BY MILOS STEHLIK
A child’s life can be changed in the movies. This is both terrifying and exhilarating.
The terrifying prospect is of a child growing up into a disconnected media-addicted teenager whose adrenalin is pumped up by violent and sexist movies and video games.
The exhilarating possibility is of a child growing up as a self-confident individual caring and connected to the world, embracing learning, and making a contribution to the universe.
Violent and manipulative movies are easily discoverable with a few clicks. Finding those films which engage a child’s imagination, provoke them to think, and build their empathy take a little more effort.
Thanks to the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, which Facets founded 35 years ago, children, families, and young people in Chicago have an extraordinary choice.
Each year, under the curatorship of Ann Vikstrom, the Festival scours the movie universe – thousands of films from over 40 countries – to select 250 feature-length and short films. This year’s festival unspools at eight separate Chicago-area locations from November 1 through November 9 (For more information, www.facets.org or 773-281-9075).
In The Incredible Story of the Giant Pear for example, a worrisome elephant named Sebastian and a brave cat named Mitch find a message in a bottle. Sebastian and Mitch then team up with a kooky scientist as they confront underwater dragons, wacky pirates and ghostly apparitions in order to save the town’s mayor from a power-hungry rogue.
“The movie shows children how, with the help of unlikely friends, you can gain self-confidence to go on an adventure you never dreamt of,” said Ann Vikstrom about the film.
A medieval princess decides that she isn’t really cut out for the royal life, and has to tell her parents in Dark, Dark Woods, a short film from Denmark, shown in the collection of animated short films, “Time After Time.” Francie Liebschner, the director of the film Hurry Up, Herold!, another animated film in this collection, is coming from Germany to lead a question and answer session following the screening of the films with kids and families.
For slightly older kids (ages 9 and up), Rosie and Moussa is a live-action feature from Belgium in which Rosie, who recently moved with her mom to a new Apartment building, meets Moussa, an immigrant boy from a large and boisterous family. They become friends though Rosie still misses her absent father. Yet Moussa engages the neighborhood to help Rosie move forward with her new life.
“Girls Got This,” a collection of short films with girls as central characters, features a girl who wants to make the Olympic team in a “boys only” sport in the Chinese short film Iron Hands. In Bike Bird, a film from Norway, Zara is an Afghan whose family is seeking asylum in Norway. While waiting to learn whether she’ll be permitted to stay in Europe, she gets hooked on biking and becomes determined to learn how to ride.
The Chicago International Children’s Film Festival is a competitive festival and is juried by separate juries of children, youth, and adults. It became the first children’s film festival in the world to be accredited as an Academy-qualifying festival. This means that Festival winners in the live action short and short animation categories can go on to compete at the Academy Awards. The Festival’s track record is 32 nominations, and 8 Oscar wins!
“A good children’s film is not a film for only children. It works on multiple levels,” says Ann Vikstrom. “What children and adults discover in the film may be different, but then that disparity becomes a subject for conversation and learning.
“I think of it this way,” she says. “There is little that is as magical as seeing the eyes of a child light up with a film which feeds their imagination, opens them up to new worlds, and makes them feel and think. It’s one of the greatest experiences any parent, grandparent, or adult can have – all thanks to the incredible skills and creativity of these filmmakers.”