Laurence Alster visits a stimulating website that aims to turn young children on to filmmaking
What better medium than film to make learning fun, especially for younger children? Feature films in particular, with their special effects, often exotic storylines and glamorous characters, offer abundant opportunities for all kinds of enjoyable learning. So it is with high expectations that I visited the Film Street, website, which promises, among other things, to "unlock children's potential by helping them express themselves through film".
In large part, Film Street achieves this. Aimed at six to nine-year-olds, their parents and teachers, this website is easily navigated, informative and colourful. It will enthral junior cineastes and stimulate others less engaged.
Nicky, the first of several cartoon guides, introduces the website by asking users to "click on (the) zoetrope and hold on tight."
From there they are taken to various points in Film Street, most obviously the cinema, animation department, film studio, film academy and library.
Each of these sites poses questions and suggests tasks. The film studio, for instance, gives basic but never condescending guidance on cameras and lights, special effects, and sound and editing.
In their stroll around the cinema, patrons are invited to watch clips from world cinema, trailers or, using a review template, pass judgment on such peer-produced shorts as Morphless and the Slobs, Showcomotion 2005 and When Mum Was Young.
Other pages are equally vivid and inventive. While the film academy helps nurture budding screenwriters by inviting them to select a setting, use props, choose a plot and employ stock characters, the library steers visitors behind the scenes to explain the nature and purpose of documentary film, the use of film music and the consequent gains and losses when children's books and comics are adapted for the screen.
Children can even devise their own superhero for a new film. And problems with words such as "adaptation" can be solved by turning to a comprehensive and clearly-written glossary.
There are lots of other attractive and absorbing features. As well as urging users to send in their own films, the Scrapbook section contains a lively, up-to-date film magazine with competitions, lots of inspiring downloads on, say, sound and editing, titles and transitions, and sound effects, while a message board requests users' comments. "Wicked site. I'm going to be a director when I grow up," wrote Chelsea.
Parents and teachers will be equally impressed. A whole raft of exciting activities, many with curriculum links, will keep children engrossed for hours, and web links to children's film festivals, film exhibitors and distributors, magazines and film education providers offer information and opportunities to users of all ages. Film Street also encourages a sense of community, with parents and teachers invited to contribute materials and ideas they think useful to all involved in teaching or learning about film.
That said, visitors may be disappointed with some of the grammatical and spelling errors that litter Film Street. Any site that claims to "develop children's skills in literacy and other subjects" should not contain slips such as "further a field", talk of a "screen play" and confuse "practise" with "practice".
The production team has vowed to iron out these and similar creases by this month, in which event, Film Street really will be the best show in town.
* Film Street is free and has been commissioned by Culture Online, part of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.