Eric Bilodeau is program director of the Providence Children’s Film Festival, which is returning for its fourth annual series of film showings, discussions, and workshops from Feb. 14-19 to coincide with school vacation week.
The festival seeks to provide “high-quality, noncommercial films” appropriate for children ages 3-18 over six days at three locations downtown: The Metcalf Auditorium at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art on North Main Street; the Cable Car Cinema on South Main Street; and the Rhode Island School of Design auditorium on Canal Street. Films this year include Le Tableau [The Painting] from France, Kauwboy from The Netherlands, and Wunderkinder from Germany.
A complete schedule of events is available at pcffri.org.
PBN: What was the original intent behind developing the festival, which you say is the only of its kind in New England?
BILODEAU: The original idea began with several parents, some new to the area and some having lived here for a while, being impressed by the vitality of the area’s arts organizations and the energetic, creative families living here. They felt a children’s film festival could thrive in this environment and contribute to the fabric of the city/state/area by bringing people together to experience a world of stories from different points of view on film. Raising children here and seeing what options [or lack of options] that were available regarding programming for young minds year round was also a strong part of that inspiration.
PBN: Why is connecting children to film as a cultural interest important?
BILODEAU: Film is a powerful storytelling tool. The marketplace is the strongest force here and around the country in deciding which stories are told. Unfortunately, and understandably, they will only promote stories that make their companies money. PCFF searches for and invests in bringing films here for completely different reasons. We want children to experience this amazing story tool not to be influenced to buy a Happy Meal but to gain more perspective in what they experience in their own lives and others around the world.
PBN: How do you get children excited to see foreign and subtitled films?
BILODEAU: The key is not to get kids excited to see a subtitled film. The key is to tell parents and kids that there are amazing stories out there that are not all in the English language. If a film is good then they don’t even remember reading subtitles when the credits roll. Even for the youngest children I have found that they get so much more out of the visual and audio information, the cinematographer, and the sound a mixer of a film have provided that reading words distracts them from the real information. Body language, shot selection, background music, and costumes all have their role in telling the story too and kids really get it. They will discuss the story.
PBN: How have you been able to grow your attendance by the reported 25 percent each year?
BILODEAU: As with many ventures it takes time to get recognized in a community. More awareness brings more people, especially if they like what they see. We are not increasing advertising dollars each year. We do not reach out to more and more people, organizations, educators, hobbyists, etc. The more we are around the more likely we will bring a film to Providence that hits upon somebody’s interest due to the film’s narrative or topic.
PBN: Has securing partnerships with other Providence nonprofits for the festival been an easy process?
BILODEAU: Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. We have been successful in sharing the message and passion of our mission to many organizations. We are proud to be a part of their community as much as they are a part of ours. The partnerships we’ve developed have been very receptive and open to new ideas as well as contributing to their own resources and visions to us regarding high quality arts/cultural programming. The proof is in the pudding. What inspired us to begin this festival here, based on the vitality of our community around us, has been realized in many ways. However, we can always do and will do more.