How To Pursue Your Passion at Any Age
The Kids Film It Festival founder on helping young people get creative
At just 14 years old, Ryan Levine founded the Kids Film It Festival — helping foster other kids’ creativity by giving them an outlet to show off their homemade films. Since its first installation in 2016, it has already raised over $150,000 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. The festival, which is sponsored by our friends at Sleep Number, is accepting submissions until December 31st. Ryan told us about the key to pursuing a passion at a young age…
Katie Couric: Why did you decide to harness your passion into founding this film festival?
Ryan Levine: I have always had a passion for filmmaking. When I was younger, I wanted to submit my films to different festivals, but there were never any options for movies created by kids. I decided to create the Kids Film It Festival while also trying to show kids that their passion could impact a cause. I chose the Michael J. Fox Foundation because my grandmother has Parkinson’s and it is my goal to help find a cure.
Why do you think this age group needed more exposure?
Kids have so many creative ideas that need to be shown, and it gives them a place to voice their opinion. It also encourages kids to try something new that they could eventually end up liking. A big thing is that submissions are free, so it is super easy for kids to submit.
How do you think filmmaking can be empowering for young people?
It gives them a way to express their ideas and messages through so many forms of creativity whether through film, dialogue, music, or animation. And this festival allows them to share those ideas in a fun and supportive environment.
Let’s talk movies! What types of films have you featured in your festival?
There has been a huge array of films submitted. There have been fun, upbeat movies, and creative sci-fi films. Some kids have made movies about serious topics such as poverty. One example we received is about a girl and her parents, who were constantly fighting at home. In the film, she goes and buys supplies at a market to make a quesadilla, and makes one to share with a homeless man. It is very moving and an incredible storyline by a teen. It just shows how impactful kids’ movies can be.
Were there any with messages that especially resonated with you?
Just seeing kids’ compassion come through! In that film I mentioned, it was done in a really subtle way through her interaction with the homeless man. She wasn’t intimidated and only wanted to help.
What’s the most rewarding film you’ve made yourself?
I was recently watching a short film I did with a friend seven years ago titled, The Death of Elmo. We made it for a younger brother and he loved it. While I love filmmaking, I haven’t been able to do much lately. I love filming travel, beautiful scenery and the outdoors. I also try as much as I can to make fun short creative films for projects in my classes. I focus mostly on action and adventure films.
How do you manage to go through all the submissions?! That must take a lot of willpower.
It is fun to see the world through other kids’ eyes so it does not feel like work. It is a long process but we go through all of them ourselves and sort them into the ones we will end up sending to our amazing judges. Last year we had over 150 submissions from around the world. Our judges are really respected Hollywood producers and directors and it is fantastic that they watch them and create rankings. This past year they gave feedback to the kids which was super cool and really unique. It would be great to get even more submissions this year.
What are your top three favorite movies of all time?
My top three favorite movies are some classics: Back to the Future with Michael J. Fox, The Big Lebowski, and The Avengers movies.
How might we see the festival change?
We would continually love to make more kids aware of the Kids Film It Festival and inspire them to enter. The feedback we get from the kids and parents and how much they love participating is really awesome, and is why we continue to do this. We would also like to raise a lot more money. We have been able to raise more than $150,000 the last three years, but it would be great to raise even more so we can come closer to finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease. We have thought about adding resources in the future so kids can learn about different aspects of filmmaking.
What advice do you have for someone your age who’s trying to make a film for the first time? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Just go for it. There are so many resources nowadays with all of the technology. Your phone can usually make as good of a movie, if not better, than an expensive camera. Use YouTube to learn things. There are so many great channels and creators out there that share their knowledge and experience for free so take advantage of it. In ten years I am not exactly sure what I want to do, but I know my passion for filmmaking and my experience with this festival will definitely have an impact. I could see myself on the business side of filmmaking or doing something entrepreneurial.
Sleep Number is proud to be a sponsor of the Kids Film It Festival. To ensure kids and their families understand the impact of quality sleep and have the tools to achieve it, Sleep Number is committed to improving the lives of 1 million youth by 2025. To learn more, visit www.sleepnumber.com/sleep-smarter.
This originally appeared in Katie Couric’s Wake-Up Call newsletter. Subscribe here.