different film programs for schools, several family-style features in the family film section of the festival, documentaries and shorts programs. These will all be available for free on the CFI Education online platform, which was built during the pandemic. At the time of this writing, the CFI team is also working with schools to potentially set up a limited number of small, in-person screenings for individual classes, depending on health and safety protocols.

The Filmmakers Go to School program gives students from kindergarten through 12th grade a chance to connect with filmmakers in a personalized way. CFI curates appropriate films from the festival lineup, connects with the filmmakers and pitches the program to teachers, who can customize the presentation to suit their students’ tastes. This year’s program will likely be virtual, but will still be customized to the educators’ needs.

CFI Education has had great success inspiring students to pursue careers in the film industry. Refos cites a young woman who participated in CFI Education’s summer camp program, who has graduated high school and is going into college. “She told us that the program helped her decide that she wanted to be in the arts and become a curator,” Refos explains. “We’ve been getting a lot of that kind of feedback lately.”

Covid-19 has had a major impact on CFI Education, but it hasn’t been all negative. While the pandemic forced the program to go all-virtual for a time, this allowed the organization to expand its influence far beyond the Bay Area.

“We were able to reach our long-term goal of broadening our outreach and providing our programming online to schools across the country,” Parsnot says. “We were thrilled to see the impact that we had. The opportunity for students to connect over film really got amplified, and we can much more easily work with filmmakers from around the world, who the students otherwise wouldn’t get to speak with.”

MVFF Education aims to engage students in a way that speaks to them, but the program isn’t limited to young people. Behind the Screens is a series of panels and workshops that lets people into the kind of inside-baseball conversations that programmers and stakeholders typically have behind closed doors.

“CFI and MVFF can be a place for the community to get together, a place for entertainment, and a place for education,” Refos says. “Not just for kids, but for their parents, too.”

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Bernard Boo

Bernard Boo is an AAPI arts and entertainment critic, Bay Area native and proud member of the San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle. Find more of his work at PopMatters, Den of Geek and Rotten Tomatoes, and listen to him on the Your Asian Best Friends podcast.

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