MVFF Labs bring film education to Island kids

Free programs teach kids about modern-day media and film literacy.

Updated Dec. 5

The Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival (MVFF) is offering a new and unique way for kids to learn about and interact with today’s most common forms of media.

As part of the MVFF Labs program, kids from preschool age to high school learn about the range of digital media they are exposed to, and even create their own content. 

Programming director Brian Ditchfield said the Labs program is in “an incredibly exciting phase,” and he is looking forward to expanding film and digital media courses in the future.

“Our aim is to bring film education all over the Island, and teach kids about the best ways to produce and consume digital media like television and movies,” Ditchfield said.

The program now features afterschool sessions five days a week, including film-writing courses, green-screen workshops, and production and design classes for the aspiring filmmaker. And there are plenty of other options for kids who might not be interested in film, but could have their inspiration sparked by a fun and specialized program.

The Times sat in on a production and filmmaking class at the West Tisbury School where fifth and sixth graders produced, filmed, and starred in their own movie. The MVFF provided students with cameras and iPads, and gave students free rein to come up with their own plot ideas. The students chose to make a movie about bullying and how it affects kids in and out of the classroom. 

Some kids played main characters in the film, others manned the cameras, but everyone got to participate. 

“I really like using the camera. I’ve already learned a lot about filming and acting, too,” said fifth grader River Maxner. 

And other students agreed with River, saying they had fun while learning valuable skills. “I usually think of a movie, and it seems like a lot of work,” said sixth grader Whitney Bird, who starred as one of the bullies in the film. “But it is a lot of fun, and doesn’t really feel like work to me.” 

Ditchfield said film literacy is important for kids because it allows them to form their own opinions on the various types of media they consume, such as commercials and music videos.

“It’s such an essential thing for kids to know how the media they consume on a daily basis is created,” Ditchfield said. “We have been doing these types of education courses forever, but we have only been doing them in small ways.”

Ditchfield said the Labs are a central goal for the MVFF, and all classes are free. “We think it is important to keep these programs free to any child who wants to participate.” Ditchfield said.

The MVFF is collaborating with Island libraries and other venues like the Boys and Girls Club to host instructional courses, and Ditchfield said they plan to work together with the schools in each town if they are interested. “We have taught some classes here and there, but we wanted to fully integrate film literacy and these skills into the normal curriculum here on the Island,” Ditchfield said. “This is something we have been working toward for a long time, and it’s exciting to see it all come to fruition.”

MVFF education coordinator Jenna Robichau said the Labs started out as a way to develop a more comprehensive media education program on-Island. “We try to tie in classes within schools to meet Massachusetts curriculum standards, so kids aren’t getting behind while participating in the program,” Robichau said.

One initiative the film festival is working on is called the Curiosity Project, where students learn proper interviewing skills and the necessary technical know-how to produce their own digital media content.

“We are going to be sending kids home with cameras, encouraging them to be creative, and sending them out into the community,” Robichau said. “We are giving kids the access to tools and information that can really spark their enthusiasm.”

Not only do kids learn valuable communication and analytical skills, but they get the opportunity to evaluate the information they receive from live interviews and form their own opinions of the world, according to Robichau.

By producing their own media content, Robichau said, students get additional perspective and are able to consume media in a more responsible way.

“Screens, iPads, smartphones, laptops, are so prevalent in today’s society that when our children are using that technology, we want there to be a good reason,” Robichau said. “Whether it’s for education or pure entertainment, there needs to be a reason.”

Another project the MVFF Labs team is working on is a schoolwide multistep film production.

Robichau said the concept is a community film piece, where every student feels like they are giving something to the project.

Step one would engage the youngest students to create a cohesive main storyline with a convincing arc and interesting characters. The second step is for middle schoolers to serve as actors in the film, and camera operators during the production phase. The final step is for older students to take the raw video footage and edit together something true to the younger students’ vision.

“This project is meant to bring students in a range of age groups together to work collaboratively on one goal,” Robichau said. “It’s about building confidence and using teamwork to create an incredible final product.”

Robichau said the education provided by MVFF Labs goes beyond just film literacy and technical education. “This program really shows kids that their ideas can come to life. Your dreams are important, and they can materialize into something amazing,” Robichau said.

Updated to change Brian Ditchfield’s comment on the free programs.