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In Film Camp, There’s Always Popcorn

Jacob Burns Film Center, a cultural arts center in Pleasantville, New York

By Joanne Sydney Lessner, Contributing Writer, May 17, 2018

The Jacob Burns Film Center (JBFC), a nonprofit cultural arts center in Pleasantville, New York, has a dual mission. Their five-screen art house theater shows independent documentaries and world films, while across the street, a 27,000-square foot media arts lab serves as the hub for their education initiative. This summer, for the tenth year, it will host a five-week Lab Camp for 140 campers ages 8-18.

One-week sessions are organized around themes geared to each age group.“Short Films by Short People” provides an introduction to filmmaking for the youngest campers, while “It’s Easy Being Green” offers a chance to work on a soundstage with a green screen. “WebTV” introduces students to episodic writing, production, and editing, and all ages can learn stop-motion animation. A special three-week “Summer Co-op,” where groups develop a film collaboratively, is available to high-school students.

Jacob Burns Film Center, a cultural arts center in Pleasantville, New York

“We recognize that with the advancements in technology, we have to add to the reading, writing, speaking, listening equation, and help people get the skills to communicate in the language of our time,” says Emily Keating, JBFC’s Director of Education. “All our educational work is designed to position literacy to include viewing and creating media. That’s our overarching mission.”

Over the course of a session, campers go through the entire process of producing a film. They write, direct, act, animate, and learn how to edit using Adobe Premiere, the same software the pros use. But it’s not all work. Lunch is in a nearby playground, there are breaks for snacks, and, as Keating notes, there’s always popcorn.

Each session ends with a screening, followed by a Q&A with the young filmmakers that provides a bit of an education for their families. “We like to show what a Premiere project file looks like: all these layers of video and sound, all the cuts and decisions that have to be made,” says Keating. “We’ve found a way to help show the process. You can see people’s eyes opening in that moment.”

Jacob Burns Film Center, a cultural arts center in Pleasantville, New York

During the school year, JBFC, whose board includes Steven Spielberg, Janet Maslin, and Ron Howard, offers afterschool programs that begin in first grade with “Storyville,” moving up to four-week workshops in subjects like podcasting and video game design. A twelve-week course called “Creators’ Co-op” allows the most advanced students to create a short film from writing to post-production. There are also weekend workshops and classes for adults.

“This field is evolving every day, and we’re committed to these kids being good visual storytellers,” says Keating. “That will serve them whatever they do. It’s hard to think of a field that isn’t using media as a tool for storytelling, so the collaboration they’re gaining, the skills in problem solving, project management—all of that work is so vital. So much goes into making a movie. You can see how much it feeds a creative thinker.”

Jacob Burns Film Center, a cultural arts center in Pleasantville, New York


For more information on programs and classes offered at the Jacob Burns Film Center click here.


Image credits: All photos courtesy of the Jacob Burns Film Center.


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