The Dam Keeper Education Project

You may remember the Academy Award-nominated The Dam Keeper from the Family Films shorts program at the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival, but we've been doing much work with the brilliant and creative minds behind this short since then. This past spring, directors Dice Tsutsumi and Robert Kondo reached out in efforts to collaborate on new educational initiatives inspired by their film.

Working together with the filmmakers, our Education team devised a program slightly different from our typical Filmmakers in the Classroom visits. Over the course of four sessions, Dice and Robert visited two fourth grade classes at the Rooftop School and led unique character development workshops that fit snugly within the school's English curriculum.

Day one with the kids was led by our own Keith Zwölfer, manager of the Film Society's Education program. In class, Keith outlined the Dam Keeper program and got students familiar with Dice and Robert by showing them artwork that the two had produced while working at Pixar. Keith also screened some behind-the scenes-videos of the making of The Dam Keeper and introduced basic animation concepts.

My daughter comes home every day that you come into her classroom and is so inspired and excited to tell me all about what you do... You are helping to shape young and creative minds.
— Rooftop parent

The next session at Rooftop dove right into the film itself. Dice and Robert screened the 18-minute short and took questions from students. After a little Q&A, the pair gave a presentation on how they developed the characters for the film, sharing detailed profiles of the main players and discussing the how these fictional personalities related to their lived experiences. Both Dice and Robert touched on the significance of autobiography in any creative process.

The next week, students worked independently with their teachers to develop new characters within the world of The Dam Keeper. Using techniques that they learned through the first two workshops, the fourth-graders wrote original descriptions of creatures and personalities that fit into the fabric of the film.

The last day of the Rooftop program was spent creating. Dice and Robert began the lesson by selecting one of the characters that the kids had thought up in the previous week’s exercise. They then created a visual representation of this character—first in line, and then in complete, live-painted digital animation. The directors led the whole class a drawing exercise using Pig and Fox, the leads from The Dam Keeper, and then helped the kids to start sketching out their own imagined characters.

After the program's close, students sent their final character drawings to Dice and Robert for review, who commented on each sketch and provided key technical feedback and personal notes to the kids. The filmmakers also produced a quick 5-minute short about developing a curriculum around The Dam Keeper and their experience working with us and Rooftop.

It is particularly exciting to be collaborating with Dice and Robert right now as they start work on a series of graphic novels and a feature-length version of The Dam Keeper. We are thrilled that these filmmakers embrace their commitment to education and can't wait to develop new projects together.

To keep up with Dice and Robert, visit the website for their animation studio Tonko House. To find out more about Education at SFFS, contact Keith Zwölfer at

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.