“Walking to the theater and getting to be part of a film festival, seeing films that many of our students would never have exposure to, and hearing from the people who make the movies is really an inspiration to them.” —Librarian, Coleman Elementary School, San Rafael

It was a record-breaking Mill Valley Film Festival for CFI’s Education program, increasing our student attendance by over 50% percent in 2019. More than 4,500 students from 49 different schools throughout the Bay Area were bused, driven, or walked to the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center and Century Larkspur theater to watch a diverse selection of films and participate in post-screening conversations with filmmaker guests from around the world.

We have been seeing a steady  increase in interest from teachers who understand the importance of using film as an educational tool to enhance the curriculum they are teaching in their classrooms. We were blown away by the response we received this year and didn’t want to turn any school away, so we expanded our theater capacity and free bus transportation to ensure all students were able to attend the Festival.

Over just six weekdays of MVFF, we presented 25 free screenings of 15 different film programs to students in grades 1–12.

We kicked off the program with the first of three inspiring screenings of the 5@5 Life Is for Living program, featuring a peer-reviewed selection of short films made by teen filmmakers, with several of the young artists in attendance for Q&As. Hundreds of elementary school students were captivated by our four packed screenings of the As the World Toons animated shorts program with directors Jamy Wheless and John Helms (The Pig on the Hill), and three World Premiere screenings of the family feature Team Marco with director Julio Vincent Gambuto. Spanish-speaking (and -learning) students of all ages were treated to a diverse collection of Spanish language shorts in the !Viva los Niños! program, with director Giselle Geney (3 Feet) of Colombia in attendance. Another full house of students enjoyed our Fresh & Fearless shorts program with teen filmmaker Ella Fields (Bubble Gum) in attendance.

“Seeing so many children together in such a beautiful venue as the Rafael Theater, interested in learning more about the culture of Latin-American and Spanish speaking countries, it’s a huge deal for me, as a Colombian female filmmaker. It’s living proof that film transcends any kind of barriers and walls. It was very magical to see how they connected with the film during the screening and how it generated so many questions.” —Giselle Geney, Director (3 Feet)

Photos © Tommy Lau Photography

Older teens from several East Bay schools were treated to a very special screening of our Centerpiece film Waves, followed by a powerful and intimate conversation with the film’s director Trey Edward Shults and its two young stars Kelvin Harrison, Jr. and Taylor Russell.

“Being able to attend the field trip as a school and interact with the filmmakers after viewing a visually stunning documentary was powerful. The students were able to see how filmmaking and story making are something that they can potentially do in their futures.” —Teacher, Impact Academy, Oakland

As the week progressed, students of all ages learned about the craft of sound design in Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound, followed by a Q&A with director and USC cinema professor Midge Costin; they delved into the environmental crisis of plastic pollution in The Story of Plastic with the director Deia Schlosberg, film subject Tiza Mafira, several members of the film crew, and representatives from Algalita Marine Research & Education; they learned about kids being empowered through sports in war-torn Kabul and a refugee camp in Jordan with directors Carol Dysinger (Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (if you’re a girl)) and Austin Meyer (Kickstart Joy) and about a physically disabled girl in a remote Himalayan village determined to go to school in Chuskit; they explored the world and history of hip hop fashion with The Remix: Hip Hop x Fashion; they met film subjects Anthony Valdez and Julius Not Afraid from the documentary What Do You Believe Now? and discussed religious beliefs and identity with them and director Sarah Feinbloom; they were engrossed by the story of a Kenyan girl rebelling against an arranged marriage in Subira, with director Sippy Chadha visiting in person from Nairobi; and two full houses of French-speaking and -learning students were treated to Rémi, Nobody’s Boy, the gorgeous film adaptation of Hector Malot’s classic 1878 French novel Sans famille.

Our Filmmakers Go to School program extended the Festival experience beyond the theaters, taking a number of our Festival guests out into the educational community to spend time with future cinephiles and filmmakers at schools from Oakland to Petaluma to San Francisco (and a few cities in between). Filmmakers from around the world visited a dozen different schools and after-school programs to meet with more than 1,400 additional students.

Photos © Tommy Lau Photography