"Supa Modo" by Likarion Wainaina, Germany & Kenya, 2018
Some adults might think that kids’ movies are nothing more than insipid, branded-character-driven vehicles for selling toys. With the occasional Pixar exception, a look at the marquee of your nearest cineplex won't do much to dispel the idea.
But smart, quality films for kids and families do exist, and the Northwest Film Forum is bringing them to you with the 14th edition of the Children’s Film Festival Seattle. From Jan. 24 through Feb. 9 — mostly on weekends — the Children’s Film Festival Seattle screens 146 films from 39 nations around the world. Two of the features are their country’s Oscar submissions for Best Foreign Film — Kenya’s “Supa Modo,” by Likarion Wainaina, and Iran’s “Breath,” by Narges Abyar.
All of the festival's films are aimed at kids, from tots to tweens and teens, and as often as not, the heroes of these stories are children.
Just as this festival takes kids seriously as filmgoers, it takes kids seriously as global citizens. This year’s theme is “Be The Dream.” Families will see that theme emerge in films about young people overcoming great odds and making a difference in the world.
“These films are meant to encourage our audience members to think of themselves, too, as courageous agents of change,” says festival director Elizabeth Shepherd. “Our message to kids is to welcome adventures, use their imaginations and dream of the ways they can make a difference in the world.”
Things to do
As with any film festival, viewers can be as involved as they want to be, whether that means seeing just one movie or collection of shorts, or going all in and spending one or more whole weekends at the cinema with a full festival pass.
Four special events help to elevate the experience beyond just seeing a movie. Join the opening night “Muppet Movie” sing-along(Jan. 24) or try the all-you-can-eat Pancake Breakfast and Short Film Smorgasbord (Feb. 2). Marvel at the world’s oldest animated film, “The Adventures of Prince Achmed,” a silent movie perfect for children too young for subtitles and accompanied by a specially commissioned live score (Jan. 25). Or attend the free closing ceremony (Feb. 9) where Children’s Jury prizes will be awarded and short films that kids made in festival workshops will be screened alongside professional ones.
This year's festival will screen 14 feature-length films and 17 collections of shorts, in both live action and animation. At some screenings, the filmmakers will be in attendance. Families can browse the festival website and sort the offerings by feature films, short programs or recommended ages. A shorts program is a terrific introduction to the festival for first-time attendees.
Throughout the program, families will find films that demonstrate the impact young people can have on the world. This year, there is a particular focus on girls’ voices. Women and girls are both the subjects and makers of films like “Kayak to Klemtu,” a Canadian OwnVoices story about a 14-year-old Indigenous girl’s journey to environmental activism; “One Girl,” a U.K. documentary exploring the lives of girls in four very different countries; and “Chuskit,” an Indian film about a paraplegic girl who fights long odds to attend school.
But of course, sometimes kids just want to have fun, so the festival includes plenty of light-hearted entertainment, too. Check out the shorts program “Feathery and Furry Fun,” (for ages 2 and older) or the shenanigan-filled “Mr. Moll and the Chocolate Factory” (for ages 6 and older).
Thirty-one languages are represented among the films of the festival, (if you’re worried about subtitles, read our coverage of last year’s festival) but two special shorts programs serve bilingual families and language learners: Focus on Japan features four Japanese-language animations and Para Picar includes a mix of animation and live action all in Spanish. Most short programs run approximately one hour and comprise films related to a theme revealed in the program title, such as “Borders, Boundaries and Home,” “No Bullies Allowed,” “Force for Nature,” and “Seize the Day.”
Workshops for kids
In keeping with the festival’s mission of inspiring kids, there are opportunities for kids to actively explore filmmaking. On opening night, Jan. 24, kids ages 8–11 can join a workshop to eat pizza and make puppets before watching “The Muppet Movie” in the reserved puppet choir seating area.
Throughout the festival, the lobby will contain an interactive installation where everyone can experiment with shadow puppetry and stop-motion animation. The Friendly Rhythms of the Planet workshop lets kids ages 8–14 get hands-on crafting figures they will use in a nature-inspired animated short film. In 360 Filmmaking, youth ages 11–14 will plan, shoot and edit a short 360 film.
If you go...
When: The Children's Film Festival Seattle runs Thursday, Jan. 24 through Saturday, Feb. 9. Films screen all day on weekends and Wednesday, Jan. 30, a day off for Seattle Public Schools. Check the schedule for something to suit your crew.
Parking: Consider public transportation as parking on Capitol Hill is challenging and expensive. Northwest Film Forum's website has directions and parking info.
Festival trailer: Watch here.