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Q&A with Joanne Parsont


The California Film Institute (CFI), the presenter of the Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF), uses films and filmmaking to educate kids from Marin and the greater Bay Area about issues such as environmental preservation and activism. We spoke with Director of Education Joanne Parsont.

Why does CFI offer community education programs? Since day one, going back to 1977 when we held film workshops for kids during the first year of the Mill Valley Film Festival, education has been an integral part of CFI’s mission. Films can transform how people of all ages see and experience our world, especially young people, who are not only avid media consumers but also constant media creators. It’s imperative to us to support and foster media literacy through programs that are able to teach both about and through the medium of film.


What is your most popular education program? Our MVFF education screenings draw in more than 3,000 students and teachers from across the Bay Area each year. Much of this program’s popularity has to do with the incredible lineup of films and special guests at the festival. All our screenings include guest speakers — filmmakers, film subjects and/or subject area experts — for post-screening conversations and Q&As with students. We arrange for free bus transportation so that schools from all over the Bay Area can take part.


Tell us a little bit about the Environmental Youth Forum and why it’s important. Our Environmental Youth Forum, held over three days each spring, is a film-based approach to teaching environmental awareness and activism. It consists of more than a dozen screenings of short and feature-length documentaries about a range of environmental issues, followed by in-depth discussions with those involved in the filmmaking process. Along with films, we also offer a series of interactive exhibits related to environmental issues and concepts, a mobile climate science lab and our Conscious Carnival recycling booth.


Have you ever been a filmmaker yourself? I briefly entertained the idea of becoming a documentary filmmaker, which is what initially drew me to the Bay Area in 1994. But after a one-year gig with the now-defunct National Educational Media Network in Oakland, I was bit by the film festival bug and never quite recovered. It led me to MVFF and the revelation that rather than pour endless time, money and energy into making a single film, I could better serve the film community, and myself, by supporting the work of other filmmakers and ensuring that their films reached the right audiences. While I’ve been with CFI a long time, I’ve directed its education programs for the past year.



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