It wasn’t so long ago that the only way to see a “moving picture” was to get yourself to a theater and buy a ticket from the movie industry, whose accomplishments we’ll be celebrating later this month, when the Oscars run on Feb. 28.
But these days, says Maureen Ryan, producer of Man on Wire and The Gates, and chair of Columbia University’s Graduate Film Program, kids are exposed to streams of moving images constantly: on television, on personal devices, and even in cabs and elevators.
And, she says, it’s more critical than ever that parents start conversations with kids about what they see, “because they’re getting inundated with media at a much younger age and they need to be more critical of what they’re seeing because it’s not as curated and not as reliable.”
So how can parents start those conversations?
As a filmmaker, Ryan says that one of the first things she’d encourage parents to engage elementary age kids about, is the fact that anything we see on film is actually made. “Whether it’s the props or hair or makeup or angle that actual shot is,” she says, “every single one of those things wouldn’t be there unless it was a decision.”
Middle school kids can start to think critically about those decisions. “What was the purpose of that director?” Ryan suggests asking. “Why did they choose to cut to that? Why did they do it that way? And how does that impact how you’re taking it in?”
And by high school, Ryan says, parents can encourage kids can start to “fight and catch the manipulation,” asking questions like, “Can you trust what you’re seeing?” Ryan suggests that parents encourage kids to ask themselves that question on more than one level. First, they can look at the nuts and bolts of actual media production, and recognize how much is not real, produced with tricks like green screen, or doctored up in post production. And second, they can question the source of the images they’re seeing, “if there’s an ulterior motive in how they’re shooting it, or telling the story.”
The bottom line, at all ages, is for parents to help kids look beyond the image, for the meaning. And that, Ryan says, is the heart of good film-making: “Really trying to get at the truth.”