MAKING MOVIES FOR KIDS / by chad walker

This blog comes to you live from Toronto where we are screening BROWNSTONES TO RED DIRT at the Toronto International Film Festival’s TIFF Kids.  In three days, around 1200 kids will be bused to the Bell Lightbox to watch the film and hurl questions our way.

With BROWNSTONES TO RED DIRT, we didn’t set out to make a movie for kids.  We did, however, try to make a movie that was accessible to children.

If you haven’t seen BROWNSTONES (we’ll forgive you—but only if you buy the DVD immediately!), there are some pretty heavy scenes.  As we edited the film, we never thought, “Hey, maybe we should temper this so it will play to kids.”

We did make one decision to make BROWNSTONES more enjoyable for kids: we tried to cut out as many adults as possible.  Though we had some pretty compelling interviews with expert authors Daniel Bergner (In the Land of Magic Soldiers), Charles London (One Day the Soldiers Came) and Ishmael Beah (the New York Times bestseller A Long Way Gone), we felt it made more sense for the audience to experience the stories in the film through their eyes of the children that lived them, rather than through the lens of an adult interpreting their experience.

For the first few festivals we took the film to, we played to mainly adult audiences where the questions were pretty standard (“Where are they now?” “Were you safe in Sierra Leone?” etc).  Then, we took the film to San Francisco where we screened exclusively to school groups.  There is nothing more intimidating than seeing a theater full of middle and high school students who we knew would be honest.  But in San Francisco, and so far here in Toronto, the kids have been remarkably responsive.  We’ve gotten great, honest questions and felt like there has been genuine interest.  We like to believe that’s because the kids in the audience are identifying with the kids in the film.

It’s become clear that there’s a difference between making a kid’s film and making a film that’s accessible to kids.  We never expected gaggles of teens to go out on a Friday night and see BROWNSTONES instead of The Hunger Games, but one of our mantras throughout the process was that if a teacher showed our film during class, the kids wouldn’t be bored.  But throughout the festival run, kids have repeatedly been our most engaged audiences.   Here’s hoping our final screening in Toronto will live up to the first two…