Film

CinemaDope: AV Club

The theater as classroom

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Thursday, October 06, 2011
Photo Courtesy of Producers Distribution Agency
Ayrton Senna

As a film writer, I've seen a lot of motion pictures over the years—I'd even guess that a majority of everything I've ever seen has been seen in the five or so years since I began this column. So it seems almost quaint, now, to reflect on the role of the moving image in my youth.

Back then (or so my parents tell me) anything outside of Sesame Street or Mr. Rogers was looked at askance—the new television might make a handy, quasi-educational babysitter, but it wasn't one you turned your back on lest some insidious admen worm their way into your child's head. And God forbid you missed the end of Captain Kangaroo and returned to find your wee one awash in the afternoon soaps.

How things have changed. Today, of course, the children's market is a juggernaut, and not only because parents are stuck buying a ticket for themselves. To be sure, much of it is as market-driven as any other form of entertainment, but there are other, deeper, reasons for the explosive growth of movies, television and online content aimed at our young ones. The plain truth is that we are steadily becoming a more image-driven society. A small example: if you own a fairly new smartphone, using it probably means navigating (or perhaps failing to navigate) a sea of icons that have become part of our modern vocabulary—the spinning arrow, the tiny house, the old-fashioned camera.

But if the learning curve sometimes seems steep—though it's amazing how quickly children learn to use new devices—our new technologies have produced a sea change in how we consume our media, and that has a direct effect on what sort of media gets made. The need to keep up with these shifting tides is the driving force behind See"Hear"Feel"Film, an education program for third-grade students being introduced this week by Jake Meginsky, director of education for the Amherst Cinema Arts Center.

Serving over 50 third-grade classes from Western Mass. (including every one of Holyoke's schools), the program will help students as they learn to interpret the deluge of moving images washing over them every day via film, television, and the Internet.

The program consists of field trips to the cinema, where students will view, discuss, and practice the tools of cinematic storytelling, as well as work in the classroom, where teachers are provided with training and materials through Amherst Cinema. Based on a well-established curriculum from the Jacob Burns Film Center, the program in Amherst is also in line with Massachusetts' Curriculum Frameworks. And while it may not be something most of us can go catch at a weekend matinee, it's a program well worth our support. For more information, visit amherstcinema.org—and click on the right image.

Also this week: For us older folk, Amherst is also screening Senna, a stylish documentary about the race car driver Ayrton Senna, whose roman-candle life continues to inspire people both on and off the track. A Brazilian driver who raced all over the world, Senna's cunning on the track won him several world championships before his tragic death in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, a race so marred by death and injury—Senna's was only the most famous accident that weekend—that Formula One racing was never the same again.

And in Northampton, Pleasant Street Theater is screening a different sort of life-and-death story in 50/50. Based on the life of its writer, Will Reiser, the film charts the course of a life lived after a cancer diagnosis. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as the man who gets the news, with Seth Rogen as his best friend intent on helping him live his life (Rogen and Reiser are real-life pals). By turns funny and sad, 50/50 is a modern take on death, dying, and living through it all.

Jack Brown can be reached at cinemadope@gmail.com.

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