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[whitespace] Digital Filmmaking for Kids

Digital filmmaking class gives kids a peek behind the media curtain

By Jim Rendon

ANNA GORINI looks intently through the viewfinder of a movie camera on the ground floor of the Children's Discovery Museum. The children climbing on fire trucks and spinning the cranks on exhibits have been swept out by purple-shirted museum staff, leaving the museum quiet. Gorini is framing her picture, directing, working with her subject.

Julio Abundiz smiles shyly at the camera. "What?" he asks.

"Say, 'I am Seth Green's best friend,' " says Gorini.

Julio smirks at the camera. "I am Bob Marley's best friend," he improvises.

Satisfied with Julio's approximation, Anna lifts her finger off the "record" button and heads off to pester more of her classmates for lines and scenes that she wants to put in her movie.

"I've thought about making a movie since I was little," the 13-and-a-half-year-old Gorini confides. On her first day out with a camera, she's not wasting any time making her movie happen.

Anna and five of her classmates from Hoover Middle School are part of a new filmmaking class at the Children's Discovery Museum. Just begun last year, the class allows children to pick up cameras, shoot footage and edit it into music videos, public service announcements and very short films.

The museum uses new digital video cameras, a recent innovation in video technology that allows people to record near broadcast-quality images on inexpensive simple cameras, no bigger than a paperback book. Since the images are recorded digitally, they can easily be downloaded onto computers for editing, special effects and sound work.

In the museum's second-floor media lab, Apple computers are used to edit the footage using Media 100, relatively simple, easy-to-understand software, a far cry from the bulky, complicated editing booths of the last decade.

"The computers are a lot easier than sitting at an editing booth, especially with kids," says Patty O'Hare, the media studio's coordinator. Though she admits that kids much prefer to shoot footage than to edit, she tries to help focus them on telling a story, in part through computer games that make visual storytelling easy.

Jania Pereira and Elizabeth Reis, both 12-year-old middle schoolers at Hoover, giggle to each other as they type lines of dialogue into spaces on the computer monitor. Next they click on a pull-down menu to pick music. Funk, space, metal and club techno are among the choices. They pick characters, backgrounds and the kinds of scenarios they want to create. Then they let it roll.

Set to thumping club music, a simplistic, South Park-style cartoon girl runs across the screen. In hot pursuit is Cupid, airborne, bow outstretched. The girl turns and faces the screen. "Get away, you brute, I'm too independent for a relationship right now," reads the bubble over her head.

She disappears and Cupid's round face takes up the screen. "I'm gonna getcha," he says. Pereira and Reis giggle, hands over their mouths, then the screen goes black.

O'Hara sent her students to the DFilm website to access the Movie Maker game. DFilm is a traveling digital film festival that features movies made with the same technology that O'Hare's students are using. It has played in New York, San Francisco and Berlin and will be part of San Jose's Cinequest film festival. "Digital video allows a wide range of people with all kinds of motivations to get into filmmaking," says Bart Cheever, director of DFilm. It no longer takes a film degree to get your feet wet.

But in learning how to put together a short story on film, children are learning a lot more about their world, says Nikos Constant, a local filmmaker who ran the media lab until he answered Los Angeles' siren call this month. "If you give a kid a camera and an hour shoot, and then they start editing, they begin to think about how images are put together. It makes kids more aware of the media around them," he says.

And in our media-saturated society, media literacy has a lot of value, Constant says. "You can tell a kid, 'Don't smoke,' or you can show them how smoking is made to look cool in movies. There is a way to make it look cool in Casablanca, but that doesn't mean smoking is like that," he says. That peek behind the wizard's curtain can make all the difference, he says.

Gorini doesn't know much about media literacy. As she intently records footage of diving multicolored fish in the museum's tanks, she only knows that she wants to make her movie.

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From the February 18-24, 1999 issue of Metro.

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