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Marin Matters: Q&A with Joanne Parsont

We speak with Director of Education at the California Film Institute















The California Film Institute (CFI), a presenter of the Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF), uses films and filmmaking to educate kids from Marin and the greater Bay Area about issues such as environmental preservation and activism. We spoke with Director of Education Joanne Parsont.


1. Why does CFI offer community education programs?


Since day one, going back to 1977 when we held film workshops for kids during the first year of the Mill Valley Film Festival, education has been an integral part of CFI’s mission. Films can transform how people of all ages see and experience our world, especially young people, who are not only avid media consumers but also constant media creators. It’s imperative to us to support and foster media literacy through programs that are able to teach both about and through the medium of film.


2. What is your most popular education program? 


Our MVFF education screenings draw in more than 3,000 students and teachers from across the Bay Area each year. Much of this program’s popularity has to do with the incredible lineup of films and special guests at the festival. All our screenings include guest speakers — filmmakers, film subjects and/or subject area experts — for post-screening conversations and Q&As with students. We arrange for free bus transportation so that schools from all over the Bay Area can take part. 


3. Tell me a little bit about the Environmental Youth Forum and why it’s important?


Our Environmental Youth Forum, held over three days each spring, is a film-based approach to teaching environmental awareness and activism. It consists of more than a dozen screenings of short and feature-length documentaries about a range of environmental issues, followed by in-depth discussions with those involved in the filmmaking process. Along with films, we also offer a series of interactive exhibits related to environmental issues and concepts, a mobile climate science lab and our Conscious Carnival recycling booth.


4. Have you ever been a filmmaker yourself? 


I briefly entertained the idea of becoming a documentary filmmaker, which is what initially drew me to the Bay Area in 1994. But after a one-year gig with the now-defunct National Educational Media Network in Oakland, I was bit by the film festival bug and never quite recovered. It led me to MVFF and the revelation that rather than pour endless time, money and energy into making a single film, I could better serve the film community, and myself, by supporting the work of other filmmakers and ensuring that their films reached the right audiences. While I’ve been with CFI a long time, I’ve directed its education programs for the past year.


5. Any young local filmmakers we should keep our eye on? 


Thanks to an abundance of local youth media programs and a thriving independent film community, I’m happy to say there are many talented young filmmakers in the Bay Area right now who are definitely worth watching. A few who have been involved with CFI Education in the last year whom I would call out are Ethan Paisley and Will Noyce here in Marin and Julian Jordan in San Francisco.


Give Back


Help premature babies have a fighting chance by supporting UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, the only level IV NICU in the East Bay that’s equipped to handle the most complicated cases. makeagift.ucsf.edu/kids

Donate to SchoolsRule-Marin, a coalition of 20 public school district foundations working together to raise funds for every child in every public school throughout Marin. schoolsrule.org

The Center for Environmental Health protects you and your family from toxic chemicals with critical research, education and advocacy. Donations help it continue these efforts. ceh.org

By giving to Children and Nature Network you support a global movement to increase equitable access to nature so that children can thrive. childrenandnature.org

A small donation gives one student a full afternoon of one-on-one tutoring support in any subject at 826 Valencia. A larger donation gives a teacher access to a field trip for an entire class. 826valencia.org


Get Involved


Lend a hand at Women’s Daytime Drop-in Center, a nonprofit empowering women and children to move from the streets to a home through free services like intensive counseling and support groups.

Share the wonders of nature with children and become a docent at Martin Griffin Preserve/Audubon Canyon Ranch at Stinson Beach.

Assist with tasks such as collecting tickets before the show and at intermission, handing out programs, and directing patrons to their seats, restrooms and concessions at the Throckmorton Theatre.

Join the Alzheimer’s Association in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease by sending emails, writing letters, calling legislators or even serving as a Memories in the Making art facilitator.

Giant Steps, a nonprofit therapeutic equestrian program for children and adults with disabilities, is looking for volunteers to help riders during their weekly lessons or to groom horses.



Donna Berry Glass is a freelance writer and editor based in San Anselmo. When she’s not putting pen to paper, she enjoys spending time with her family exploring the natural beauty of Marin, snuggling with her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and tackling her never-ending list of DIY home and garden projects. Donna is a supporter of the California Academy of Sciences, a world-class science museum, and research institution, and SF CASA, which provides court-appointed advocates for foster youth.
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