May 2010 M-Passioned Member: Jacob Burns Film Center

Jacob Burns Film Center

We spoke with Abby Popper, who’s in charge of Public Relations for the Jacob Burns Film Center, about the organization’s exciting work in media literacy.

1) What exactly is the Jacob Burns Film Center?

The Jacob Burns Film Center (JBFC) is a nonprofit educational and cultural institution dedicated to presenting the best of independent, documentary, and world cinema; promoting 21st century literacy; and making film a vibrant part of the community. Housing a three screen state-of-the-art theater complex, a 27,000 square-foot Media Arts Lab, and a residence for international filmmakers, the JBFC campus provides opportunities for people of all ages to discover, explore, and learn through the power of film, media, and 21st-century technology. The Media Arts Lab is the only registered Gold LEED new construction building in Westchester County, receiving this designation from the U.S. Green Building Council in April, 2010.

Film Programming
Programming includes first-run independent features, previews, classic films, and documentaries from around the world. Each month, we present two to four curated series including annual and monthly programs, as well as special one-time events and retrospectives on important film artists. More than 150 directors, actors, authors, scholars, and other remarkable guests come to speak with our audience each year.

The JBFC presents a number of popular annual and monthly series including “Global Watch,” a documentary series dealing with human rights and social justice; “German Cinema,” “The Wide World of Animation,” exploring the vitality of the medium from classic cartoons to the avant garde; “Dance on Camera,” “Classic Italian Cinema,” “FrameWorks,” dedicated to the visual arts; “Westchester Jewish Film Festival,” “OUT at the Movies,”  “Jazz Sessions,” and “Rarely Seen Cinema”, curated by filmmaker and JBFC Board member, Jonathan Demme.

The JBFC is a leader in the international movement to raise a generation of students equipped and inspired to express themselves using visual and aural media.  Our education programs are grounded in 21st century literacy skills, including critical viewing and production. These skills are essential for a generation growing up in a world in which digital media is increasingly the way we participate in community, and engage in democracy and the global economy. As these technological communication elements continue to evolve, it is vital that we provide students of all ages with the skills and tools needed to fully and effectively communicate and succeed in a global society. Programs take place in schools, in after-school settings, at our campus in Pleasantville, and at community organizations throughout the region. Virtually every school district in Westchester County takes advantage of our offerings, with more than 50% of the participating students coming from underserved communities and scholarships are available for all classes.

We offer classes for students of all ages at our new Media Arts Lab, down the street from the JBFC Theater. Housing an animation suite, a fully equipped sound stage, recording studio, workshop space, 60-seat screening room, and 16 editing suites, the Media Arts Lab is a hub for national and international learning. Programs range from film and new media production, to claymation.

2) Why is media literacy education such an important focus of the JBFC?

Since its inception in 2001, the JBFC has seen the growing significance of media, particularly in young people’s lives. We believe that to be literate in the 21st century, one must know how to communicate not just with written and verbal “texts,” but with visual and aural texts as well. We strive to be a significant and central aid to re-forming education in this country. Our strategy is through both direct student service and professional development.

3) Why is film the Center’s primary medium? What, if any, other media are of interest at the JBFC?

The JBFC is interested predominantly in digital video due to its accessibility, relatively nominal cost, and immense creative capability for communicating ideas and stories. Also, studying works of cinema provides such a unique window to international cultures, complex issues, and historical contexts. However, it is by no means the only media form we teach. We are also actively engaged in teaching youth sound recording equipment and software, motion graphics, photography, and animation. Professional development courses encompass blogs, vlogs, webcasts, and podcasts.

4) What are some of JBFC’s current projects?

  • Teaching and Technology in the Digital Age is a two-year professional development course for K-12 educators in its pilot year. The program helps teachers become masters of 21st century tools and supports them with the implementation of these technologies in their classroom
  • Completing the pilot of a new Pre-K through Grade 2 curriculum, called Seeing Stories. The program helps emerging readers and writers learn how visual and aural elements tell a story. These multisensory workshops focus on movement, sound effects, and storytelling, and integrate all the building blocks of early childhood literacy. They also include opportunity for students to create short multi media projects and view short films.
  • Each semester over 50 open-enrollment courses are offered for students of all ages at the Media Arts Lab.
  • For the second year in a row, the JBFC taught a digital video journalism course at the Westchester County jail. 8 students in the BOCES Incarcerated Youth P rogram created a short documentary film called “Look Inside” that exposed many of the myths about life “inside.”
  • In Reel Change for Nonprofits, we work with other nonprofit organizations throughout the region to help them build and develop their organizational capacity, using digital media to promote and enrich their advocacy work.

5) How has the work or projects of the JBFC been recognized within the media literacy community (and otherwise)? What awards has the JBFC received?

  • Participants in the first 21st century literacy summit, hosted by Adobe and New Media Consortium
  • Invited speakers at UNESCO’s first-ever conference on the importance of the arts in education
  • Participants in this year’s World Summit on Media for Children and Youth
  • Actively involved in the redrafting of the English Language Arts learning standards in New York State to reflect including fluency with digital and visual texts.
  • Youth-produced media has been accepted to and screened at film festivals nationally and internationally such as the Hamptons International Children’s Film Festival, Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, VisionFest in Florida, and Little Big Shots, Sydney, Australia.
  • A short animated film created by teens in Mt. Vernon, NY, called “Dear Young Corner Boy,” was a selected as a finalist this year for the 4th Annual DoGooder Nonprofit Video Award, presented by YouTube and See3 Communications.
  • Annual speakers at the Sundance Institute Art House Project Convergence

6) Can anyone be involved with the JBFC?

  • The JBFC’s education programs are widely accessible, and scholarships available for all of the public programs at the Media Arts Lab.
  • Any school that has a minimum of 35% of students qualifying for a free or reduced lunch can participate in the JBFC’s programs for free, and have their transportation costs reimbursed in full.

Want to recommend an M-Passioned NAMLE member who should be in our next feature?   Contact Kelly Mendoza, Membership Chair, with your suggestion.

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