by Haley Beasley
On a bright Thursday morning, forty or so excited 5th graders from Elsie Whitlow Stokes Charter School (DC) and Julius West Middle School (Montgomery County) made their way to the Inter-American Development Bank for the 2016 Kids World Film Festival hosted by Women in Film and Video (WIFV).
The screenings of short films featured a diverse number of films from across the world that ranged from documentary-style, films based on true events, and some creative animation—all revolving around the subjects of empathy and attempting to help the students use critical thinking when consuming media. Discussion sessions—moderated by WIFV board member Erin Essenmacher—were held in between the screenings and challenged the students to think not only of the construction the films, but also their often difficult and nuanced themes.
The first film shown—Zoo (USA), touched upon the subject of human zoos and was followed by a discussion session moderated by the filmmaker herself: Monda Webb, who wrote, produced, and directed this film without much prior experience. The students in attendance gained an incredible learning experience from the filmmaker’s insight into the creation process of her project and the problematic subject matter of her film.
Other films shown included Tripe and Onions (Hungary) directed by Morton Szirmai, Hate Machine (Canada) directed by Phil Caron, New Boy (Ireland) directed by Steph Green, the animated short El Trompetista (Mexico) directed by Raul Morales Reyes, and the stop-motion animated short Munya in Me (Netherlands) directed by Mascha Halberstad.
Even more impressive than the films themselves were the responses by the students. The 5th graders from these two schools vocalized their reactions, observations, and insights in mature, thoughtful, and personal ways, inciting not only interesting discussions on the films themselves, but also on the greater implications of the subject matter on our world today, proving themselves to be the critical thinkers this program hoped to shape.