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Now Your Kids Can Be Real Critics


As a professional film critic I love to ask kids what they think about movies. They are often quick to respond with an opinion, but their comments usually fall into one of the following very brief responses:


It was good.

That sucked.

He/She was hot.

The effects were cool.


Digging any deeper is akin to taking a swim in the La Brea Tar Pits. "I dunno..." is a typical answer to a probing examination as to "Why was it good?"


Helping young people to become more adept at being able to describe why they did or didn't like a movie -- or any other kind of media -- is a necessary and essential skill toward becoming media literate. The problem is these young audience members will typically begin to quiver under the pressure of further interrogation and feel like they are in a school English class. At that point the gig is up and any hope of acquiring additional insight is lost.


That's why I was exceptionally excited to discover a contest that actually encourages kids to become movie critics. The bait being offered that just might get your young future Roger Eberts to begin writing is the winners will have access to Hollywood red carpet events, screenings of new films before they're released, the opportunity to interview celebrities and receive other gifts and benefits during their one year term.


Rany Levy, the founder of the Coalition for Quality Children's Media and the sponsoring organization of the Kids First! Film Critics Search, says that creating the reviews, "...is a good educational experience, and one that allows parents to engage with their children." Further she says, "Critical to the mission of our organization is having kids become critical media consumers and the best way to do that is inviting them to engage in some sort of analysis of the film."


Entering the contest requires two components. First, your child must be between the ages of 6 to 15 and a resident of the lower 48 states or DC. Next, your child selects from one of seven titles: The Velveteen Rabbit, Furry Vengeance, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Tom & Jerry Meet Sherlock Holmes, The Secret of Moonacre, Jumping for Joy or The Twilight Saga: New Moon. The organizers suggest that parents help select an age-appropriate title and that you may rent the movie, purchase it or check to see if it is available from your local library.


After viewing the movie, the entrant is asked to write a review of the film that isn't more than 1,000 words. After submitting your review on the specified website form you are then asked to create a video version of your critique that is between 1 and 3 minutes in length. Don't worry about buying expensive camera equipment or microphones. Entrants are reminded that a computer webcam may be used and that the clarity of the sound is even more important than the quality of the pictures. Again, the video version is submitted electronically using instructions that are provided after you submit the written review.


If you are interested in entering, get to work quickly. The deadline for the written review is October 10, 2010. The video review must be submitted by October 20, 2010.


I will always remember the first time I wrote my first opinionated piece of journalism many years ago in school. Seeing my opinions put down on paper was very empowering. It was also an excellent learning experience to dig deeper inside my thoughts and feelings to find additional details as to why I did or didn't like a particular movie or TV show. For any parents who have children or teens excited about seeing and discussing movies, I recommend they make their selection and begin writing and recording their entry right away!


For helpful information to get your junior critic started, details on the selection of movies and complete contest rules visit The Kids First! Film Critics Search website.


Rod Gustafson


Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.

Parenting and the Media by Rod Gustafson

The Parents Television Council - www.parentstv.org

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