Last week I showed some ShAFF films to more teenagers in two days than during every running of the festival itself over the last 14 years! Since before having kids of my own I've tried to show the sort of adventure films that ShAFF showcases, to youngsters, but it's a lot harder than you'd imagine. Whilst there are some families who bring their kids along to the festival in March, and there are a handful of active teens who come themselves to the evening shows, it's noticeable how few kids between the ages of 12 and 21 there are. In the past we've invited local schools to come down to the Showroom for heavily subsidized film sessions during school hours, but teachers are so bogged down, and there's so much red tape get through that the take-up was invariably disappointing.
So about a year ago we soft-launched a new Friends Of ShAFF scheme using Patreon, a kind of sustainable crowd funding model which allows supporters of the festival to pay a modest monthly amount into a fund which is primarily aimed at providing the means for us to approach schools directly and offer to go to them, at no cost whatsoever, to show the films. The scheme is now fully up and running and has 27 supporters. This has enabled four talks at three schools to date.
The first was my youngest son's primary simply to test the waters and get some 'customer' feedback. Primaries are such fun. The questions you get asked will always surprise you! But that was small-fry.
A friend and
colleague who works for Sheffield City Council PE, Swimming & Learning Team
identified some secondary schools in the city to approach. Now I'm usually
perfectly at home standing in front of large partisan crowds and introducing
films, but last week was a different
affair. There's something very raw and unnerving about sharing your passion
with a bunch of kids who probably couldn't care less. That's certainly how I
felt standing rather uncomfortably in between a giant screen and a tiered bank
of seats crammed with 250 year 9s (13 years old) last week. The head of PE at
Sheffield Park Academy took her time to calm down the rabble and introduce me.
The talk begins with asking them to give reasons why Sheffield is unique.
There's a big shout out for the local council for recognising it as The Outdoor
City, and plenty of encouragement for the kids to recognise what they have, to
use it and to protect it. Then we get onto the films. There are six of them,
each with permission to screen very generously given by the filmmakers, and
each with a different message to the kids, aimed at encouraging them to have a
go at making one themselves.
I'd be lying if I said that all of them were engaged, but whilst the films are on I'm watching the audience to see how many of the are watching. The majority are. The last film is from the YHA and sees serial adventurer Alistair Humphreys locked in a container whilst a bunch of inner city kids are taken to the Lake District in a contrived, but ultimately rewarding role reversal. It feels especially poignant as the comments from the kids on screen raise a few giggles and sighs from the audience who are clearly identifying with their on-screen selves. Then it's time for questions. I'm blown away as hands are raised by half a dozen brave souls. I'm asked whether I've ever sky dived, but I'm also asked how to source music for films, and how to match the music to the footage! One kid, too shy to ask in public approaches me afterwards to say that he wants to make a film, but he doesn't know what to make it about. It's a thoroughly rewarding experience to be able to inspire these kids about where they live, and to encourage them to even just think about making a film. With a bit of luck next time they are drifting about in the world of Youtube they'll be drawn to Danny MacAskill or the Canadian Rockies rather than Love Island or Fail Army.
I've followed up to the school with an action sheet outlining how to get out to the Peak District, adventurous things to do in town, and some tips on filmmaking. With a bit of luck some of these kids will submit films to ShAFF in the future!
The talk was followed an hour later by another one to 250 Year 8s, and then again to Forge Valley School to another 250 Year 9s the following day. They've now broken up for the summer, but plans are afoot already to go to more in September and October. If we can entice some more patrons to join up it'll allow us to do even more talks, and to inspire more kids. Grant funding these days is all about engaging with younger audiences and this is exactly what this scheme is allowing the festival to do, completely on our terms.