Whether your child is 3 or 13 the program at the ninth annual Children’s Film Festival has something for everyone. The largest film festival of its kind on the West Coast runs from January 23 to February 8 at Northwest Film Forum and is packed with animated and live action movies from Azerbaijan to Indonesia, Mongolia to Mexico, and everywhere in between. Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to experience unusual and interesting films from around the globe.
The large majority of the films are appropriate for ages 8 and up but there are a number of programs and events that are aimed specifically at kids as young as 3.
The festival opens with a program of animated shorts called Do the Doktor Dolittle (Jan23, Feb1), which features amazingly detailed silhouette animation produced in Germany in the 1920s. If you haven’t seen silhouette animation before you will be amazed at how evocative such a simple idea can be. Add to this live music accompaniment composed and performed by Miles & Karina and you have a truly memorable experience for even the youngest viewers.
You’ll want to break out the footie PJs for this year’s Pajama Party with Recess Monkey (Jan 24, 7p.m.). There will be cupcakes and dancing as well as a sneak peek of some of the delightful animation from the festival. Don’t miss the all you can eat Pancake Breakfast and Short Film Smorgasbord (Feb 1, 9:30a.m.) featuring the program of colorful, entertaining, and unexpected animation Talk to the Animals (Jan 31, Feb 1). Even though it’s appropriate for younger kids everyone will enjoy the visually inventive, artistic, and innovative animation of Paint Me a Story (Jan 25, 29, 31, Feb 1).
In addition to the films and events the festival also offers classes in filmmaking. On Sunday, January 26 there is a free do-it-yourself all-ages Drop-In Animation workshop. Build, draw, or cut out a character and then learn how to make it move on film.
AGES 8 AND UP
For older kids there are a large number of feature films and short film programs of live action, animation, documentaries, and fiction. Kids will have the opportunity to hear Persian, Dutch, Basque, Russian, Korean, Azeri and many more languages as they see how children live in other parts of the world. There are blocks of films recommended for ages 8, 9, 10, 11, 14 and older that get progressively more complex in their emotional content and subject matter dealing with bullying, illness, addiction, poverty, war, and death. But as grim as that might sound the large majority of these films are inspiring, hopeful, and ultimately come with a happy ending.
One of the opening weekend feature films, Horizon Beautiful (Jan 25, 28) is a perfect example. It’s the story of a boy, Admassu, living on the streets of Addis Ababa who dreams of becoming a soccer star. He thinks his perfect opportunity has arrived when arrogant soccer magnate, Franz, comes to Ethiopia to rebuild his image after a scandal. Frustrated at every turn Admassu convinces a street gang to kidnap Franz so that Admassu can rescue him. Of course, nothing goes as planned but through all the thrills and danger Admassu still manages to find his happy ending. The film is a reminder of everything that’s exotic and charming about the festival.
It’s not alone, there are many great feature films lined up but I’m particularly interested in Kakooti, a view into life in Iran seen through the eyes of a hard-working 13 year old girl, and Buta a film set in a small mountain village in Azerbaijan. I think kids will also really enjoy The ZigZag Kid, a caper that unfolds in the French Riviera.
Among the many features, short films and documentaries there are programs that focus on Native Americans, Latin America, and a special program from Macedonia with early silent films accompanied by live Balkan music. There are classes for kids 8-12 on Movie Making With Sock Puppets (Feb 1) and Remix, Reuse, Recycle (Jan 25-26) where kids get to assemble their own movies using found footage. Throw in the Children’s Jury, where kids get to vote on the best of the festival, and the Seattle Children’s Hospital Events and you can understand why the Children’s Film Festival Seattle is one of the most respected festivals of it’s kind in the country.
If you go…
Interview with Liz Shepherd, Director of the Children’s Film Festival Seattle
I understand you had a large number of submissions for the festival this year. How do you find the films and select them to be included in the festival?
This year we had more than 400 submissions — a record, which I think means our festival is now firmly on the map. We’re known as one of the select festivals of our kind in the United States, and the biggest one west of the Mississippi. But we also solicit a lot of films. It’s a treasure hunt and a big research project to figure out which films are really appealing to audiences in other children’s film festivals worldwide. Our team spends months scouring the Internet and looking at other festival catalogs. And we have a secret weapon — a woman named Renate Zylla, who is our Berlin-based festival program adviser. She is one of the most knowledgeable people in the world in terms of international children’s films. Each year, she sends us wonderful suggestions.
When you’re reviewing all the films do themes emerge? Do you ask filmmakers to submit around an idea or do you build the theme of the festival based on what you get?
We have very general guidelines about what can be submitted to us, so it is always fascinating to me to see the themes that emerge each year. It’s as if a collective idea presents itself to many different filmmakers all over the world. This year, the themes that jumped out were transformation and magic, the fine line between dreaming and being awake, the act of reaching for the moon. We received so many films this year about the moon, it was really amazing.
There is a program called Spotlight on Macedonia this year that includes some silent films from the earliest days of cinema. How do you find works like this from distant corners of the globe?
I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the first ever Giffoni/Macedonia Film Festival this year. It was a collaboration between a very big Italian film festival for kids, the Giffoni Experience, and the Macedonian Film Fund, held in Skopje, Macedonia. It was a brilliant festival — the films were great and there were also so many activities for kids, everything from ballroom dancing to creating their own video games. But there was a program of recent films made by Macedonian directors that caught my attention. I decided to pair it with some of the earliest film images ever made in the late 19th and early 20th century, by Yanaki and Milton Manaki, two Macedonian brothers who were pioneers of the cinema in the Ottoman Empire. During the silent film portion of the program, we’ve invited two fantastic Balkan musicians to accompany the films. I think it is going to be a great program, because it looks forward and back, and shows the appeal and power of cinema in another part of the world. Because the new films are a bit serious, we’ve rated it for ages 14 and older.
Is it easy to find films for every age or do you have to ask filmmakers to submit films for different age groups?
We get submissions geared to every age range. It is really important to us to be able to offer programs for everyone from first-time moviegoers up to kids entering their teenage years. Some of our programs are really gentle and others are more hard-hitting and edgy. Parents can check out all the descriptions of our programs — we try to be really communicative about the content of everything we offer.
What do you want families and kids to take away from the festival this year?
We want kids and families to see the world together, and feed their minds. Some of our films are funny and filled with adventure, while others are more contemplative and simply artful. Many of the films we show will provide grist for great discussions afterwards, about people and places and issues in the world. Above all, we want everyone to see films that have great beauty and emotional honesty — movies that affirm the great storytelling power and possibility of the big screen.