The animated film “Journey to Yourland” is one of the feature films in this year’s Children’s Film Festival Seattle.
There is magic in the experience of going to the cinema, buying popcorn, and settling into the dark to share jumpscares and laughs with total strangers. But between streaming and the pandemic, a new generation of kids is missing out on that experience.
The 2023 Children’s Film Festival Seattle is all about bringing cinema magic into kids’ lives.
The 18th annual festival runs Feb. 3–12, 2023, with an expansive program of 150 films from 40 nations, plus a collection of in-person special events. Among the five features films and 17 shorts programs will be in-person workshops, celebrations to open and close the festival, an art installation and craft activities in the lobby, in addition to many filmmaker appearances that will encourage families to enjoy the magic of a trip to the movies.
However, since it’s only magical if you can access it, CFFS will continue to operate on a hybrid model that allows families to watch the movies from home. This year’s theme is magic and fairy tales. But don’t worry if you’re not interested in fantasy — there is plenty of magic to be found in stories of family and friendship, too.
How to watch
A hybrid festival gives virtually everyone a way to see what they want, where they want it. Every program plays in the cinema at least once. Except for the special opening and closing night shows, every film is also available via streaming for the duration of the festival. In-person screenings are concentrated on the two weekends of the festival to simplify scheduling.
There are three categories of festival passes: virtual, hybrid and in-person. A combined parent-and-child pass makes bringing the whole family more affordable. Both virtual and in-person tickets are available for individual films and shorts programs as well. There is sliding-scale pricing for festival passes, and a few free community tickets are held for each screening. See below for more information on purchasing tickets or passes.
In-person special events
A handful of festival experiences take place only in person. On opening night, Friday, Feb. 3, the festival will screen “Missing Link,” the most recent film from Oregon-based studio LAIKA (of “Boxtrolls” and “Kubo and the Two Strings” fame). Starring Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis and Zoe Saldaña, with Emma Thompson and Stephen Fry in supporting roles, the movie centers on helping an endangered PNW creature — Sasquatch — look for his distant relatives, the yeti. Writer and director Chris Butler will be in attendance.
The festival’s closing night program on Sunday, Feb. 12, includes a ceremony announcing both the Youth Jury and Professional Jury award winners, followed by a screening of the German musical fantasy (presented in English) “The Magic Flute.” Opera and YA fiction tropes dovetail perfectly at an elite music academy containing a portal to the magical world of Mozart’s famous titular opera. Star Jack Wolfe (who plays Wylan Hendricks in the TV show “Shadow and Bone”) proves surprisingly competent as an opera singer.
Between these events, seven all-ages workshops (some require an adult to attend with younger children) will be held in person. These include activities such as story times, shadow puppetry, LARPing and making movie-prop cakes. Only one of them, the experimental filmmaking class “Cameraless Film,” will also be offered virtually.
Friday, Feb. 10, is Teen Night. Presented by TeenTix, admission for teenagers is only $5. The evening begins with a silk-screening demo in the lobby, followed by the short film program “Figuring It Out.”
Whether you watch in the theater or at home, the available films can be grouped by the ages of their primary audience. But, as the pirates say, “They’re more like guidelines, really.” Parents know their own kids’ maturity level and subtitle-readiness.
CFFS always includes a few thematic shorts programs: youth-made films; films with an environmental theme; programs in French and Spanish languages. This year’s identity-focused programs are Dream Black, a collection centering young Black protagonists, and Colors of Community, which celebrates diverse expressions of gender and sexuality. Or, as Bret Parker, director of the short “Pete” puts it: “Celebrating kids who inspire change just by being themselves and the superheroes who let that happen.” Parker will be in attendance at the Colors of Community screening.
The international feature-length animation of “Journey to Yourland” is a steampunk adventure gentle enough for even the youngest viewers, but shorts programs during which a new movie starts every few minutes is really where it’s at for the preschool set. In particular, the 10 short films in the program called Warm and Fuzzy feature critters and kids building friendships, being themselves and learning to manage their feelings.
The shorts program With a Little Help From My Friends leans even more intentionally into relationships. While the stories in Hopeful Harmonies might be too intense for some younger kids, their musical themes are universal.
In addition to all of the programs already listed, elementary-school-age kids will enjoy most of the feature films (especially “Singo,” an Iranian film about a girl who rescues crabs from fishermen, resulting in her family getting into hot water with the rest of the community).
Tweens and teens
The documentary “Far Away From Home” presents Latin American children as they wait in shelters in Tijuana for the resolution of their asylum requests in the United States. The protagonists of Growing Pains may live all over the world — or may even be made of clay — but tweens and teens can still identify with their experiences.
Also relatable: the stories in “Hi, I’m Home,” which revolve around the relationships between siblings and between parents and children (plus one grandmother who is not actually dead). And no matter how old a person is, we could all use a dose of “Literal Sunshine.”
If you go ...
When: This year’s Children’s Film Festival Seattle runs Feb. 3–12, 2023, with in-person film screenings and special events at Northwest Film Forum; streaming options from home also available. Check the complete festival schedule for dates and times of each feature film and shorts program, special events.
Safety: Masks are required for in-person attendees at Northwest Film Forum, for both film screenings, workshops and special events.
Tickets and passes: In-person film screening tickets (for feature films or shorts programs) are $14 general admission; $10 for children, students and seniors; and $7 for Northwest Film Forum members. Virtual screening tickets for individual films or shorts programs are available on a self-selecting sliding scale of $5–$25 per family. Full-access festival passes are available for in-person attendance, streaming or hybrid viewing (both in-person and streaming), each one with tiered pricing available to select.
Concessions: The concession stand will be open! No outside food or drink items are allowed inside Northwest Film Forum; guests are asked to lower their masks only while eating or drinking.
Parking: Consider public transportation as parking on Capitol Hill is challenging and expensive. Northwest Film Forum’s website has directions and parking info.