Emily Harris, SFF’s Education Director, has big plans for youthFEST


As the Sarasota Film Festival continues to grow, so does it’s Education Department thanks to SFF’s new Education Director, Emily Harris. Harris admits, “I had attended the film festival for the past 14 years before working here and I didn’t really know much about the Education Department or youthFEST, but I’m really trying to change that.”

This year’s film festival boasts an impressive set of programs each diverse and geared towards varying ages, some which operate with the local schools, elementary through high. With an extensive background in youth oriented social activism and experience with coordinating youth programs in the community, Harris brings a high level of commitment and dedication to the position.

“I love working with kids and I think empowering them to make their own media is what I’m most passionate about,” she explains, “I think it’s a perfect fit.” One of the programs that Harris is particularly enthusiastic about this year is the See Jane Studio, a program in partnership with The Gena Davis Institute on Gender In Media.

See Jane Studio takes 4th and 5th graders from Rowlett Elementary and engages them in theory on gender study through film. “We teach them how to recognize and analyze gender stereotypes in film and then, when they’re armed with that knowledge as conscious content-creators, they make their own short films,” Harris says, “I’m really excited for everyone to see their films at Hollywood Nights.”

By using films that the students are most likely to be familiar with, films such as Toy Story and Despicable Me, they’re able to engage the kids in theory by demonstrating gender stereotypes rather than just discussing them. Harris recalls feeling gender inequality at a young age but lacking the proper vernacular to express her feelings. “I think once you give them the vocabulary they’re able to discuss and understand it,” Harris explains.

This year the SFF Education Department announces its partnership with Cyesis, the teen-parenting program at Rivervew High School; their students will take part in SFF’s Youth Writers Circle. This program aims to teach students about screenwriting and there will even be a staged reading of their completed screenplays during the film festival. Harris hopes that giving these students an outlet for them to express themselves is an important step towards empowering students who are too often burdened with judgment due to their circumstance.

Another impressive program in the line-up is SFF 2014’s Reel Life Studio, in which students at SCTI and Booker Highschool will write and direct their own documentary shorts about social change on a local level. The subject matter of which the students chose to tackle is meaty and it seems the students weren’t shying away from heavy-hitting documentarian work.

“I’m really touched by a lot of what they think and talk about,” Harris goes on to describe the documentaries as edgy and fearless.

Apart from the programs which team up with various schools, there will also be a competition, The Young Filmmakers Showcase, for filmmakers under the age of 18 to submit short films for possible scholarships and awards. Of the submissions, the selected films will be screened and juried during the festival. What really sets SFF’s Education Department aside from those of rivaling film festivals is that their programs are free of cost to the students who participate in them.

Though other film festivals reach more students, often those students pay for enrollment, but SFF operates by donations and relies on the generosity of those in the community. Harris has her sights set on expanding these programs to run year round and is determined to continue to fundraise in her effort to engage students in the cinematic arts and creative self-expression.

Though this year will undoubtedly bring big names and sold-out screenings, be sure to check out the youthFEST; the competitors and contributors may be pint-sized but their films are sure to be grand. If you’d like to donate to the Sarasota Film Festival’s Education Department, check out the link below for Individual Gifts.


To take a look at all the dates and times of 2014’s youthFEST events go to SFF’s website, or click on the link below.


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