Bill Bronston says he has the answer to educating kids in the era of the internet – if only he could get people to listen.
As an encore to a long and accomplished career as the top doctor for the California Department of Rehabilitation, Bronston, 77, has spent recent decades trying to change the way children are taught. Bronston said he wants to see schools abandon information-based learning – like memorizing state capitals – and instead let kids create their own goals and learn by doing with media as the centerpiece.
As part of that effort, Bronston created a kid-curated youth media festival that celebrates its 20th year on Friday. The Tower of Youth brings hundreds of students from around the region to see videos from youths across the country.
This year’s event, inviting back two decades of alumni, runs from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday at Crest Theatre. The collection of short films was submitted by young people from across North America. They include pieces on the militarization of the police, depression and wastewater treatment.
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Throughout the years, about 10,000 youths have attended the local festival or participated in some way. The program’s catalog includes 1,400 films.
“The show is sublime,” Bronston gushed about this year’s films. “They are commercial quality.”
Bronston, son of the acclaimed film producer Samuel Bronston, is proud of the impact the festival has had on the young people who participated since its 1997 inception. But he laments that he didn’t have the lasting impact on education that he sought.
“I think I failed,” Bronston said. “I don’t have the model of anything that is alive and well. To this day, there has been no real change to our education system.”
Bronston said he’s stepping away from leadership of his organization and is uncertain if it will continue. He said this year’s festival is likely to be the last.
When Bronston started Tower of Youth, most Americans who managed to get online got there with the help of free minutes from America Online, floppy drives were still being used and Apple had not yet released the iMac.
“We were there before the cellphone. We were there before Facebook. We were there nearly at the dawn of the internet,” Bronston said.
Longtime Tower of Youth board member Sal Russo, who works as a Republican political consultant, said Bronston was “ahead of his time.”
“He had to foresight to see the intersection of technology and the arts,” Russo said. “(Tower of Youth) has been successful in that we’ve brought a lot of kids through it.”
One of those success stories is Ravi Malhotra, who produced a short film that won an Academy Award in 2007. Malhotra, who graduated from Oak Ridge High School in 1999, was around for the first two years of Tower of Youth. Back then, Oak Ridge had drama and theater but no digital arts program. Tower of Youth was a chance to meet other young people who were interested in film, a chance to show his work to an audience of 800 of his peers and a chance to get an honest critique of his work.
While modern technology has removed some of the barriers to filmmaking, filmmakers still need a community, said Malhotra, who is busy working on the new “Transformers” movie as director of post-production at Paramount Pictures.
“Building a community is the overall value of Tower of Youth,” Malhotra said. “If you’re a filmmaker, you still need community.”
Tower of Youth
Where: Crest Theatre
When: Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
What: Screening of youth produced films and digital media projects from across North America