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April 05, 2017 | posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers
Highlights magazine is a reliable fixture in the doctor’s office waiting area, or, for kids lucky enough to have a personal subscription, a prized possession snatched from the mailbox. It is also the subject of “44 Pages,” by director Tony Shaff and producer Rebecca Green. The film follows the production of the publication’s 70th anniversary issue and the evolution of the world’s most popular children’s magazine.
“I started seeing kids in my life getting Highlights in the mail, and I noticed they were dropping their iPads to pick up this magazine and devour it from cover to cover,” says Shaff. “I started asking the question: why does this magazine capture so much attention from kids, and how is it still relevant?”
As filming began, new storylines arose concerning the ever-changing state of childhood, the uncertain future of print publications, and how the magazine aims to teach—or protect—its young readers from the larger issues of the world.
“Going into a film, you’re looking for the conflict and drama and all these high-stakes villains,” Shaff says. “‘44 Pages’ is about kind, genuine, ethical, honest people. One of the challenges was shaping a story that didn’t rely on those traditional plot elements.”
Many of those kind, genuine people work out of the publication’s headquarters in Columbus, Ohio.
“The magazine is family-owned and has been kept within the family for 70 years, so there is a strong tie to Ohio,” says Shaff.
Green, who also produced CIFF 39’s Opening Night film, “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” adds: “It’s a very positive, uplifting film, something that’s lacking in the news and the documentary space. I think it’s something that’s needed right now. It’s good for parents to see how the creative process impacts kids in a positive way, and how kids can connect to that part of themselves.”
Although Highlights is billed as a children’s magazine, Shaff finds that the basic core human values it teaches “relate directly to us as adults.” He hopes that viewers will not only walk away from the film with more insights into the magazine, “but a better understanding of how we can all be better to each other, and better citizens in the world.”
Highlights has been “illuminating” its readers since 1946, delivering more than a billion issues to children around the world.
“44 Pages” serves to continue spreading that light.
“It’s a film that shows you something you think you know, and gives you something different that you didn’t expect,” says Green. “On the surface, it is a memory from childhood and a magazine. But it opens you up to thinking about bigger topics, issues, and your role in society and your role in kids’ lives.”
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