The view from the Arlington stage was impressive on Thursday morning. From the front row to the balcony, 2,000 kids from schools all over the county laughed, applauded, and cheered along to Disney’s animated hit “Frozen.” But this wasn’t a regular screening of the Hans Christian Andersen-based animated film, but one of two screenings of SBIFF’s “Mike’s Field Trip to the Movies.”
One of SBIFF’s outreach programs, Field Trip buses in a total of 4,000 students, many of them in Title 1 schools for children below the poverty level, to see a movie at the Arlington and meet the filmmakers.
Longtime friend of the Fest and underwater documentarian Mike DeGruy began the “Field Trip” back in the early 2000s, with less than 200 students from within the city limits. The screening was at the Natural History Museum then. But the idea was the same: give children a chance to see a film on the big screen and then bring out the filmmakers to show the real people behind the art.
The event was immediately popular and soon it moved to the Lobero Theatre, and then in 2009, when James Cameron brought his “Aliens of the Deep” documentary to screen, the event made its way to the Arlington. Kids have seen movies such as “Up,” “Toy Story 3”, “Rango” and “Rise of the Guardians.”
When Mike DeGruy passed away two years ago, he was out of the country filming, and had rued missing the event that he used to moderate. Now Mike Takeuchi, programming and operations manager for the Fest, has taken over the logistics, and Executive Director Roger Durling has taken over the moderation.
The Field Trip invites fifth and sixth graders to these screenings and there’s a reason for the age range: “That’s the age when they start thinking about what they want to do in life,” Mr. Takeuchi says. “It’s also when kids start to comprehend movies, not just watch them, and listen to the directors talk. Kids don’t realize that an animated film takes about five years to make, or how many people are involved, or what each person does.”
Adults may take moviegoing for granted, says Mr. Takeuchi, but he points out that a night out for a family of four at the movies may cost around $60 (if one adds on snacks and drink). These days, many low-income kids have never seen a film on the big screen. Although not a stated goal for “Mike’s Field Trip to the Movies,” helping those kids out is one of the most important things. (The SBIFF also hosts a smaller series of free films for families during the week, called AppleBox)
For Lily Solano, 11, the screening was extra special, as this Franklin School fifth-grader won an art competition, and the homemade Saran-wrap and tape version of the snowman character Olaf that she made with her friends got brought onto stage. She was also presented with a signed title card from the filmmakers. Other kids noted that this was their fourth or fifth time seeing the film. And everybody knows the lyrics to “Let It Go,” the big musical number up for an Oscar.
“The kids get things right away,” said Chris Buck, co-director of the film backstage. He was sitting with his co-director Jennifer Lee, who had just told the crowd they were the best audience they’d ever seen. And they meant it.
“We’ve seen a number of screenings and you always see them react at different parts in each screening, but today, everyone was reacting to everything. It was a dream come true. Kids can be immersed a lot more so they don’t miss anything. Even the subtle joke we put in the way back, they saw it!”
For the filmmakers, they have never seen an audience this big. “To have them responding to the final film is just overwhelming,” said Ms. Lee, who is the first female animator at Disney to direct a feature.
The young audience may just contain a future filmmaker, maybe even a future Disney animator. Because that’s exactly where both directors started too. Chris Buck’s first film memory was seeing a revival of “Pinocchio” at four years old. “It was a happy ending even though during the film I was scared to death. But it all worked out. And I guess I took that into my life. If Pinocchio could survive that, maybe I could survive the things in my life.”
For Jennifer Lee, it was “Cinderella,” which she saw at eight years old. “I blame Cinderella for making me the dreamer that I was as a kid. I was always imagining a grander experience for myself. So Disney became very important to me as a kid. I had a tough childhood, my family didn’t have a lot, and so Disney made me think things were possible.”
Outside the Arlington after the first screening, Mr. Takeuchi helped coordinate the massive amount of students leaving and arriving by bus. He remembers well working with Michael DeGruy on this event.
“About a month before he died he said, ‘You have to remember this is just for the kids.’ ” he recalled. “‘It doesn’t have anything to do with our own egos or the talent. It’s for the kids.’ That still stays with me.”