Anyone over the age of 40 surely realizes by now that childhood isn't exactly what it used be. With online access to all kinds of information and entertainment, not to mention an ever-widening range of silver screen works tailored to contemporary junior consumption, cinema for the younger crowd has moved with the timesâ€¦ or has it?
According to Michal Matus, artistic director of the forthcoming annual Children's Film Festival (Tel Aviv Cinematheque, September 23-26), despite the postmodern laissez faire, there are still some core areas to be addressed when it comes to children's entertainment.
"We take children very seriously," Matus declares. "You have to treat kids without manipulation, without condescension, address them professionally and with respect. Kids today are savvy."
However, that does not mean they should be treated as adults, or that they should be allowed free rein. After all, kids are still kids, and that is duly reflected in the festival program. Films such as the delightful Dutch work Frogs and Toads offer timeless values and a definitively wholesome tale about an adventure that portrays an unsullied children's angle on life. Frogs and Toads also has a strong environmental message to impart, and there are other green elements in the festival, including a "Nature for Kids" section with documentary clips from Africa, as well as some studio shot material. Here Matus says she was looking not only to inform children about environmental activities, but also to engender optimism about the future of our planet and achieve a positive effect.
"The idea is also for the project to impact the children's parents. It's a very important message. Anyway, kids are naturally optimistic, and this gets a good message across to the viewers," she says.
Matus has accrued plentiful experience in the field and evidently knows a thing or two about entertainment for children.
"There are three important things that have to be addressed in relation to kids: responsibility, imagination and attentiveness," she explains. "Unfortunately, today there is so much violence in cinema, but the festival looks at other, healthier aspects. The films we chose to bring have a strong educational aspect to them, and they were selected carefully in order to get a message across."
Still, that does not necessarily mean sticking purely to the safe, less imaginative side of the junior tracks.
"If kids express an interest in issues like sex, violence and the family then we should show that to them, but in a tactful and sensitive way," Matus continues. "In the 21st century, children have a sexual identity from an early age."
Daring stuff, indeed, and Matus and her colleagues on the festival selection board, including iconic actress Gila Almagor, have obviously not pulled their punches. This is amply illustrated by the inclusion of Ready! OK?, which navigates an often comedic route through the tricky minefield area of infant sexual tendencies.
"Films have been looking at the family narrative, including the more contentious elements, for many years now," Matus observes, "but Ready! OK? brings us right up to date on some of the more sensitive areas like, for instance, childhood homosexuality. In a way, it's a bit like Billy Elliot."
Matus is also a believer in the tenet that you're never too young to start. The festival's "Gulgulnoa" section caters to children aged three to six and will run the world's first-ever interactive cinema for kids, the Gulgulnoa cinema. Meanwhile, The Bird Hunter's Son not only provides the viewers with shots of stunning Mongolian landscapes, it also lifts the veil on the evolution of tradition in contemporary Mongolia.
Burning issues closer to home are not overlooked, and Canadian documentary The Peace Tree looks at how children of different religions get together to celebrate each other's traditions.
"We hope to bring children from Jericho and Hebron to the screening," says Matus. "We are looking to expose kids more to current affairs, and it would be nice if the festival had some impact in this area, too. This kind of thing is unique in our region."
But the festival is not exclusively designed for the younger generations.
"We like to show movies that the older ones may miss," explains Matus. "This year, we're showing The Little Princess with Shirley Temple, and it will be preceded by a talk. I don't think you're ever too old to enjoy that movie."
It won't be all passive entertainment at the festival. For example, one item in the festival program is an interactive workshop that involves reading pre-shooting scripts. The audience will work through the script and try to sort out artistic and other dilemmas. Almagor will chair the slot.
Awards will also be allocated by two judges' panels - one adult and one junior.
"Every year I am fascinated by the fact that it is the kids' panel that goes for the harder-core material at the festival," says Matus. "They don't balk at some of the tougher issues like the adults do. That's quite an eye-opener."
All movies will be subtitled in English and Hebrew, as required.
For Matus, there is nothing childlike about the festival: "We offer all family entertainment and address issues that should interest us all. I always say our movies are for anyone over the age of six. You should never be too old to enjoy kids' movies."
For information about the festival, go to: http://kidsfestival.cinema.co.il.