Want to show your kids the world? A good place to start is the 40th annual Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF), which runs from May 15 to June 8. SIFF, the largest film festival in the United States, screens more than 250 features and 150 short films from more than 70 countries, including a program of films specifically for families and younger moviegoers. And if you dig deeper into the festival calendar you will find excellent movies that will appeal to kids from ages six to 16. We have compiled a list of movies we think are appropriate for families and highlighted our top ten picks arranged by age recommendation youngest to oldest.
May 24, noon, SIFF Cinema Uptown
June 1, 11 a.m. SIFF Cinema Uptown
This is a collection of animated, live action, and documentary short films that is appropriate for even the youngest moviegoers. But it's not just for kids; these films are a delight for any age. With run times that average between three and ten minutes it's a rollercoaster ride through a variety of subjects. I'm particularly curious to see The Numberlys.
Length and rating: 80 minutes; ages 5 and up
House of Magic 3D
May 26, 11 a.m., SIFF Cinema Uptown
June 7, 10:30 a.m., AMC Pacific Place
June 8, 3 p.m., SIFF Cinema Uptown
A French animated adventure (in English) about a stray cat who befriends an old magician and helps him to save his house. It may not be as technically sophisticated as How to Train Your Dragon but it has charm and heart and kids will love the animals, automatons and gadgets that play supporting roles.
Length and rating: 82 minutes; ages 6 and up
Land of the Bears 3D
May 18, 10:30 a.m., AMC Pacific Place
May 24, 10 a.m., Lincoln Square Cinemas
May 28, 6:30 p.m, SIFF Cinema Uptown
This documentary focuses on a family of brown bears (including some ridiculously cute cubs) on the Kamchatka Peninsula. The filmmakers have gone to great lengths to get beautiful and interesting shots of the bears as they travel around the Russian countryside looking for food, playing, and illustrating the details of bear society. Bears are cool, and this movie makes them look fun and fascinating.
Length and rating: Ages 6 and up (includes scenes of animals hunting and killing prey)
Beyond Beauty: Taiwan From Above
May 21, 7 p.m., AMC Pacific Place
May 23, 4:30 p.m., Lincoln Square Cinemas
Don't think a film that is 90 minutes of nothing but aerial photography ca be interesting? Think again: This movie is a mind-blowing spectacle that has to be seen on the big screen. The spectacular shots of natural beauty are balanced by the devastating realities of environmental damage caused by human development. It's a powerful story told effectively with images that are hard to argue with.
Length and rating: 93 minutes; ages 6 and up
May 16, 4 p.m., Lincoln Square Cinemas
May 17, 3:30 p.m., SIFF Cinema Uptown
May 18, 2:30 p.m., SIFF Cinema Uptown
The first official documentary about LEGO explores the vast world of the bricks, from “Master Builder” and their creations to therapeutic uses of LEGO to classroom use. It features a number of builders from the Seattle area, including local LEGO superstar Alice Finch, who has recreated Hogwarts, the fictional town of Rivendell and other fictional places in amazing detail. (Read our Q&A with Alice Finch.)
Length and rating: 95 minutes; ages 7 and up (not because of anything objectionable, just that it might be a little dry for younger kids)
June 5, 9:45 p.m., Egyptian Theatre
June 6, 4 p.m., Egyptian Theatre
Hip-hop and breakdancing emerged from the Bronx to become a worldwide phenomenon and this inspirational documentary examines how the music and dance can act as a force for social change in the poorest urban neighborhoods of Colombia, Yemen, Uganda and Cambodia. Whether or not you like hip-hop you should make an effort to see this film for the compelling mix of cultures and the spectacular athleticism of the dance.
Length and rating: 108 minutes; ages 8 and up
May 17, 10:30 a.m., AMC Pacific Place
May 25, 1 p.m., Renton, IKEA Performing Arts Center
May 31, 10:30 a.m., AMC Pacific Place
This adaptation of the popular Spanish comic ZIPI Y ZAPE is an amusing adventure mystery full of puzzles, pranks and pirate treasure. If you've been in Harry Potter withdrawal, or your VHS copy of The Goonies is wearing thin, Zip & Zap will fill your craving for mischief, adventure and spectacular fun.
Length and rating: 92 minutes; ages 8 and up
May 24, 6 p.m., Renton, IKEA Performing Arts Center
June 2, , 6:30 p.m., SIFF Cinema Uptown
June 4, 4 p.m., SIFF Cinema Uptown
Our kids love the cooking competition show Chopped. This production from South Korea, Thailand and Singapore (in English and Mandarin) has all the fun and drama of a cooking reality show competition mixed with the story of a young man struggling to keep his family together. As an added bonus, we get mouth-watering shots of absolutely beautiful food. Plan to go out to a nice dinner after you see this one.
Length and rating: Ages 10 and up
May 28, 9:30 p.m., Egyptian Theatre
May 30, 4 p.m., Egyptian Theatre
The concept of this fantastic anime seems simple on the surface: A boy and a girl who each have the opposite gravitational pull meet and have an adventure as they struggle to learn the truth about their world. OK, maybe it's not that simple, but the beauty of this science fiction romance is in the incredible detail and mind-bending visuals of this imaginative and intelligent film. If your kids love anime you should see Patema Inverted on the big screen.
Length and rating: 98 minutes; ages 10 and up
We Are The Best!
May 17, 9:30 p.m., Harvard Exit
May 21, 4:30 p.m., AMC Pacific Place 11
It's tempting to look at this coming-of-age punk rock comedy set in 1982 as a story of girls discovering their power through rock music. And while that is a part of this film it may be more appropriate to look to Marlon Brando's answer to the question "What are you rebelling against?" in The Wild One: "Whadda you got?" The charming girls at the center of this film don't have anything Earth-shattering to overcome but it's certainly fun to watch them take on the world.
Length and rating: 102 minutes; ages 12 and up (UK says 15, there is underage drinking and smoking)
Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy
May 31, 1 p.m., Harvard Exit
June 4, 9:30 p.m., SIFF Cinema Uptown
This film is a fascinating and playful experiment in social media as narrative. The filmmakers used 410 tweets from a real Thai teenager to tell the story of Mary and her final year of high school, including all of her ups and downs, her relationship with her best friend and her romantic troubles. If you have a teenager who is glued to Twitter you will want to check this out.
Length and rating: 127 minutes; ages 13 and up
More films for kids
There are many more films at the festival that are appropriate for younger audiences, including in the Films4Families line-up. Here is a handy list of more that we would recommend.
Belle and Sebastien: A young boy and a dog help Jewish refugees cross the Alps in WWII. Ages 6 and up according to international ratings
The Boy and the World: Brazilian hand-drawn animated feature about a young boy journeying to find his father. Ages 6 and up.
How to Train Your Dragon 2: Sequel to the popular movie, rated PG.
Touch of the Light: Music, dance and romance from Taiwan. Ages 8 and up.
FutureWave Shorts Best of NFFTY: Highlights from Seattle's own under-18 film festival.
God Help the Girl: Scottish musical romance based on the music of Belle and Sebastian. Ages 13 and up.
Dear White People: Funny and biting racial satire set at college. Ages 13 and up.
Chaplin Shorts: Classic silent comedy from the master. Ages 8 and up.
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town: Frank Capra's classic screwball comedy. Ages 9 and up.
Plus, for adults, a difficult film that's a must-see is Sold: The Movie, about child sex trafficking.
1. Plan your SIFF calendar carefully and book in advance
The SIFF web site is an excellent source of information but if your busy schedule is anything like mine you may have limited options for the movies you most want to see. Don't let them slip away.
2. Consider a package
If there's more than one movie you want to see definitely consider buying a ticket package. It may look like a significant chunk of cash but you'll save on service fees with each purchase and the package tickets are cheaper than individual tickets.
3. Give yourself plenty of time to find parking
There are parking garages near many of the venues but if you're going to see something at the Egyptian or the Harvard Exit it may be a challenge. Expect lines and always get there early no matter what you're seeing.
4. Bathroom tips
There are 12 different venues for the festival and the accommodations are different at each but keep in mind, if there is more than one bathroom go to the one that is farther away, the line is likely to be shorter.