Roundup: Education & Schools at the 58th Festival

In the wake of the 58th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF), we can’t help but reflect on all of the successes of this past year—particularly those tied to our youth education initiatives. We are immensely proud of the work we’ve done to cultivate student audiences. After all, the future of film lies in their hands.

Showing our film to an audience of kids was both terrifying and fantastic. Kids give you an unfiltered and authentic reaction which is nothing short of educational for a filmmaker. They provide you with a gauntlet of unexpected and challenging questions. We will be ready next time! Talking to the kids about the film, and the process of making it, was an education in how to talk about our film to the public in general. They were an enthusiastic and delightful audience. It was extremely rewarding.
— John Lewis, director of The Story of Percival Pilts

Our Schools at the Festival (SAF) program, now nearly in its 25th year, exposes a new generation of viewers to the best in international and independent cinema, bringing thousands of Bay Area K-12 students to Festival screenings and engaging them with filmmakers from around the world.


Films are carefully selected to suit a broad range of curricula and grade levels. Targeted subject areas included foreign languages such as Chinese, French and Spanish, as well as issue-based programming for school subjects such as language arts, ethics, health, history, journalism, politics, science, social studies and world affairs. This year, just over 4300 students and teachers attended 17 screenings at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas—the Festival’s primary venue. An additional 1250 students and teachers were reached through 20 classroom visits held at schools throughout the Bay Area. Local talent discussed their careers and films with Bay Area students, as did filmmakers from Sweden, France, Mexico, Denmark, Brazil, England and Iran.

SFIFF was a festival full of great memories, but honestly my highlight was the day our team spent going to all the different high schools. A big part of making this film was for it to connect to youth who can benefit from discovering the value of their own voice - and it was so fulfilling to see the film connection with its target audience. It was electric and inspiring! It reminded me not only of the potential power of the film, but the tremendous talent possessed by the youth, just waiting to be released.
— Jason Zeldes, director of Romeo is Bleeding
The classroom visits provided a ground level experience of the city and it’s people. The schools we visited were in very different neighborhoods. It gave us a tiny peak into day-to-day life in San Francisco (and the USA), which we could never have achieved by visiting tourist spots. It was well worth the time and we happily would have done more.
— John Lewis, director of The Story of Percival Pilts

There were many highlights over the course of the 15-day Festival, including our screening of Batkid Begins, a locally made doc about the moment when San Francisco came together to help a young cancer survivor named Miles make his wish come true. Coordinated by the Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Greater Bay Area, Miles’ day as Batkid became internationally known, reaching more than 1.84 billion people on social media. We’re so glad that Patricia Wilson, who was responsible for pulling the whole Batkid day together, and Eric Johnson, a software engineer and former Lucasfilm employee who transformed into Batman to stand by Miles’ side for his crime stopping adventure, were able to come to our SAF presentation of the film. It was a truly memorable and powerful cinematic experience.


Inspirational women also took the spotlight at many of our screenings. Director Sara Newens and 2014 London Olympiad Lily Zhang joined us for a packed theater with their crowd pleasing and nail-biting documentary Top Spin. We also showcased the documentary feature T-Rex. The story of Claressa Shields’ inspiring journey to the London Olympics connected well with the students, many of whom were the same age as Claressa was when she completed her historic gold medal run. Claressa was especially inspiring to all of the young women in the crowd who hung on her every word during the Q&A and crowded around her for pictures afterwards. The girls were particularly fired up when Claressa spoke about women in sports and body image. “Strong is the new skinny” brought an eruption of applause.

The students I brought to see All of Me were English Language Learners, …a mix of immigrants from China, Latin America and the Philippines. Two of them had ridden “La Bestia” to get here, and many more had parents who had done so. It was so empowering, validating and inspiring [for them] to see the work that Las Patronas do to help these migrants.
— Teacher


Some of the other films in the program connected with our young audience members on a deeply personal level. One such film was All of Me, the beautiful documentary about the women of Las Patronas who on a daily basis provide life saving bags of food for Central American migrants travelling through Mexico on the train nicknamed “The Beast.” Before our screening, we discovered that one of the high school students in the audience had travelled up on the same train line featured in the film; he had been brought over the border by his family from Guatemala when he was just 5 years old. We had a chance to connect the student with director Arturo González Villaseñor, and they spoke at great length before we headed up to the stage to present the film. Moved by this chance encounter, Arturo gave a tearful introduction to the students and dedicated the screening to the young man.

SFFS Education was also able to offer up some exciting public programs to allow parents to have the same types of enriching experiences with their own children that our Schools at the Festival program provides. We kicked things off with a solid screening of our annual shorts program for families, immediately followed by a meet-and-greet session for kids where they were able to say hello to the many talented filmmakers attending, ask them questions and even get autographs. For the third year in a row, we partnered with Pixar Animation Studios and The Walt Disney Family Museum for an exciting hands-on workshop for children. This year’s class, Discovering Characters In Pixar’s Lava: A Sculpting Workshop For Kids, was a huge success. Director James Ford Murphy and sculptor Greg Dykstra showed how their creative collaboration helped develop the volcanic characters in the film. Then, using basic sculpting techniques, Murphy and Dykstra taught the participants how to bring their own characters to life.

With the summer ahead, we at the Film Society are so grateful to cherish these incredible educational moments from our 2015 Festival. Each year we set out to teach new audiences about film—to impart on young people new knowledge about the international (and local) landscape of cinema and all that that world has to offer—but we leave the Festival humbled, having learned ourselves about the remarkable youth in our community and all that they are capable of.

To learn more about the Schools at the Festival program and SFFS Education, visit or contact Keith Zwölfer.

The Film Society's Education programs serve more than 11,000 students and teachers every year, from kindergarten through college, to develop media literacy, cultural awareness, global understanding and a lifelong appreciation of cinema. SFFS Education aims to cultivate students' imaginations, prepare them for filmmaking careers and empower them to succeed in a media-saturated world.