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Facets co-founder Milos Stehlik on how films can change children’s lives

Milos Stehlik

Milos Stehlik

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Updated: October 28, 2013 4:31PM



Here is my moment of magic: We are in a dark theater. Images flicker on the screen. Over the music and the dialogue, you can distinguish a third level of sound — people in the audience are talking to each other. And more than half of them are kids. It’s a moment that’s been repeated more than 3,000 times with audiences totaling more than 500,000 at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, produced by Facets — which I co-founded — over the past 30 years.

Most exciting is that more than 200,000 of the children who’ve attended the festival over the years come from underserved areas of the city; we’ve provided many of them with scholarships, as they can’t afford to get to the screenings on their own. And they’re involved in the festival all the way: They help select the 250 films we screen each year from more than 40 countries, and they award prizes to the best films after serving on the Festival’s Children’s Jury.

The point is to engage and provoke the kids. They’re asked to think, and sometimes, they need the help of adults to fill in the gaps. After the movie isfinished, the conversation continues. “What was that? Who was that? What happened to him?”

Why do we do this? One young man who got involved in Facets’ Summer Film Camp (a prerequisite to serving on the Children’s Jury) when he was 9 years old told me five years later that Facets changed his life. Before participating in our camp, he was shy, timid and terrified to speak in public. He wasn’t doing well in school, and wasn’t much of a creative thinker. Now, he’s an outgoing and outspoken young man who’s won the Academic Olympics for Oratory competition, made the honor roll and finally feels like he has a voice.

It’s that active participation of children in the Festival — harnessing film as a powerful platform to help create a generation of critical thinkers, innovators and creators —which sustains my belief that film is the most powerful art. The theme of this year’s Chicago International Children’s Film Festival is “smart films, smart kids.” I believe that by engaging children with great film, they’ll have the skills and resources necessary to change the world.

The work we do at Facets is made possible by the generosity of Chicagoans, many of whom will gather this Sunday at the Facets Family Boo! Bash gala at Park West to celebrate the festival’s 30th anniversary. I hope you’ll join us — 100 percent of the proceeds benefit Facets’ year-round educational programs and the festival. With your help, we can continue to inspire and engage our city’s children.

The Boo! Bash will include a selection of festival films, carnival games, spooky snacks and signature drinks, and cast members from ABC’s “Betrayal” will be on hand to judge the best Halloween costumes. To purchase tickets, visit Facets.org/boobash or email mary@facets.org.



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