The Global Search for Education: Director Carlos Douglas Jr. Talks About His Film, Kenya's Symphony

C. M. Rubin
Kenya's Symphony showcases the power of art and how it can inspire young minds to want to create.
C. M. Rubin
The Global Search for Education: Director Carlos Douglas Jr. Talks About His Film, Kenya's Symphony

This month on the Planet Classroom Network, audiences can screen Kenya's Symphony on the Planet Classroom Network. This film is curated for the Planet Classroom Network by KIDS FIRST! Film Festival.

Kenya's Symphony, an animated short film by Carlos Douglas Jr., follows the story of a five – year – old girl named Kenya whose mother forces her to attend a symphony. Whilst at the show, Kenya pouts and attempts to distract those around her, as well as the performers on stage. However, when she eventually calms, she witnesses the beauty of the orchestra and discovers her untapped passion for music.

Kenya's Symphony showcases the power of art and how it can inspire young minds to want to create.

The Global Search for Education is pleased to welcome Director Carlos Douglas Jr.

Why did you decide to create a film that focuses primarily on music, specifically live orchestra music? What inspired you about this theme?

The concept for my first film was always going to be about music; orchestral music has been my favorite genre for years, and I dreamed of working with a composer on my own film project long before going to college.

During my sophomore year at Columbia College Chicago, I was working as an usher for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This was an absolute dream job for me! I applied for this role to be closer to the music that I love; it allowed me to hear and watch performances by one of the world's greatest orchestras every night. Ironically, I was working for the CSO at the same time that I enrolled in an animation film class in school, so I began brainstorming.

It didn't take long for me to find inspiration in such an incredible place. The idea for Kenya's Symphony came to me based on an interaction that I witnessed while watching a performance one night. While standing at my post, I watched as a mom struggled to keep her young child pacified during a night at the symphony orchestra. The little girl was rambunctious, fidgety, and not entertained at all! Watching this happen while the orchestra "scored" their family feud made the gears start turning in my head. What if I made a film about a girl who turns a new leaf at the symphony?

Being a fan of orchestral music isn't necessarily the most common interest these days. I felt that this story concept would drive home a few key points that I wanted to make: orchestra music can be a joy to experience, this genre is not bound by age, race, gender, or social class, and giving something new a try can change your whole perspective!

How important is it for younger generations to be regularly exposed to creative arts and why?

It is incredibly important that younger generations are exposed to the arts because it allows them to express themselves in ways that words cannot. Children just experience art so differently than any other age group; they attach to the most interesting concepts, and make observations that even adults might not notice. When we expose kids to things that unleash their creativity, it changes the way that they look at the world. They may not know it yet, but these things last with them for a long time.

For those who experience trauma, grief, and other complex emotions at a young age, it can help them cope with difficult days. The best thing that can come out of a child having access to art, is seeing them utilize art as an outlet. There is so much that can be explored in art, so it's important to have art in your life at a young age! Unfortunately, there are many communities that have limited access to the art that they deserve, so it should be our goal to fix this.

Can you share some of the most important lessons you learned in the process of creating your film? What advice would you give to filmmakers about to embark on their first production?

Kenya's Symphony taught me so much about filmmaking and myself as an artist. It was the most difficult project that I had ever worked on up to that point, and it took every fiber of my being to make it happen. But that's the beauty of creating; when you become attached to your art, it becomes a lifestyle rather than a chore.

My best piece of advice for first-time filmmakers would be to forget about your budget. If you're a first-time filmmaker, you probably don't have the budget that you want, or feel is needed to create what you're envisioning. It's time to get rid of that barrier! Your first film is a great opportunity to experiment with the things you do have, and make it work. So long as you complete the film, it doesn't matter as much how you get it done. I wanted a full-orchestra for my first film, and I couldn't necessarily get that. But I did have a friend who was a composer, and we recorded one musician per-instrument, and created a full orchestra. My film was only supposed to be about 2 minutes long for my animation class, but I made Kenya's Symphony 5 minutes long. Your project will come together if you allow for some creative freedoms.

Another piece of advice is, ask and you shall receive. And also, know your strengths and weaknesses. I didn't know how I felt about asking friends of mine for help, but to my surprise they usually ran with me! I couldn't get this film done all on my own, because quite frankly it was a massive film for a film student. The only way to complete the film was for me to hand off certain tasks to people that I knew who were amazing at their craft, while I continued to push through production. It was always a collaborative effort, so I was always by their side throwing ideas back-and-forth. But ultimately, this will save you from bearing the burden of the entire production, because creating a film is a lot of work.

And last but not least, stay strong! Again, film is a lot of work sometimes. Finding the work/life balance will definitely be difficult at times, but you will find your rhythm.

What feedback have you had so far about your film? How would you describe the main takeaways you'd like for your audience?

The feedback from Kenya's Symphony has been the gift that keeps on giving. I am completely floored at the response that people have to this film. Every story theme that I was going for hit home for people, and that's truly the best feeling to have as a filmmaker. And the fact that I initially didn't intend on submitting the film to festivals makes the response even more surreal.

Viewers both young and old enjoy Kenya's personality and emotions throughout the film. I feel that a lot of people understand what it's like to be Kenya; to not understand something makes you feel ostracized from the crowd. We want to be a part of the in-crowd and experience things together, so I think it makes the main character here even more relevant.

People also love the music! The composer, Michael Van Bodegom-Smith, really nailed the story musically, and having him on-board early on in production helped make the music a part of the film's language.

I've also heard so many adults say that the film reminds them of their own parents taking them to shows or events that they were tuned out of. It has a sense of nostalgia for some folks, and the young kids really enjoy seeing Kenya have fun at the end.

I want viewers to watch Kenya's Symphony with an open mind; if you allow yourself to see from Kenya's point-of-view, you may see yourself in her by the end. I think we can all be a bit judgemental before giving something new a try. Sometimes a little push can be all it takes to discover a passion! And I also want viewers to see this as an opportunity to teach kids about the wonders outside of their home, outside of the screen, and outside of their norm. There's so much to be enjoyed in life, so be open to new things.

Thank you Carlos!

The Global Search for Education: Director Carlos Douglas Jr. Talks About His Film, Kenya's Symphony

C.M. Rubin and Carlos Douglas Jr.

Don't miss Kenya's Symphony, now screening on the Planet Classroom Network. This film is curated for the Planet Classroom Network by KIDS FIRST! Film Festival.

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