Org Partner Spotlight on the Jacob Burns Film Center


This month, Emily Bailin Wells of the Student Leadership Council interviewed Emily Keating of the Jacob Burns Film Center.

When did your organization launch and why?
It all started when Pleasantville resident Stephen Apkon had a vision for a cultural arts and education center inspired by the power of film. This led to the 1998 purchase of what The New York Times called “The Show Place of Westchester County,” the 1925 Rome Theater, one of the first movie theaters in the area. The doors opened in June 2001 as the Jacob Burns Film Center (JBFC), and in 2009 we expanded our campus to include a 24,000 square foot state-of-the-art Media Arts Lab equipped with a sound stage, 60 seat screening room, sound stage, animation studio, private editing suites, and several classroom studios.

What does your organization do? What are your main goals and projects?
We are a local art house movie theater with an adjacent Media Arts Lab based in Pleasantville, NY. Ours is a dual mission of teaching literacy for a visual culture and making film a vibrant part of the community. Annually we screen over 500 independent and international films, serve over 15,000 students in our myriad education programs, offer training and support to educators throughout the tri-state area, and provide resources to emerging and established film and media-makers of all ages. One of our most recent notable achievements includes the launch of our Image, Sound, and Story curriculum– a pre-K-12 initiative built around a series of hands-on projects, which emphasize process, challenge-based learning, collaboration, and reflection. Image, Sound, and Story is a professional development program preparing teachers to integrate viewing and creating media into their classroom culture and literacy instruction. We are currently offering professional development workshops for educators interested in committing to the curriculum’s classroom implementation.

What makes your organization stand out? What would you say is the most unique thing about your organization?
The JBFC is a dynamic nonprofit organization with a dual mission of film and education. With five screens and state-of-the-art technology, we are the most successful suburban art house in the country. Additionally, we are a pioneering force in 21st-century education, developing and running classes and programs for students of all ages and backgrounds. Annually, our Media Arts Lab offers over 100 courses for local students from Pre-K–Adult in a wide variety of disciplines including film studies, screenwriting, editing, documentary and narrative film production, and animation- among many others! Every summer we offer our one-of-a-kind Lab Camp program, which brings students from various parts of the country and even world right to our campus. In addition to all of our Media Arts Lab courses, workshops, and camps, our school programs serve over 15,000 elementary, middle, and high school students every year. As part of our mission, we work hard to ensure that accessibility and equality are at the forefront of our educational programs. Over 70% of the students who participate in our programs each year are from under-served schools and community organizations and participate absolutely free of charge. As Academy Award–winning filmmaker Jonathan Demme and JBFC board member recently said, “The JBFC is an agent for social change masquerading as a movie theater.”

What are recent projects or new resources that your organization would like to share with other NAMLE members?
In October of 2014, the JBFC launched a new teaching and learning platform,, which hosts several interactive tools perfect for use in classrooms all around the country. Key highlights and resources include our Visual Glossary a collection of film clips from some of our greatest visual storytellers, which contextualize the rich language of cinema, showing how filmmakers use concepts and techniques to create iconic imagery, memorable characters, and powerful stories. Additionally, the JBFC website features View Now Do Now activities– quick, mini-projects designed to spark your creativity and quickly get you into the act of viewing and doing! Each View Now Do Now develops one of our ten core literacy concepts, pulled directly from our Image, Sound, and Story curriculum. However, our most detailed and robust resource is our Image, Sound, and Story curriculum, which is currently being implemented in classrooms throughout the tri-state area. Find out how one high school educator is bringing Image, Sound, and Story to life in her creative writing classes, on our blog.

What are the connections between the work of your organization and media literacy?
If young people are to be able to critically assess the massive amounts of content they consume, and in turn be thoughtful creators and meaning makers, they must continually exercise the goals of the JBFC’s Learning Framework:  Observation, Comprehension, Analysis, Imagination, Intention, and Production. Through interaction with makers from all over the world, consideration of their perspective and intention, as well as the practice of being intentional and reflective communicators, we are helping raise a generation of students equipped and inspired to communicate in our media-saturated culture.

Why is media literacy important to you?
As more and more screens crop up around us, and the world continues its technological expansion into digital and virtual realms, it becomes increasingly important that children’s lives at home and in the classroom feel connected and complimentary. Additionally, the rapidly changing world creates a great need for educators to be confident and well-networked teachers of a new generation. The Jacob Burns Film Center is committed to the empowerment of students and educators and it has been our mission for the past fifteen years to lead the charge in innovative education.

Feel free to tell us anything else about your organization, your mission, your staff?
We are a passionate, creative group of filmmakers, educators, gamers, writers, animators, musicians, and thinkers.


Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 2.02.22 PM

Leave a Reply