Cradle to Camera

Dear Ace: I really envy the parents of the next Picasso. Chances are, all they’ve gotta do is let their kid find some paints, a canvas and a brush and she practically trains herself. Me, I’m raising another Federico Fellini, or at the very least a Bertolucci or a Pasolini. So how do you nurture a budding film prodigy, anyway?—Spinning-Reels-in-Charlottesville

Best start them young, Ace reckons. Wean them on timeless celluloid classics at The Paramount and local indie flicks at Vinegar Hill. Take them to see Virginia Film Festival speakers. What loving parent of directorial talent wouldn’t want his son or daughter to take John Waters as a role model? Maybe Ace is the wrong person to ask.

Once your little ones reach middle school, though, there are a couple more concrete steps you can take, right here in Charlottesville, to prepare them for a directorial career. For one, check out the Tandem Friends School’s film program, which takes students through several years of intensive instruction in various digital media techniques. Middle schoolers begin learning iStop Motion, and in seventh grade start developing claymation films. Eighth graders hone their digital filmmaking chops by producing an entry for the Quaker-oriented International Bridge Film Festival. Students who enroll in Tandem’s Upper School learn more advanced film production techniques, and also produce material for the Bridge Festival.

You’ll also want to look at Charlottesville’s Light House Studio, an independent media educational center located at the City Center for Contemporary Arts, in the same building as Live Arts and Second Street Gallery. A non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, Light House offers introductory summer programs in filmmaking and animation, in addition to more advanced directorial workshops focused on narrative, documentary and other topics. Recently, Light House concluded its First Annual Light House Sweded Challenge, a two-weekend event in which amateur filmmakers competed to remake their favorite films with minimal resources and shoestring budgets.

If college is in your child’s future, the UVA McIntire Department of Art boasts a series of excellent filmmaking courses, including an introductory seminar taught by Guggenheim-winning director Kevin Everson. Also consider VCU’s nationally ranked Photography and Film BFA/MFA programs.

You can ask Ace yourself. Intrepid investigative reporter Ace Atkins has been chasing readers’ leads for 21 years. If you have a question for Ace, e-mail it to

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