Rajaiah Jones, 17, a high school senior from Lynn, wasn’t sure she had what it takes to be a film director. As a young black woman, she says, “We still don’t realize that we’re as important as everyone else, that what we say matters. We doubt ourselves a lot.”
But having enrolled in Real to Reel Filmschool, a filmmaking program based in Lynn, she found there was no way but onward. “You’re on top of the diving board. You can climb back down and leave and do something else,” Padriac Farma, the program’s director, recalls advising her. “Or you can stay and jump off the diving board.”
Jones jumped. She turned those doubts into the brave and poignant “The Skin I’m In,” a documentary short about three black women riffing on their insecurities and self image. Jones’s film will be shown at the Boston International Kids Film Festival, Nov. 6-8, at the Seaport World Trade Center, along with some 75 features and shorts from the United States, Canada, France, Spain, and Trinidad. The festival includes adult-made dramatic and fantastic fiction films, madcap cartoons, and documentaries about subjects such as childhood obesity and Walt Disney. But around a third of the films are made by children and teenagers, many of whom, like Jones, are from the Boston area.
BIKFF, now in its third year, embraces a world where kids are increasingly recognized as not merely the audience for movies but potentially movie creators. The tools of filmmaking, formerly specialized and prohibitively expensive for all but a few, are now in everyone’s hands. And where teens who made movies on Super 8 or a VHS Camcorder generally had an audience limited to whoever would come over their basement to watch, today’s kids, who use affordable HD and 4K resolution cameras and edit with professional software like Adobe Premiere and iMovie, see their movies travel as far as the Internet can reach.
“Young people gravitate toward film because visual is their language,” says Peter Gilbert, producer and director of the landmark film “Hoop Dreams.” “With an iPhone for Christmas, they democratize media. Twelve- and 13-year-old kids are posting YouTube videos with 500,000 to a million views. The floodgates are open.”
In addition to the program of movies and post-screening Q&As that anyone can attend, BIKFF provides opportunities for the filmmakers — adults and kids alike — to mingle, network, and learn. Workshops teach real-world filmmaking skills such as how to use GoPro cameras; another session, called “Media Girls,” trains young women to combat pop culture’s ideas of the “perfect girl.” Organizers are even “rolling out the red carpet,” says festival director Laura Azevedo, complete with velvet ropes, stanchions, and paparazzi, “so it looks like a real film festival.”
Many of the young directors at BIKFF not only have a sense of themselves as filmmakers, but also see moviemaking as a marketable skill. Take Jack Kelly, 15, a sophomore from Salem and another Real to Reel student. He’s the co-writer and star of the short “Magical.” Co-directed by Alayna D’Amico and Lizzy Embick, and costarring Liam Mulcahy, the clever and quirky romantic comedy is about a nerdy kid, played by Kelly — “I’m not exactly a Casanova,” he deadpans — and a guardian angel that helps him get the girl. “I’ve always wanted to make something, give something to the world,” says Kelly, who counts Kubrick and Tarantino among his influences. “That sounds over-dramatic, but to make a movie and have someone enjoy it, I want to be part of that.”
Ambition runs deep in this year’s crop of young filmmakers. Audrey Larson, 17, and Shay Martin, 18, both Sharon-based and home-schooled, not only co-directed “Drawing Inspiration,” a short fictional film about a girl’s loss of her little brother and the anonymous letter and gift she receives, but also started their own company, Fountain of Youth Productions. “I was extremely frustrated by the ‘kids can’t’ mentality,” says Martin in an e-mail. Founding their own production company “took me past all my barriers and got me doing the things I wanted to.” They raised more than $1,000 on Indiegogo to buy a Canon DSLR camera and Final Cut editing software.
Margaret Gill, 17, a senior from Concord, knew she wanted to make a film based on the story her grandmother told of falling in love with her grandfather. “I could see it in my head, and I wanted to share it and bring it to life,” Gill says. Last year, she signed up for Fast Forward, a yearlong filmmaking and new media program at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, where she learned how to develop and produce original films in the narrative, documentary and experimental genres, and was mentored by professionals. With fresh directing and editing skills under her belt, she emerged with the touching and sweet “Mimi & Bobby,” a modern-day retelling of how Gill’s grandparents met that’s showing at the BIKFF. “I’m definitely inspired by real life and what’s around me,” Gill says.
John Kohler, 15, of Medfield, is another local talent with two films in this year’s fest: the super-short “I Am Superman,” about an action figure’s desire to be a real superhero; and “Everything Unresolved,” concerning the travails of two teenage lovers. His film “Death’s Final Crow” won the Audience Choice Award at last year’s BIKFF. Thankfully, he’s not dazzled by dreams of glory. “I’m drawn to film, not the glamor of Hollywood. It’s about telling the stories,” Kohler says. Someday, he would “love to be making films,” professionally, he says, though he adds, “it’s not the most stable way to make a living.”
One of the festival’s most impressive kid-made films is “That Bites!,” a 44-minute feature-length documentary about food allergies from the points of view of children. The director, Jack Yonover, from Wilmette, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, is only 13, and his film was inspired by his own experience being diagnosed with a tree nut allergy. “I took the issue into my own hands,” Yonover wrote in an e-mail. He raised more than $10,000 with Kickstarter, and dived into scripting, shooting, interviewing, and editing. “I didn’t really know how to do anything when I started,” he said. But he wants to be a filmmaker, “so I made sure I learned lots of things so that I could make more movies in the future.”
As for Rajaiah Jones, seeing her film in the festival has given her a new sense of having a voice. When the lights come up after the Boston International Kids Film Festival screens “The Skin I’m In,” Jones wants to feel that “Wow, people actually listened,” she says. “It spoke to people.”
BOSTON INTERNATIONAL KIDS FILM FESTIVAL Nov. 6-8. Schedule and information at bikff.org.
Ethan Gilsdorf, the author of “Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks,” can be reached at ethangilsdorf.com and on Twitter @ethanfreak.