Social Issue Media Festival (SIMF)By mst • Jul 22nd, 2010 • Category: Communication, Computing, and Technology Education, Lead Story
Professor Lalitha Vasudevan, Ahram Park, and Ronny Bernstein are the brilliant minds behind Teachers College’s Social Issue Media Festival (SIMF) that took place on May 6, 2010. Professor Vasudevan, a faculty member in the Communication, Computing, and Technology in Education Program, has been aware of and involved with social issues media through the Media That Matters Film Festival at Teachers College. She obtained a Dean’s Grant for Diversity in Teaching to support a student to work with her on a project related to issues of diversity. Last year, she was on the jury of the Media That Matters 9th Annual Film Festival and wanted to find a way to bring the grant project together with a film festival. She decided to teach her Culture, Media and Education course in fall 2009 through the lens of social issues media and required each student to produce a piece of social issue media. At the end of the semester, the class had an internal film screening. This started the buzz about the possibility of having a college-wide film festival focused on social issues. “What would it mean to have something here at TC that highlights not only the ethos of TC, which is connected to pursuing social issues, but bringing it together with our interest in media?”, explains Professor Vasudevan.
Ahram, an EdM student in Instructional Technology and Media, was the teaching assistant chosen to work with Professor Vasudevan through the Dean’s Grant. Professor Vasudevan praises Ahram stating that “Ahram was the main coordinator of the festival.” Ronny, a graduate of the Instructional Technology and Media Program and board member of the Media Professional Educators at TC, is a whiz at FinalCut and helped put the festival’s trailer together. He is the self-named “support man” for the group.
The festival had a two-tiered jury process. One pass through Lalitha, Ahram and Ronny, as the executive board, and another jury of nine selected from the greater Columbia community. The submissions were judged on the following three criteria: does it contain a social issue, does it carry a message throughout, and does it evoke social action at the end. After the initial pass by the executive board, Ronny says that it “helped us frame what the festival was going to be about. We were trying to understand what our identity was as a social issue media festival.” The second pass by the jury created a conversation reflecting the backgrounds of the jury members. Professor Vasudevan describes them as a “nice mix of roles at the University and backgrounds in media and social issues.” The jury gave their opinions and ideas about the submitted media to the executive board who made the final decision on what ten submissions to include in the festival.
The day of the festival around 50 people came to the screening. The audience had a chance to watch the films together as one “movie”. Then afterwards the filmmakers went up to the front of the room and there was a panel discussion where the audience had an opportunity to ask questions. Following the panel discussion was a reception that produced many conversations regarding social issues. “One of the things that we were excited about is that we wanted to give the jury some kind of thank you. Ahram had the idea of giving them Donors Choose gift cards. I [Vasudevan] know somebody at Donors Choose and he said that he would like to sponsor the festival and that they would provide us with $25 Giving Cards for audience members and $100 Giving Cards for the winners of the festival.” Giving Card recipients could donate the funds to a cause of their choice which included a film school and classrooms in need.
The Social Issue Media Festival is unique in that the finished product did not need to be polished in the same way for all submissions. This is a festival that engages people in social issues in a raw form. Professor Vasudevan describes her fantasy of “wouldn’t it be great if we could gather independent youth-produced media and find a way to make it accessible to educator audiences.” This is the next project for Professor Vasudevan, Ahram and Ronny. They definitely expect to have another festival next year and currently are creating a website for the festival including announcements, highlights from this year’s festival, and resources related to social issues. Look for it soon and begin thinking about social issues affecting you and take action through media!