Fostering the next generation of filmmakers at the annual Atlanta Children's Film Festival

Amy Aidman helping out students at a Kids Video Connection workshop. (Courtesy of Amy Aidman)

The 15th annual Atlanta Children’s Film Festival starts July 7, and it gives young aspiring filmmakers the chance to sit in the director’s chair. The organization Kids Video Connection created the festival to help foster the next generation of star filmmakers. Held on Emory University’s campus, it includes virtual and in-person events and screenings. Festival director Alicia C. Johnson joined “City Lights” senior producer Kim Drobes via Zoom and Dr. Amy Aidman from Emory University’s Department of Film and Media to talk about this year’s festival offerings. 

With such a technical and creatively demanding field as filmmaking, it might be a surprise that kids’ entries have surged in recent years. But Aidman expressed her confidence that kids can rise to the challenge. “Kids bring a lot of imagination to filmmaking, and they also bring a surprising amount of facility with technology,” said Aidman. “I’m super impressed — in fact, in awe — of some of the films made by very young children, children of elementary school age who are doing things like writing and directing and doing the animation and the voices and everything, on a short film.”

The global community stands out as a hallmark of this year’s festival, with its theme of “One Family Creating Together.” This year, filmmakers from all over the world submitted over 100 films for evaluation by the festival committee, and the creators included kids as well as adults making films for kids. Some come from as far away as Finland, the Czech Republic, and Mongolia. 

“We have some funny, inspirational and eye-opening films,” said Johnson. “One film that really inspired me was ‘Dear Mrs. President.’ It’s an inspirational short animated film about a little girl with a big dream. She wants to become a president one day.” Aidman chimed in on the excellence in animation formats among the entries, saying, “I’m no animation expert, but you see everything from very simple shadow puppets to claymation, to all kinds of digital animation and people experimenting with different kinds of effects.”

One stand-out claymation artist, eight-year-old Penelope Campbell, created and submitted a film called “The Fox and the Turtle.” “What’s so interesting about it,” Johnson said, ”She produced this film during COVID, and she said she wanted to create something that would show how people can work together, and it’s a little turtle that helps a fox recover his backpack in the river … She actually created the little animals. She actually did the voiceover for the main character.” 

An animation workshop is among those hosted by the festival, along with its more intensive Intro to Filmmaking Camp, in which kids produce a short film in five days. But beyond the technical foundations of filmmaking, the festival’s workshops help kids achieve better media literacy. Aidman said, “Media literacy involves understanding not just what you see on the screen, but what’s behind what you see on the screen. So how was this made? Who are the people involved? What’s the equipment that’s used, who are the people who are in it? What are they doing?” 

Aidman commented on the significant advantage kids can get in a booming industry by stoking their interest at a young age. “It’s a huge leg up to start when you’re young … If you’re aiming to be a professional musician or professional artist when you start with those roots in childhood, that lays a foundation for the rest of your life. It feeds your interest, and it feeds your passion.” 

The Atlanta Children’s Film Festival takes place online and in-person July 7-24, with special Family Day screenings and events on July 23. Tickets and more information are available at