Regional community magazine East Side Living profiles PCD Faculty Member Michaela O'Donnell in the April issue. View the story in the text below:
East Side Educator Uses the Power of Film to Inspire and Connect
As a teenager, East Side resident Michaela O'Donnell would spend almost every weekend with her friends at the movies, alternating from the Cable Car to the Avon. "We'd spend hours at the movies; it didn't even matter what was playing." Fast forward a few decades later and O'Donnell admits her teenage-self would be smiling at the sight of her now, at the Avon, in her role as part-time house manager for the Providence Children's Film Festival. "As a child and adult, I've always loved film; I enjoy being whisked away in someone's story."
O'Donnell first attended the PCFF in 2009 with her children and knew immediately that she wanted to contribute to the annual event. "I was moved by how well the festival brings these beautiful and compelling stories to our community. I knew that I needed to get involved." This past February marked the festival's ninth year in Providence and showcased more than 100 independent and international films that were picked by a jury of adult and child viewers. Each selection was chosen for its ability to demonstrate the artistry of filmmaking, provoke discussions on timely topics, and make connections with people and cultures from around the world. O'Donnell appreciates the unique connection between viewer and character that creates a meaningful experience for the moviegoer.
"At a time when it often feels like there is a lack of understanding or disconnect between cultures, film is a dynamic and rich art form that acts as a connector. We get to visit the life of a person who is different from us, hear another language, see a foreign land, and imagine ourselves in another world," she says. "We relate to the protagonists, even the evil ones. In that process, the viewer and character form a relationship and through that human connection empathy is born."
O'Donnell compares viewing the independent films to finding a hidden gem or being let in on a special secret. It's a secret she and her fellow faculty at Providence Country Day School wanted to share with their students, when they chose film as the focus for their 2018 World Arts Day in March. The annual program is a creative immersion of hands-on workshops featuring different forms of art from around the world. This year, students and faculty viewed short independent films together following a series of workshops in which they were actors, animators, film critics, sound engineers, producers, and screen writers. "Film is a powerful art form—a versatile medium for compelling storytelling," says O'Donnell. "On World Arts Day, we aim to offer everyone in our community new ways to see things and new opportunities for self-expression. Our mini film festival was the perfect platform this year."
O'Donnell began working at PCD as an art teacher in 2010, a career she felt drawn to while studying at Rhode Island College. "I grew up with education and art all around me." Her mother worked as an educator and spent nearly 30 years with the Providence Children's Museum. O'Donnell's father is a painter. "I truly spent my childhood being exposed to art and thinking about how children learn," she said. From film to ceramics to painting, O'Donnell loves how the arts inspire curiosity, creativity, and participation while providing a vibrant visual language. "It is simply the taking part in art making that opens the door to becoming an artist," she says. This year, O'Donnell brought that concept to life when she shared her love of art, film, and teaching, with her PCD community.