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Featured Outreach Strategies: Fruitvale Station and the San Francisco Film Society

Featured Outreach Strategies: Fruitvale Station and the San Francisco Film Society

Posted by: San Francisco Film Society

The San Francisco Film Society's Education department has been working with filmmakers in the educational community for more than 20 years, curating hundreds of films relevant to educational audiences. SFFS outreach involves the coordination of dozens of free school screenings and filmmaker school visits per year, reaching more than 10,000 K-12 and college students throughout the Bay Area. In addition, comprehensive viewing guides are created to support each film, providing teachers with key media literacy resources and a set of questions, activities and resources to help them integrate the film’s content into their curriculum. 

In 2013, funds from the Kenneth Rainin Foundation opened up a new avenue for SFFS Education to intensify its educational outreach services to films that had also received SFFS/KRF Filmmaking Grants.

The first beneficiary of these new services was the award-winning film Fruitvale Station, a narrative feature film about the death of 22-year-old Oakland resident Oscar Grant, an unarmed black man killed by a BART police officer on New Year’s Eve 2009. This is a story that was very real and very relevant to the Bay Area community—particularly to young people of color. Reaching that audience through free screenings in an educational context is an invaluable way to generate open and honest discussion in a safe environment, while also preparing teachers to continue that discussion in their classrooms afterward.

In early December 2013, a few months after the film’s theatrical release, SFFS Education presented six free school screenings of Fruitvale Station, for a combined audience of just over 2,000 teachers and students in San Francisco and Berkeley, including four theater screenings, one school screening, and one visit to the SF Juvenile Justice Center. 

The participation of the filmmaker at these school screenings is a critical component of SFFS Education’s outreach strategy, providing the opportunity for student audiences to not only view the film for free as part of their school curriculum, but to immediately engage with the filmmaker in a post-screening Q&A. With that objective, this six-film screening series was scheduled to coordinate with the schedule of the film’s director, Ryan Coogler, who participated in extensive Q&As, along with other special guests, including consulting producer Ephraim Walker (who was also a lawyer who worked on the Oscar Grant case) and Oscar Grant’s uncle, Cephus Johnson. These conversations were both emotional and inspiring for everyone involved. For the students, being able to discuss their anger and frustration over the Oscar Grant case in an open forum was just as important as the opportunity to connect with Coogler, a talented young African American male filmmaker who was as much a peer as a tangible role model.

Prior to the screenings, a Fruitvale Station Viewing Guide was created by SFFS Education and sent to all participating teachers as a supplemental resource to the screenings. The guide was designed to provide teachers with the context and tools to encourage students to think critically about institutionalized racism, civil rights, and police brutality and also stem further research and discussions beyond the screening experience. Discussion questions, activities and supplemental materials included in the guide facilitate further research into related topics such as privilege and opportunity in American society, how to de-escalate violence in an interaction with police, and the use of media and storytelling in an activist context. Following the school screening series, the Fruitvale Station curriculum has been made available for free download in the Lesson Exchange on FilmEd.

Read more about the Fruitvale Station outreach strategy on the San Francisco Film Society blog

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