College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences

USM Media Students Support, Promote Portland Children’s Film Festival

April 5, 2013

Contact: Dennis Gilbert, (207) 228-8293

PORTLAND, Maine – As the ever-popular Portland Children’s Film Festival (PCFF) gets under way this week, April 3-7, more families and children are expected to attend the varied film showings around the city because of the efforts of University of Southern Maine (USM) media students.

A team of four seniors in the Media Studies Program taught by Dennis Gilbert, the program’s internship and service coordinator at the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences (CAHS), has created a comprehensive outreach plan to engage and entice more festivalgoers to the film screenings.

As part of their community-service projects for the Service Learning Practicum course taught by Gilbert, class members each spend a minimum of 60 hours working in the field, but almost always exceed that amount, according to the instructor.

“The PCFF team had already exceeded the field requirement before the first film was shown,” Gilbert said. Their project efforts would have a real-world value in the thousands of dollars, but the community-service projects, more importantly, are an integral part of the outreach required in the Service Learning Practicum course, Gilbert said.

A public presentation of all the community-service projects will be held:

  • 7-9 p.m., Thursday, May 2, Talbot Auditorium, USM Portland campus.

The PCFF team members include: Kate Holden, Portland, Maine, project manager; Lee-Anne Leverone, York, Maine, public relations; Leah Mills, Jay, Maine, marketing; and Dylan Orr, Portland, Maine, audio/video production.

“This team came together like a real team of professionals, and what they have done to promote the festival is just extraordinary,” Gilbert said this week. He added that the team’s outreach plan “not only is for this year, but it’s for next year as well.”

"Without the USM students, our film festival would never have been so successful,” said Leah Coplon, festival co-founder and steering committee member. “They more than doubled our outreach from last year with their social media campaign, outreach to local news organizations, and creation of a film about our work.

“Ticket sales have quadrupled, we have been featured on three local news programs, and they also plan to leave us with a publicity template to assure that their efforts are sustainable for years to come,” she continued.

The Capstone course is a graduation requirement for Media Studies majors at CAHS, Gilbert explained. The 44 students in this semester’s class work collaboratively in small teams of three or four members, usually with skills in project management, video production and writing, to support non-profit groups in the greater Portland area with customized media projects.

“The purpose of the class is for students to look ahead to their professional lives and see where their media skills and knowledge can be put to use building community,” the USM instructor said. He described the course as a great opportunity “to make a bridge between being a student and working with a client.”

Holden said that the PCFF team’s campaign included media advisories, press releases, public-service announcements and “lots of phone calls to follow up.” The team created three short films about their project and even bought an underwriting ad on MPBN radio.

“Our grassroots efforts to spread the word to join us on Facebook has been incredibly successful, and the count has grown to 240 followers,” Holden said. “Our poster distribution efforts have blanketed most of the city and beyond and hopefully is driving people to the website.”

This semester, the entire class is working with 11 non-profits, including the Portland Children’s Film Festival, Casa Inc., the Iris Network, the Saco River Jazz Ensemble, and Camp Susan Curtis, according to Gilbert.

“Sometimes they find us, and sometimes we find them,” Gilbert said of the non-profits served by the class. “We’re looking for organizations that inspire and empower students.”

The teams must learn about each organization sufficiently to represent it in a professional manner, plan the media projects and then implement them, focusing on time management and “clear and consistent communication,” Gilbert said. “Planning skills are essential.”

Once this week’s successful film festival is over, the media team’s work won’t be over, Gilbert said. “They’ll be analyzing the success of their marketing plan,” he said.

The course instructor pointed out that the team members, who will be graded on what they have learned, not only have been working on and implementing the media plan, but they also have been “quick to volunteer for many of the festival events.”

“The generosity and drive of these students, who almost always come to care deeply about the organizations they’re working with, is a real credit to the university,” Gilbert said.

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