Children’s films shine brightly at Film Festival

Prior to the Sunday night screening of "Maidentrip," festival-goers were treated to shorts made by Cinema Circus children over the weekend. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

The Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival’s annual March festival saw strong attendance from last Thursday through Sunday as many ventured up Island or to Edgartown to enjoy movies, music, and Q&A sessions at the Chilmark Community Center, Chilmark School, Chilmark Library, and Entertainment Cinemas.

The celebration peaked on the last day, Sunday, March 16, with “Burt’s Buzz” and second showings of “North of the Sun” and “WHITEY: United States of America v. James J. Bulger” completely selling out. The most special portion of that Sunday, if not the four day event overall, was Cinema Circus children’s programming. Cinema Circus kids had worked with adults to make their own short films over the course of the festival. Sunday was the day those kids got to see their handiwork.

As the sun set Sunday, musician and Vineyard Shorts participant Dana Edelman and West Tisbury Poet Laureate Justen Ahern entertained folks under the Hay Café tent with acoustic guitar and song. As 6 pm approached, parents and children gathered in the Chilmark Library with festival director Thomas Bena, managing director Brian Ditchfield, children’s program director Alexandra London-Thompson, and instructors from Cinema Circus to watch three shorts that festival staffers Elina Street and Reece Robinson had worked deep into the previous night to edit in time for the showing. The shorts constituted the combined efforts of dozens of junior filmmakers who had participated in Cinema Circus activities over the weekend. The results on the screen were: “The Book that the Cinema Circus Kids Wrote” (brought to life with sound effects and animation), a stop animation short featuring children, and a children’s documentary about the festival.

Violet Cabot, a sixth grader at the West Tisbury School, helped to make the documentary. “I thought making the documentary was a fun and new experience for me to contribute to,” Violet said. “It was exciting to learn about the process of making a documentary and I now will appreciate the thought and time put into them. I enjoyed the group and hope they do it again next year.”

Nicole Cabot, Violet’s mother, added: “Violet took part in the film class at her school this year, which got her excited about the festival. The MVFF led a six-week class for sixth through eighth graders about documentary filmmaking. As a parent, I feel these collaborations are what make our schools so strong and our children so fortunate.”

Thirteen-year-old Jack Iannotti enjoyed donning different hats during the production process. “It was a unique experience,” he said. “It was a lot of fun trying every part of filmmaking. My favorite was learning about different people, where they come from, and why they were at the festival.”

Eleven-year-old Bryce Clark really enjoyed working with audio. “My favorite part of the whole workshop was monitoring the sound,” he said. “I wore headphones and had to make sure the audio was loud enough. We even interviewed someone in Puerto Rico through Skype on an iPad. I was at the film festival because my mom made a film for the shorts series. While we were there for that, I got to do the workshop and make a film with our awesome instructor, Marcus, and our team, the Marshmallow Pies from Space. We premiered our film on Sunday night and I was proud to see it all come together. Our group was awesome. The younger group made an illustrated book with sounds and it really made me laugh.”

Many of those sounds came from versatile kindergartener Cassidy Kirschenbaum. “Cassidy!” exclaimed Cinema Circus instructor Hanna MacDougall. “Yes, he did provide not only the memorable ‘Meow’ [‘Cat Bus’ from ‘The Book that Cinema Circus Kids Wrote’] but also the subtle harmonica sound for the mouse as well as the powerful drum for the volcano. He was certainly a crucial part to the success of the short film. He also played the role of ‘Eel’ in a short skit they created earlier. He truly committed to his role with facial features and all.”

When asked what he thought when he heard his voice in the film Cassidy said, “I could tell it was me!”

Twelve-year-old Dash Christy did extensive camera work for Cinema Circus projects. “I thought it was a great experience. I love making movies, especially stop animation. I’ve always wanted to be an animator.”

“Dash is such an exceptional and mature young man,” Ms. MacDougall said. “He was a big help and ensured that each kid got a turn in the making of the documentary. He was very knowledgeable and provided guidance to many of the younger kids. The other kids really looked up to him and certainly listened to him when he spoke or made suggestions.”

Isaac Silber-Parr, a third grader at the Edgartown School, needed a little convincing to participate in Cinema Circus. After he dove in, he not only found himself enjoying the experience but also  found his technical prowess was very much appreciated. “This was his first year participating in the Cinema Circus events so he hadn’t known what to expect,” said Laura Silber, Isaac’s mother. “He had been hesitant to go but it turned out that he really enjoyed it.  He is very proficient on the computer and the iPad, and is very interested in cartooning — he draws his own comic books and flip books — so I had a feeling that this introduction to stopmotion was going to be really intriguing for him. He came prepared with his own Lego figures to use and an idea for a story. The workshop was really hands-on, with the kids broken up into small groups for the film-making component. We’ll definitely participate in more of the kids events next year.”

“Isaac was so much fun to work with,” Ms. MacDougall said. “He did indeed help out with some technological difficulties that I was having and saved the day. He, along with his friend Sam [Fetters] came prepared with their own props [Star Wars Legos] and ideas for a stop motion film. They were so excited and really came up with some great ideas. Their group created an epic fight scene between their Lego Star Wars characters. Isaac enthusiastically provided the background music by singing and recording the Star Wars theme song music. Their excitement and enthusiasm during this program was contagious and certainly captured the essence of what this program was designed to do.”

“I liked that you could actually make a movie with stop animation,” Isaac said. “I helped them with their iPad. They couldn’t get the sound on. I noticed this hatch that happened to be on my iPad too, and I knew what to do.”

After the selection of children’s productions were screened in the library, attendees poured into the Chilmark Community Center for “Maidentrip,” the final film of the festival. Before the lights dimmed, musician Nina Violet sang and played guitar for the audience. What hit the screen first wasn’t “Maidentrip,” however. Because they found it so well made, Mr. Ditchfield and Mr. Bena chose to run the children’s documentary on the big screen as an extra so as many festival goers as possible could see the kids’ filmcraft. Applause, cheers, and laughter rose repeatedly during the screening.

Mara Ditchfield, sister of Brian Ditchfield, summed up the festival by explaining what she loved about it. “There are two parts of the festival that I love, the community and the indulgence,”she said. “I love that it’s supported by the community for the community. I love the fact that you can be eating Chris Fischer’s cooking, drinking Chilmark Coffee, and watching a movie sponsored by Tilton Tents next to someone you haven’t seen since November all while a group of children are learning how to make a documentary right next door. All that coupled by watching a movie we might not get an opportunity to see otherwise, on a couch. The couch is pretty key. I mean there are two ways to truly watch a film, in the theater, or from the comfort of a couch. This is the amalgamation of both. I love it.”

Also a presenter in the Vineyard Shorts category, she added: “It’s was really wonderful to get to the opportunity to screen something in my hometown, surrounded by my community and my family.”

To watch the children’s film, visit

For more information on the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival, visit