Partner Spotlight: Jacob Burns Film Center

When did your organization launch and why?

Jacob Burns Film Center (JBFC) is a nonprofit five-screen cinema and education center located in Pleasantville, NY. One of the most successful suburban art houses in the country, we celebrate film as a vehicle for entertainment, education, and inspiration.

With our film exhibition, education programs, community screenings, and artist support programs, we strive to further our nonprofit mission, spark dialogue and encourage an acceptance of a diversity of perspectives among our community—something we started when we opened our doors in 2001.

The JBFC is a force for social change disguised as a movie theater.

— Jonathan Demme, JBFC Board member (2006–2015) and curator (2005–2017)

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

The JBFC is a nonprofit cultural arts center dedicated to teaching literacy for a visual culture. In a world filled with screens, JBFC media education programs engage over 10,000 teachers and students each year with viewing and creating experiences that share how to be critical of what we watch and intentional with what we make.

With over twenty years of experience, our educational mission is guided by principles of accessibility, representation, and empathy-building. Our education programs and resources encourage critical thinking, creative collaboration, and social-emotional learning. Through the power of sharing stories, our programs empower students of all ages to engage with and learn from communities beyond their own.

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

The most unique thing about the JBFC is that it lives at an intersection of media education, artist support, and film exhibition. Existing as this hub, our communities converge in unexpected and wonderful ways. For example, short films produced in our Creative Culture filmmaker fellowship program receive distribution on major platforms while simultaneously becoming the core of media arts lessons teaching storytelling techniques to students we support across the country. Occasionally, these professional filmmakers engage directly with students to share their creative process and model that a filmmaker can look just like them.

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

This year, the JBFC has been engaging schools and community organizations with free virtual programs focused on media literacy and social emotional learning through film.

Classroom to Screening Room: Virtual field trips that provide links to licensed films, live post film discussions with JBFC Educators, and specially made discussion guides for teachers to take the conversation further with their class.

Image, Sound, and Story: A searchable library of media literacy lessons focusing on building filmmaking and storytelling fundamentals so learners can be critical of what they watch and intentional with what they make.

Short Film Library: An ever-expanding library of curated short films (narrative, documentary, and animation) with accompanying filmmaker backgrounds and tailored discussion questions aimed towards learning filmmaking techniques, storytelling elements, and building empathy.

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

The JBFC believes in cultivating media literacy with every population we serve. Our theater-going audience engages with film as entertainment while entrusting our programming team to challenge them with film content and form. The filmmakers we support directly push the boundaries of the filmic medium and amplify stories historically left off the silver screen. And, most importantly, the teachers and students we support with media arts curricula become fluent citizens and future storytellers in our visual culture. Media literacy runs through everything we do here at the Burns.

Why is media literacy important to your organization?

The Jacob Burns Film Center believes we can all grow by way of sharing stories told through screens. These experiences build empathy by engaging us with new communities and uncovering our shared experiences. Our education and artist support programs give opportunities to future, emerging, and professional filmmakers to expand our cross-cultural understanding by contributing their stories as well.

Anything else you want our readers to know about your organization, your mission, or your staff?

While we believe we have the best team in the world, we also recognize that we are amongst so many distinguished arts organizations doing incredible work to empower future storytellers and equip young people with the tools to engage with media. We all do this work together. The JBFC looks forward to collaborating with your organization to help support the communities you serve.

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.