Media Literacy Comes to Bellingham

Bellingham seventh graders fill the theater at the Pickford Film Center’s Doc-ED program. Image courtesy of the Pickford Film Center.

Bellingham seventh graders fill the theater at the Pickford Film Center’s Doc-ED program. Image
courtesy of the Pickford Film Center.

By Mary Erickson Associate Editor

In October 2014, more than 1,100 middle school students visited the Pickford Film Center in Bellingham, Washington, as part of the theater’s Doc-ED program. A year later, the Pickford invited more than double the number of students to participate in Doc-ED, an annual media literacy program that offers screenings, this year focusing on three films: Landfill Harmonic, The Messenger and Becoming Bulletproof.

In October, students from the four public middle schools in Bellingham visited the Pickford to watch films screened as part of Doctober, the Pickford’s month-long documentary film series. In addition, the Pickford had raised enough funds to be able to provide bus transportation to students who needed it.

“Doc-ED was a tremendous success,” says Susie Purves, executive director of the Pickford. “It was wonderful to have the students here and to see them completely drawn in by the film.”

As the Pickford looks to this year’s Doc-ED, it is hoping to expand to the schools throughout Whatcom County. “We’re already raising money for this program,” says Purves. “We’d also love to have someone come forward to help us.”

The Pickford is in the midst of expanding the media education programs that it offers to the community. Twelve classes of area seventh graders are currently taking part in a series of three media literacy workshops administered by the Pickford’s media literacy instructor, Lucas Holtgeerts. In the first workshop, the students are introduced to critical media literacy concepts that teach them to critically identify, evaluate and participate with media. They are introduced to concepts of the author, genre, representation and propaganda, among others. The second workshop involves a documentary film screening at the Pickford in downtown Bellingham. Holtgeerts will then return to the classroom to lead the students in a follow-up session and discussion to apply their critical media literacy as they analyze the film.

In addition to these offerings geared towards middle schoolers, the Pickford also runs the Guerilla Film Project, a three-day filmmaking competition for high school students. This event, held over President’s Day weekend, brings together teams of filmmakers from high schools across Washington State to write, produce and edit a three-minute film. The 11th edition of the Guerilla Film Project will take place February 12-15, 2016.

The 2015 Guerilla Film Project featured teams from Anacortes, Bellingham, Sedro-Woolley, Blaine, and elsewhere. “We are hoping for more schools to participate,” says Purves, “and we’re currently working on doing more outreach.” The Pickford’s education manager, Grace Schrater, is visiting local schools and clubs to raise awareness of the program.

The Pickford Film Center also runs a Children’s Film Festival, which will next happen in March. This festival combines public weekend screenings of family-friendly films with weekday screenings offered exclusively to elementary schools.

These media literacy programs are part of an overall expansion of the Pickford’s commitment to community education. The film center currently runs two theatrical exhibition locations in Bellingham, and it is continuing to broaden its reach and programming.

“There’s an urgent need for media literacy,” comments Purves. “So much of what’s going on in the world has a deep connection with people’s interactions with media. We want to help Bellingham and Whatcom County become a place where media literacy is commonplace and students have the tools to assess media in an educated way.”

Learn more about the Pickford Film Center at

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