By John Kubalak
If you’re interested in exposing your children to films beyond the usual Hollywood kiddie fare, the Seventh Annual Children’s Film Festival Seattle should be on your calendar. The largest such festival in the Northwest, it runs from Thursday, January 26 through Sunday, February 5 at Northwest Film Forum with 125 films from nearly 30 countries.
Most of the films are appropriate for children ages 7 and up, although there are several programs specifically for older kids (ages 9-10 and up) and for very young audiences (starting at ages 2-4). The organizers have provided an excellent schedule on their website with details on many of the films as well as age recommendations. (Considering that my 9-year-old daughter finds some of what I consider to be perfectly innocent animated imagery "creepy" I would take these age recommendations to heart.)
Watching some of these films reminded me of the first time I saw the classic Japanese animated family film My Neighbor Totoro. Now that the director Hayao Miyazaki's animation has become well-known, with the Oscar-winning Spirited Away and the box office success of Ponyo, it can be hard to remember how different Totoro felt -- the pacing, the fantastic elements that were beyond anything you had ever seen in most kid movies. You'll get this same feeling from many of The Children's Festival films. They're a reminder of the rich and vibrant world of children's entertainment that exists beyond our borders.
As in any film festival you're going to have winners and losers. My children found the Dutch Disney film Fuchsia the Mini-Witch to be a perfectly serviceable entertainment, with wonderfully colorful visual style -- but its charm was buried under overwrought clichés.
On the other hand the opening night premiere of Tales of the Night, a series of vignettes animated completely in silhouette (with French subtitles) against beautifully colorful backgrounds, is remarkable. The storytelling is so powerful that my 11-year-old son was driven to tears by the story of "The Boy Who Never Lied." I don't know where else you're going to get a chance to see a film like this - except for the Children's Film Festival.
If You Go:
Prices: Admission to most festival programs is $7 for kids, $10 for adults and $6 for Northwest Film Forum members. Babes in arms are free. Special events have special pricing.
Some of the films our family is particularly looking forward to include:
- EEP! A Dutch feature about a little girl with wings instead of arms. My wife has said we will be going to see this, no questions! Saturday, Jan. 28 at 1 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 5 at 1:30 p.m.
- The Magicians. Another Dutch film about an eight-year-old magician that looks to be good fun for our son who thinks of himself as a latter-day Houdini. Thursday, Feb. 2 at 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb 4. at 3 p.m.
- Fire and Ice: New Animation from Russia.A showcase of Russian animation that promises something different and unusual. Saturday, Jan 28 at 3pm, Saturday, Feb 4 at 3:30pm.
Other events of note:
- Opening night gala and premiere of Tales of the Heart; also with drummers from Red Eagle Native Theatre performing. Thursday, January 26, 7 p.m.
- Pajama party with music by Caspar Babypants and a sneak peek at some of the animated films. Friday, January 27, 7 p.m.
- An all-you-can-eat Pancake Breakfast and selection of the best live action and animated short films from the festival. Saturday, January 28
- String: An "object theater" performance for very young audiences, ages 2-6, by movement artist Mary Margaret Moore followed by a selection of short films, Touch My Heart, using clay, wool, fabric and other textures to tell stories. Sunday, Jan. 29 at 11 a.m., Monday, Jan 30 at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., Jan 31 at 10 a.m. (Tickets to some of the "String" performances have already sold out, so get them soon!)
- Closing ceremonies, including films created by kids in the festival workshops, the announcement of the Children's Jury awards, a panel of 15 kids ages 8-12 will award prizes to films in several categories, and a presentation of the prize-winning films. Sunday, February 5, 5 p.m.