London's first major film festival for primary children – LitFilmFest – has gone UK-wide
“My name is Benaza,” the excited young primary pupil announced to me apropos of nothing other than I had a camera around my neck and a notebook in my hand — a media person obviously.
But it seemed only natural as the children thronging into London's Odeon BFI IMAX cinema — an astonishing 1,500 in just one summer day in 2017 — were all stars attending their very own 'Oscars', the LitFilmFest. And now the project is unrolling across the UK with more than 250,000 7 to 11-year-olds taking part this year.
Their films will be shown at their local cinemas in June and featured on the YouTube Kids app (YouTube Kids is an event partner) . The movies are based on their choice from six free and fully prepared writing and film-making projects that give children a chance to engage with topics they feel strongly about: online safety; healthy eating; social change; politics and British values; movie trailers.
To enter, all schools have to do is visit the LitFilmFest website, select the topics that best suit their curriculum and download the free support materials. Then write and create the film and upload it to the website.
Partnership with BFI created an instant success
London's first digital film festival for children in the summer of 2017, and instantly one of the biggest anywhere, was the brainchild of Dominic Traynor (pictured below). He's a teacher and the founder of A Tale Unfolds (ATU), an innovative service for schools that uses digital film-making to improve children's literacy and digital skills. The festival was a partnership between ATU and the British Film Institute (also supported by other sponsors).
On Saturday this week (April 28) he is presenting at the #TEDxNorwichEd: Dream Big event (brochure here, livestreamed from 9.30am) He will talk about his work, and the headline message is that "combining traditional literacy with digital literacy has seen pupils make 15 months progress in just four… and enjoyment is up by 50 per cent too" (research information here). There's also a blog to go with it:
Speaking at the London event Dominic Traynor told Agent4change, "It was all good. It was a bit of a shock to see so many kids come through the door at one time but the venue is brilliant and it was really easy to cope with them. There was a massive buzz in here before they went up and I think that was the most important thing – to see the kids being so enthusiastic about seeing themselves on the big screen.
"The quality and size on an enormous screen was so impressive. The IMAX technicians were probably not as satisfied as us because they are used to something of a much higher spec but we had already done a couple of screen tests and we found that as long as you shoot in HD [high definition] the quality is reasonable enough for you to watch it without questioning it at all. You can see it’s not quite as perfect as other things but none of the children cared and neither did we."
How did the kids feel? "Hearing that live reaction when the kids saw themselves on screen was brilliant. A few of them had actually seen their finished films but most of them hadn’t."
Sophia Bryan-White (pictured above) is head of school at one of the participating schools, St Luke’s C of E Primary School in Lambeth. Had she done anything like it before? "No," she replied. "The project for all of us was very new. It was part of a project with a cluster of nine other schools.
"It was absolutely amazing and especially the way the learners delved into it. At first I thought it was going to be pretty complex for them but they impressed me because we did the 'could be prime minister' aspect of it where all the other bits about politics, about debating, how our political bodies are made up, was really actually advanced for them – and the writing we got out of it was absolutely fantastic.
"They drove it and the language that came out of it was brilliant as well. At school we do filming but this took it to another level, especially with the idea that they will end up seeing their product on a big screen that was an even bigger. It was so good we stayed for the second screening!"
British Film Insitute head of education Mark Reid (pictured above) partnered with A Tale Unfolds for the London event. He explained: "Dominic Traynor came to us and said, 'We want to do a film festival for primary schoolchildren who have made their own films,' and we thought that was a great idea. There wasn't one already. and it was something the BFI would like to help and support."
The BFI owns the IMAX and leases it to the Odeon. But it retains access for 12 days a year for BFI events. "They are often corporate hire events," he added, "so we thought 'Why not do an event for primary schools?' Everyone was happy with that so we had one of the biggest screens in the country with primary schools' children's films being shown on it. It was quite inspirational really, seeing those films.
"An IMAX screen is really unforgiving; if your film doesn't look good then you will really notice. And all these films looked really well made, really high quality. They were funny, exuberant, and some of them were quite serious... and they showed the full range of what film can do, what film can offer society in the 21st century in quite troubled times. Film can help someone to make a difference and we were seeing that on a huge screen. I think that's great
Dominic Traynor's parting words at the London event were: "Many primary schoolteachers realise that film-making, reading and especially writing are a magical combination in the classroom. We have seen our film-making projects improve levels of literacy in thousands of schools across the world at a rate which leaves headteachers astonished. However, more important than that is the way in which film-making motivates young people like yourselves to research, read, write, present and edit on topics such as the ones you saw today."