Anisa Raoof is executive director of the Providence Children’s Film Festival. She is the creator and publisher of online parenting resource Kidoinfo, co-founder of the Providence Craft Show, and runs her own design company, Anisa Designs. She creates a seasonal column for Edible Rhody Kids, inspiring children to learn about their local food sources. She is a sought-after panelist for parenting programs, and has worked with AS220, Greater Kennedy Plaza, the Partnership for Providence Parks, and the Providence Children’s Museum to create and support local family programming and activities. She lives in Providence with her husband and twin 12-year-old boys. She received her bachelor’s degree. in psychology in 1988, with a minor in painting, from the University of Rochester, and pursued further coursework in graphic design in the Rhode Island School of Design’s continuing education program.
PBN: What about the Providence Children's Film Festival resonated you most and led you to seek out the job of executive director?
RAOOF: The festival’s mission taps into my own personal passions and dovetails well with what I have created with Kidoinfo – creating and/or supporting meaningful events that bring families together to learn about other worlds and art forms – to share ideas and to make connections in real life.
I have been involved with the festival since the beginning, first as a media sponsor and an attendee with my family and beginning in 2012 as a board member. I have a deep commitment to see this organization succeed because of its community value and impact and personally because it is one of my family’s favorite annual events. My husband and I are movie fans and our sons have been obsessed with film since they were in preschool –watching, reviewing, and now making their own movies.
The job draws on my strengths and experience in design, digital media, communications, business, collaborations, event planning, and entrepreneurial interest.
PBN: You were hired to help create a sustainable organizational structure that can expand its offerings in education and media literacy. Why was there a need for this and how do you plan to address it?
RAOOF: The festival was started by a group of parents passionate about film, committed to provide an opportunity for their kids and the community to have access to quality films appropriate for kids from around the world in a shared viewing experience – beyond the everyday mass marketed films and ancillary merchandise. From the beginning, this organization has also provided unique opportunities to explore film-making through hands-on workshops and extend the experience of movies through “Film Talks.”
To carry out our goal of inspiring the next generation of filmmakers, storytellers, critical thinkers, and community leaders, the board gradually expanded programming during and outside the festival.
Knowing that we may not be able to sustain this level of programming with an all-volunteer organization, we sought advice and guidance from an outside consultant on whether to stay as a volunteer organization that only puts on an annual festival or grows into a more year-round organization.
As a transition step, we began a 4-month planning phase starting in June. After I stepped in as interim director, we reviewed past procedures, programming and funding sources through the new lens of sustainability. We applied for a number of grants over the summer and reached out to sponsors, foundations, and individual donors to secure money in advance of hiring a permanent executive director.
We received new funding from the Rhode Island Foundation, Entelco (a private foundation), Carter Family Charitable Trust and secured early sponsorship commitments from a few of our past sponsors along with planning and recently hosting our first fundraiser. We also reviewed and re-negotiated venue contracts, ticket prices, and tapped into new and existing partnerships to find affordable ways to create educational programming outside of the festival.
Although we are now planning our fifth film festival in February, we are still in startup mode. We are confident we are have a good plan in place surrounded by valuable partners, and experienced advisors to support us on our journey, but we also have a ways to go – we have more money to raise and understand that it is essential to set manageable goals that we check and review regularly.
PBN: How does the Providence Children’s Film Festival decide what films to feature during the extended eight days of film screenings spanning two weekends in February (Feb. 13-23 this year, plus a weekend of film workshops Feb. 8 and 9)?
RAOOF: We try to bring the world to our children, through important films made from extraordinary, largely unrecognized filmmakers from all over the globe and post-film conversations to deepen our understanding and increase our capacity for empathy.
We select films that will resonate with kids of all ages – films that tell a story, are well crafted, and / or share an important message. And many of the films we show would never have an opportunity to screen locally because the distributor or filmmaker have minimal marketing dollars and often can’t compete for screen time with big blockbuster movies.
Eric Bilodeau, director of programming, has been in the film business for over 20 years and oversees the selection process. He is instrumental in assuring the quality of our programming. He stays current on all the new and notable films that may be suitable for our festival. In addition to seeking out worthy films from distributors, directors, and other film festivals from around the world, we have an open call to jury on the international web database – Without a Box.
All films in the festival go through a jury selection process developed by Eric. Our jury is comprised of adults and children. We educate, encourage and value the youth jury because we believe that their opinion as a viewer is important and by developing their ability to evaluate the quality of a film across multiple criteria and then advise whether the film is even suitable for the Providence Children’s Film Festival develops children’s critical thinking skills. This is an important piece of our jury process and media literacy. When jurying, we also evaluate the films for age appropriateness.
As a children’s film festival, we understand there is a distinction between what is developmentally appropriate for a 5-year-old vs. a 12-year-old or 16-year-old. We assign our own age recommendations to all the selected films along with the reasons for the rating to help guide parents in the film viewing process and hope that these guides provide useful talking points when discussing the film’s sometimes challenging content. We also select films not just made for kids but that are “appropriate for kids” – that subtle distinction broadens and diversifies the pool of films we evaluate and allows us to think differently and redefine what we classify as film for kids.
PBN: You created and publish Kidoinfo, an online parenting resource. What led you to create that interactive website and to what does it owe its popularity?
RAOOF: I created the website Kidoinfo in 2007 out of my own need for a centralized source of information for things to do with my kids – utilizing the current blogging technology and email software to consolidate, curate, and easily share local events, do-it-yourself projects, and useful resources.
Over the years, I have had over 30 contributing writers share their vision, wisdom and individual style of parenting, making Kidoinfo a resource for all families. I also believe in the power of partnerships and the success of Kidoinfo is in large part a result of the collaborations with other individuals, businesses, and organizations that share the Kidoinfo mission of connecting and inspiring families to get more out of their local community. The city of Providence (and the state of Rhode Island) is full of amazing people doing incredible things. I love being part of something that helps connect the dots, making where we live richer for it.
PBN: What is your favorite children's film and why?
RAOOF: “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” It is clever, imaginative, fun and reminds me of the power of storytelling – a good story when told with vivid detail can transport us to another world that is exciting, but can also be scary and challenging. In the end, the kids have to rely on their own resourcefulness and with the help of others they overcome obstacles. And who doesn’t love a flying car?