BY MARCIA JARMEL AND KEN SCHNEIDER, DIRECTORS
It can be daunting to point the camera at your own family. But when we first pressed “record,” we thought we were only making a 10-minute short about our son Mica’s Bar Mitzvah service project. The simple idea to document his efforts to send baseballs to kids in Cuba (in thanks for sheltering his grandfather during the Holocaust) grew in scope and complication. Threads of family, world politics, baseball, and the trickiness of growing up were all unfolding in front of our lens. We kept filming and the project became Havana Curveball premiering at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival on August 3.
Last spring, in preparation for the film’s launch, we were invited to participate in the SFIFF Schools at the Festival program, screening at the Kabuki to nearly 500 middle and high school students from San Francisco’s public and private schools, and in 2 middle school classrooms. The Film Society produced a beautiful and thoughtful K-12 curriculum for us and the film’s protagonist, our son Mica, fielded questions.
Students responded by speaking of their own immigrant experience, connecting it to the dramatic story of Mica’s grandfather. They shared why sports were so important in their life. They asked about Mica’s experience when confronted with the endless obstacles he encountered and with the reality of his privilege. They wanted to know about Cuba, a country they knew little about. And they talked about their own experience with service and ways they might help others.
Our headline takeaway: kids are hungry for and responsive to stories about teens coming of age. This, despite much hand-wringing about shortening attention spans, thumbs and eyes fixated on mobile devices, and a general dumbing down of culture. Students responded to Havana Curveball with provocative questions, personal Instagram and Facebook posts, and in one case, the launching of their own class service project. This boots on the ground feedback encouraged us to deepen our plans for education and engagement with the film. Beyond festivals, broadcast, and DVD sales, we began to plan how our simple story could impact kids lives. And this is what we came up with— the Youth Activism Showcase.
Beginning with the public celebration after our Castro Theater premiere, we are working with festivals, community organizations, schools, and cultural institutions to use screenings of Havana Curveball to convene young people, their communities, and local nonprofits to celebrate and cultivate youth activism. Audience members will have the opportunity to meet and learn about the work of local Mica’s, young people involved in community service. We have similar events planned in the next year in Boston, Washington, DC, New York, Orlando and Seattle. We’d welcome the opportunity to do more.
Bringing documentaries to kids is a reminder of why we do what we do. It is not about grant applications, negotiations, budgets—although all of that is necessary. It’s not about festivals, broadcasts, DVD sales—although they are all necessary too. At its core, our work is about crafting stories that take our audiences on an emotional journey that changes the way they see the world. And if we can help them take the story off the screen and into their lives, all the better. A tall order, yes—and one we fiercely work towards.
Havana Curveball will have it's World Premiere at the 34th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, August 3, 2:40 at Castro Theatre. Following the screening will be an after-party and Youth Activism Showcase 4:00 - 6:00 at the Congregation Sha’ar Zahav (please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org). The documentary will also screen July 31, 12:30 at CineArts in Palo Alto and August 10, 12:15 at Grand Lake Theater in Oakland. For screening details and tickets, visit sfjff.org.