“The Inventor,” photo courtesy of Children’s Film Festival Seattle
Outer space is infinite and so is a child’s imagination. This year, Children’s Film Festival Seattle (CFFS) celebrates both with five feature films and 21 shorts programs (that’s nearly 200 films from 40 countries!) offering families the opportunity to discover and explore new worlds. The 19th annual Children’s Film Festival Seattle runs Feb. 2–10 in person and online.
For families who want to venture out to in-person events, CFFS opens the festival by screening “WALL-E” on the IMAX screen at Pacific Science Center. All other screenings will take place at Northwest Film Forum’s (NWFF) theater on Capitol Hill, along with 20 in-person filmmaker appearances and half a dozen all-ages DIY workshops like shadow puppetry. But for those who’d rather keep their journeys in the mind, the festival provides the option to watch from home.
The hybrid festival format gives families the chance to see the festival their own way, whether that’s the classic cinema experience in NWFF’s screening rooms or the comfort of your own couch (perfect for the contagious or immunocompromised) or a combination of the two.
Every program has at least one weekend screening in the cinema, and most films are available for streaming. There are three categories of festival pass: virtual, hybrid and in-person. Both virtual and in-person tickets are available for individual programs as well. There is a sliding scale for individual tickets and passes, and a combined parent-and-child pass makes attending in person more affordable. NWFF holds a few free community tickets for each screening.
On opening night, Feb. 2, the festival is showing Disney’s “WALL-E” at the Pacific Science Center’s PACCAR IMAX Theater. It’s the only off-site event on the program. The partnership between NWFF and Pacific Science Center grants all festival ticket holders half price admission to the science center between Feb. 2–16. Pacific Science Center members also get member pricing for the film festival.
Half a dozen all-ages events, including a free story time open to the public, will also be held in-person only. Kids can explore workshops to learn film skills like making space-themed movie-prop cakes, foley arts and stop-motion animation. Please note, some require an adult to attend with younger children.
The Generations of Imagination screening on Feb. 4 celebrates intergenerational relationships. Salvador Salazar, director of the short film “Marias,” will be in attendance and all grandparents and other caregivers will be admitted at half price ($7).
Feb. 9 is Teen Night. Presented by TeenTix, admission for teenagers is only $5. The evening begins with a silk-screening workshop in the lobby. The feature documentary “Homeschooled,” (10+) follows four homeschooled California teens preparing for their own version of prom, and the shorts program “It’s a Mess, I Guess” (13+) explores all the messy highs and lows of adolescence.
On closing night, the multinational animated film “The Inventor” serves as a gateway to science and history as it follows Leonardo DaVinci (Stephen Fry) and Princess Marguerite de Nevarre (Daisy Ridley) in their search for the meaning of life. Filmmakers Jim Capobianco and Pierre-Luc Granjon will attend the in-person only screening on Feb. 10. There will be a craft activity with Seattle Recreative in the lobby and festival awards will be announced before the show.
Besides the in-person only opening and closing night movies, and the hybrid “Homeschooled,” there are two more feature-length films in the festival, both recommended for ages 10 and older. “Headspace” plays into the festival theme with an in-person only screening on Feb. 3. The animated South African film is about a boy who must protect the planet from an invasion of microscopic aliens.
The world premiere of “Mountain Boy,” in Arabic with English subtitles, is available for streaming, but director Zainab Shaheen and producer Nancy Paton will be in attendance at the Feb. 3 in-person showing. Featuring a lead actor with autism, this movie from the United Arab Emirates is based on Michele Ziolkowski’s book “The Boy Who Knew the Mountains,” and focuses on the abilities of an individual with autism rather than the challenges.
Some special shorts programs draw families back to the festival year after year: a youth filmmaker showcase; films with an environmental theme; programs in the French and Spanish languages; and an all-ages collection of shorts that speak the universal language of music (there may also be subtitles). This year’s identity-focused programs include Black is Beautiful, a collection centering young Black protagonists; Indigenous Inspirations, showcasing Indigenous stories from around the world; and Queer Quests, presenting a mix of sweet fairy tales and stories of children who challenge the status quo by showing their true colors.
Two programs that are appropriate for all ages include “Imagination Creations,” which celebrates the joy of creating things and using your imagination, and the good-vibes-only “Warm and Fuzzy.” Collecting films on the festival’s theme, “Out of This World!” (8+) is mostly non-verbal films about and in outer space. “Best Buds” (6+) includes nonverbal films and films in English that showcase unusual friendships – between a pair of socks, a cowboy and his horse, a yeti and a human – while “Friends of the Forest” (8+) features protagonists from the animal kingdom. “Feeling Fearless” (8+) celebrates courage in forms children can relate to – from overcoming a fear of the dark to protecting a treasured toy from an aggressive goose.
For tweens and teens, “Lost and Found” (10+) follows stuff that’s gone missing and important finds, and “Where I Belong” (10+) tells stories about young people finding their own unique place in the world. “Family Hug” (13+) includes some tear-jerkers about families dealing with the hard stuff together, while “New Homes” (13+) focuses on the immigrant experience. “Myths and Legends” (14+) combines traditional stories and brand-new mythologies from around the world.
Although each program provides an age recommendation reflecting either the maturity of the content or the complexity of the subtitles, remember that these are just guidelines. Parents know their own kids’ maturity level and subtitle-readiness best. But even so, parents might be surprised how well kids can follow along when the story is engaging.
If you go...
Where: Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Ave., Seattle
When: Feb. 2–10, 2024
Tickets: In-person, $7–$15; Virtual, $5–$25; Passes, $90–$190.
Find accessibility, transit and parking information on the NWFF website.