SFFILM Education is pleased to present the twelfth annual Schools at the Festival Student Essay Contest at the 2021 SFFILM Festival. This contest is made possible by the generous support of the Nellie Wong Magic of Movies Education Fund, endowed by Tim Kochis and SFFILM board member Penelope Wong to honor the memory of her mother, Nellie Wong (1917-2007), who was an avid filmgoer and cinephile. Developed to support the year-round outreach efforts of SFFILM Education, the Fund aims to cultivate students’ imaginations, enhance their critical thinking and creative writing skills and instill a greater appreciation for the magic of movies in young audiences of the Bay Area.
Submissions for the 2021 contest have closed.
Essay Content + Questions
Winning essays will be determined based on creativity, depth, enthusiasm, clarity, grammar and relevance to the essay questions. Essays must be written in response to the following questions about the selected Schools at the Festival screenings ONLY. Students may choose one film program or submit separate essays for more than one program. Students are not limited to only selecting films in their grade category, but do need to follow the word count guidelines for their grade. Students are not required to answer every question listed for an individual film, but should select enough for a thoughtful and complete response.
*Children in grades 1-12 who attend a public screening of films included in our essay contest are also eligible to participate. Parents: please be sure to fill in all of the required entry information when submitting.
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, GRADES 1 – 5
City of Ghosts
Research a favorite park, neighborhood, or area in your town or city that you have not been able to visit as much as you would like in the last year. What makes this place special to you? What things do you do there? Who do you see there and interact with? What is it named for and why? Tell us a little bit about the history and culture of the place. What is important about having spaces for people in communities to gather?
My Octopus Teacher
In your own words, how would you describe the lessons Craig learned from the octopus? What did you learn from his journey with the octopus? Is there any experience in your own life that Craig’s story reminds you of? If not, is there a place, animal, or environment you’d like to interact with?
Shorts 6: Family Films
Choose one film you saw in the program. What did you like about that film? What made it stand out for you from all of the other films in the program? Does the main character’s life or experiences compare in any way to your own? (Note: the character does not have to be human!) If so, how, and did that make you enjoy the film more? What lessons did you learn from their story?
MIDDLE SCHOOL, GRADES 6 – 8
The Art and Science of Lucasfilm
Did this presentation make you think differently about your own career trajectory? Did it make you think differently about how you might use your skills in either math, science, or art in your future career? Think about the experiences that led Tyler toward working for Lucasfilm. Have you had an experience in your own life that inspired you toward a particular kind of work? Imagine and describe a future in which that experience leads you into the career of your dreams.
Use your imagination to create a new character or creature in a story of your own. Give a basic synopsis of your story and describe how you would create this character or creature using techniques from Tyler’s presentation like life science, biology, anatomy, animal reference, etc. Keep in mind the character or creature’s motivation and backstory as you design them. If you would like to include a drawing of your character or creature, please do, but it is not required.
Lily Topples the World
Lily says that her formula for being a great domino artist is “patience, perseverance, creativity, and time”. What is an activity that you devote your patience, perseverance, creativity and time to? Why do you commit yourself to this activity? What are the most difficult challenges you faced in this pursuit and how did you overcome them? How was Lily different at the beginning, middle and end of the film? How did she change as a person? What did she learn? How did she grow?
My Octopus Teacher
What connects Craig to his natural world? Why do you believe his daily dive was a healing process? Craig’s daily discipline and tracking of the octopus opened up opportunities to discover new ocean species and previous behaviors never witnessed before. Can you think of a time when you discovered something new? How did this process change your point of view or perception? What role do you think curiosity or discovery could have in a particularly difficult time in your own life?
HIGH SCHOOL, GRADES 9 -12
How did Alexis’ personality and relationship with his family change as they immigrated to the US? Do you think the family’s expectations of the US were met? What challenges did they face in the US after immigrating? How did Alexis’ relationship to Cuba and himself change? How does your environment or setting shape your identity? As a young adult, how do you overcome challenges and find a sense of belonging as you develop your own personality?
Were you inspired by the students followed in this film? Have you seen or participated in any direct action to make change, such as a protest, rally, strike, or boycott, for example? What social issues do you care about the most? How would you work with others to correct a social injustice in your community? What is your responsibility to your community, if any?
How do the filmmakers capture the stories of these students’ 2019-2020 in a true and authentic way without adding their own views? What role does the inclusion of social media material and news footage play in this sense of authenticity? What role has different kinds of media (like Youtube, popular music, Instagram, video games, news, etc.) played in your own life during the COVID-19 Pandemic?
Grades 1-5: 150-200 words
Grades 6-8: 300-350 words
Grades 9-12: 450-500 words
Submissions for the 2021 contest have closed. Stay tuned for 2022 contest dates.
Submit essays online here.
Required Entry Information
To be eligible for consideration, all essays must include the following information:
- Student name
- Teacher name
- Teacher phone number
- Teacher email address
Contest winners will be announced the week of May 24, 2021. Teachers will be notified directly if their students have won. The following prizes will be awarded:
Elementary School, Grades 1-5
Grand Prize: $150 cash prize
Runner-up (2): $75 cash prize
Middle School Grades 6-8
Grand Prize: $300 cash prize
Runner-up (2): $150 cash prize
High School Grades 9-12
Grand Prize: $500 cash prize
Runner-up (2): $250 cash prize
All winning essays will be published on www.sffilm.org. For questions, contact Keith Zwölfer at 415-561-5040 or email@example.com.