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Zoom grows out with more family-friendly programming

Melissa Starker, Creative Content & PR Manager

Thu, Nov 08, 2018

Young children watching a movie in the Wexner Center for the Arts Film/Video Theater during the Zoom: Family Film Festival in December 2017

Since 2003, the Wexner Center has devoted a weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas to an eclectic festival of kid-friendly films from all over the world and free, fun activities for children and their families. For its 15th year, Zoom is transforming from an event contained to a few days to a program that provides family-friendly entertainment throughout the year.

The colorful “Zoom” logo will pop up in the Wex’s print calendar as a seal of approval for select events, indicating the program has been reviewed by the center’s Education staff and deemed enriching for elementary school-age children and above. All Zoom-approved programming will also be collected on the Zoom series page at wexarts.org.

As Wex Director of Education Shelly Casto explains, Zoom’s focus continues to be art that presents the world from a younger perspective, so it’s easily relatable for school-age kids. “It’s stuff that really speaks to their concerns, their worldview,” she says. 

Programming already happening at the Wex will be folded into Zoom, including free Super Sunday events that connect visitors with local artists and activities themed to exhibitions in the galleries. The expansion will also create opportunities for a fresh variety of cultural options, according to Casto and Chris Stults, Assistant Curator of Film/Video and a programming partner on Zoom

Expect to see family-friendly movies screened on a more regular basis, along with programs tailored to young patrons with special needs, such as sensory-friendly events.  Ultimately, the Wex will present about a dozen programs appropriate for younger audiences each year, starting with a December 1 screening of The Emperor’s Nightingale by Czech animation great Jiří Trnka.

There will be performing arts programming for young children in the mix, too, beginning May 18-19, 2019, with the Wex presentation of Slingsby Theatre Company performing an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Young King.  This imaginative, interactive presentation from Australia will challenge children to consider complex themes such as poverty, power and interconnectedness. The two-day run will include a sensory-friendly show on the 19th.

“They’re just one of the best children’s theater companies in the world,” says Casto. “They’re sophisticated enough—and treat kids as complex human beings enough—that adults will get something out of it, too.”

Regular Zoom: Family Film Festival attendees will also notice a new scheduling change: The program has been condensed to one event-packed day, happening Saturday, December 8. 

As Stults notes, “In condensing everything, there’s still this great range of films.”

Highlights include the always-lively Kid Flicks, a selection of animated shorts culled from the New York International Children’s Film Festival, a screening of Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. with live accompaniment by Columbus music legend Sue Harshe (formerly of Scrawl), and Liyana, a documentary hybrid that realizes the stories of children in a Swaziland orphanage through gorgeous animations. Stults describes the film’s combination of elements as similar to the 2017 Zoom selection Preschool Poets but adds, “There’s nothing like it.” 

Of course, the hugely popular non-film events will continue: a Saturday morning Cereal and Pajama Party, crafty hands-on activities in the Mershon Auditorium lobby, and an afternoon Ice Cream Social featuring Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.

Julia Applegate, Director of Equitas Health Institute for LGBTQ Health Equity, and Liv Gjestvang, Associate VP of Ohio State’s Office of Distance Education and eLearning, have been enthusiastic Zoom supporters for years, attending first as aunts and then as parents to two young children. 

“I look forward to Zoom Film Fest all year,” says Gjestvang. “This is one of the cultural experiences in Columbus that brings together all the things I love about spending time with my kids. It brings out their curiosity, silliness, excitement, wonder—and it does that for me too.”

Applegate adds, “I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday in early December. Curated movies you can’t see anywhere else, a healthy breakfast bar, kids and parents in PJs, arts and crafts and Jeni’s ice cream—all inside an art museum. What more could you ask for?” One craft activity from a previous Zoom session was such a big hit with their daughter, they stole the idea for her birthday party.

As Zoom veterans, Applegate and Gjestvang have a list of can’t-miss activities each year. According to Gjestvang “Our favorite Zoom tradition is going to the theater in PJs on Saturday morning for the short film fest, eating cereal in the café and then sitting in a theater full of kids and families during the international short film screening. These films are funny, touching, and beautiful—and typically a very eclectic mix of styles and lengths. It was interesting for me to see how well even very small kids were drawn to these narratives, even ones that were longer or a little more abstract than I thought they would follow. I feel like this has expanded their ideas about what movies are and even what storytelling looks like.”

Applegate also has some practical advice for newcomers. “Don’t be afraid to go in your pajamas, but bring a change of clothes for after the movies,” she says. “The kids were ready for street clothes by the time we moved on to arts and crafts.

The 2018 Zoom: Family Film Festival kicks off at 9 AM on Saturday, December 8. A complete schedule for the day is available here. Parents can call 614-688-3986 or email the Education department at edweb@wexarts.org for more information.