The New Community Cinema Goes Bilingual and Digital

Guest post by Renee Gasch, National Community Engagement Manager for ITVS & Independent Lens

Nine years ago, a dear colleague in Boise, Idaho planted the seed for Community Cinema. Lynn Allen, a longtime public media maven, had been hosting a regular series of documentary film screenings and discussions in Boise; they were well attended and the community wanted more. When we heard about Lynn’s work, we were in the midst of creating a national engagement program to support our PBS series, Independent Lens. We were intrigued and hopped on a plane to Boise to see how it all worked.

What we witnessed was remarkable. Not only were the events building buzz about broadcast, but a powerful community conversation transpired. Citizens struck up a dialogue with policy makers. Youth shared their views with adults. People from all walks of life came together to discuss important social issues presented in the films. We were sold.

Young optimists take their seats for the screening of The Revolutionary Optimists at the San Francisco Public Library.

Young optimists take their seats for the screening of The Revolutionary Optimists at the San Francisco Public Library.

We hired Allen to help us translate what she had been doing locally with Idaho Public Television into a scalable national program. We took this idea to other stations, museums, libraries, and universities across the country and launched Community Cinema in 2005 in eight cities. Eight years later, the idea has blossomed into the largest engagement initiative in public television, featuring free screenings in 100 cities throughout the Independent Lens broadcast season. We’ve brought together an estimated 260,000+ people since 2005 at Community Cinema events.

Check out a few of our favorite pictures from events across the country last year.

Michon Boston, National Engagement Consultant in Washington D.C., discusses gay marriage with Bishop Gene Robinson, star of Love Free or Die.

Michon Boston, National Engagement Consultant in Washington D.C., discusses gay marriage with Bishop Gene Robinson, star of Love Free or Die.

The 2013-14 season of Community Cinema kicks off in September with an exciting slate of films and new ways to participate. First up, partners will be screening The Graduates/Los Graduados prior to its air dates on Monday, October 28 and November 4 (check local listings). The series features first-hand perspectives on the challenges facing Latino and Latina high school students from across the U.S.

The Graduates/Los Graduados is our first entirely bilingual English-Spanish engagement campaign with resources including an incredibly creative and engaging Youth Action Guide designed to get young people involved in increasing their school-wide graduation rates. At screenings, a few lucky educators and youth leaders will get to take home their own DVDs with the films, short format modules, and tools to help bring other important stakeholders into the conversation. With the support of CPB’s American Graduate initiative behind The Graduates/Los Graduados, we know our Community Cinema screenings in September and October will start the school year off right with impactful, solution-oriented discussions on education and equality.

Moderator Clare Winterton from the International Museum of Women fields an audience question at a San Francisco screening of Half the Sky. Photo by Tomas Wischerath.

Moderator Clare Winterton from the International Museum of Women fields an audience question at a San Francisco screening of Half the Sky. Photo by Tomas Wischerath.

This year, we’re excited to announce a new enhancement to the Community Cinema program: We’re going digital! ITVS created a flashy new tool called OVEE that allows us to recreate the Community Cinema experience online. As long as you have a computer or tablet and a high speed internet connection, you can join a live online Community Cinema screening and chat from anywhere in the country. Our weekly online screening series will start Tuesday, October 1st with Ramona Diaz’s crowd-pleasing film Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey.

A young girl becomes a superheroine during a screening of Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines at the Chicago Cultural Center.

A young girl becomes a superheroine during a screening of Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Other films this season, such as The State of Arizona and Las Marthas, will amplify diverse Latino voices while the country debates immigration reform over the winter months. We’ll feature two films that use sports as a backdrop to issues of national concern: race and religion in The Trials of Muhammad Ali and class in Medora. The season will come to a close in June when we revisit the conversation about gay marriage with the Women and Girls Lead film The New Black.

To find Community Cinema screenings near you during the Independent Lens season, visit our Screening Schedule page or follow Community Cinema on Facebook and Twitter. We look forward to seeing you at an event!

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