Partner Spotlight: California Film Institute

NAMLE recently asked Joanne Parsont, Director of Education at the California Film Institute to share more about their organization.

When did your organization launch and why?

CFI was created after the launch of the first Mill Valley Film Festival in 1978, in order to celebrate film as both art and education year-round.

What does your organization do? What are its main goals? Main projects?

The California Film Institute (CFI) is a non-profit organization dedicated to celebrating and promoting film and media arts through the presentation of the internationally acclaimed Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF)—celebrating its 41st year in 2018—and the DocLands Documentary Film Festival. CFI also works to cultivate the next generation of filmmakers and film lovers through CFI Education, which features a broad range of activities, including screenings, Q&A sessions, and seminars with top international and local filmmakers and industry professionals as well as a rich program of classes and hands-on workshops. CFI also acts as a year-round film-centric town hall with a diverse calendar of programming at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, one of the leading non-profit independent theaters in the country. Through CFI Releasing, a national non-profit film distribution initiative, CFI enables filmmakers and sales agents to collaborate with U.S. independent exhibitors, giving nationwide audiences access to quality independent film.

What makes your organization stand out? What would you say is the most unique thing about your organization? 

CFI is one of the few film arts organizations to incorporate both festival and theatrical exhibition along with education and distribution initiatives in its year-round programming. CFI reaches over 275,000 guests throughout the year with films and events that entertain as well as address a breadth of social, environmental and cultural issues.

MVFF has established an impressive track record for launching new films and new filmmakers and has earned a reputation as a filmmakers’ festival by offering a high-profile, prestigious, non-competitive environment for celebrating the best in independent and world cinema. The Mill Valley Film Festival is consistently rated one of the top film festivals in the nation.

CFI Education has been serving more than 8,000 students and hundreds of teachers and families each year since 1986, providing Bay Area students and lifelong learners from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to learn about themselves and the world through film. Featuring a rich program of screening events and hands-on workshops, CFI Education introduces students to the power of film, promotes global awareness, and helps to build the next generation of filmmakers and film lovers.

What are recent projects or new resources that your organization would like to share with other NAMLE members?

On April 26, we will be celebrating 50/50 Day with a special interactive workshop for middle and high school students in which they will analyze, critique, and discuss gender roles in contemporary films, utilizing a variety of metrics and resources from the Bechdel Test to the Geena Davis Inclusion Quotient.

From May 2-4, we will be presenting our 10th annual Environmental Youth Forum, a 3-day film event for students to learn about and engage with a wide variety of environmental issues, with an emphasis on innovations and solutions. A rich program of film screenings, guest speakers, live presentations, and a host of local and national exhibitors all contribute to a dynamic and inspiring educational experience.

In July, our annual Summerfilm program will offer students an inside look at the film industry through interactive workshops with industry professionals from every corner of the business while also teaching young people how to curate a film festival.

To supplement some of the films featured in our screening programs, CFI Education has recently begun developing robust curriculum resources for teachers. These free study guides are available for download at

What are the connections between the work of your organization and media literacy?

Media literacy is at the core of CFI Education’s work. We teach students to be both critical media consumers and creators. Our film screenings all feature interactive discussions (and sometimes supplemental curriculum resources) designed to enable them to think critically about how and why each film is constructed. In our filmmaking workshops, we demonstrate to students how they actively participate in the media they create and help them consider the impact of that media on others.

Why is media literacy important to you?

We are all bombarded by a multitude of media messages on a daily basis. It is critical for us—and especially young people—to have the necessary tools to better understand the source and substance of those media messages and how they directly influence the way we feel about ourselves and the world around us. I find this particularly compelling in the world of film, a storytelling medium that resonates so strongly with people of all ages and backgrounds.

The views and opinions expressed in the Organizational Spotlight blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of NAMLE or its members. The purpose of the Organizational Spotlight blog is to highlight our Organizational Partners and give them a place to share their reflections, opinions, and ideas.