Taking kids seriously

The Children’s Film Festival at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque aims to provide quality entertainment – with a light educational element thrown in.

Nicostratus the Pelican (photo credit: MICHAL AMATHIEU)
Nicostratus the Pelican
(photo credit: MICHAL AMATHIEU)
As most parents of schoolaged kids know, there is an awful lot of dross out there in the children’s entertainment sector. If you have offspring in that age bracket, and you want them to get some honest-to-goodness offerings, you could a lot worse than take them – or send them – to the Tel Aviv Cinematheque between July 17 and July 23 for the 2014 Tel Aviv International Children’s Film Festival.
Mind you, considering this is the 10th edition of the event, the news of the quality material is not exactly of the hot-off-the-press variety. All told there are close to 90 works on offer over the seven days, aimed at kids from the age of three all the way up to the streetwise teenager bracket.
There are brand-new works, and movies that have done the rounds for a few years, which take in award-winning films from countries across the world and back, including Ethiopia, Uruguay, Holland, Norway, India, Vietnam and Britain.
Perennial artistic director Michal Matus is delighted to have reached the decade milestone, and to use it to take something of a nostalgic look back.
“This year’s festival lineup includes a batch of all the movies that were voted the best of each year’s program since the event was established,” she says.
“These are all movies which the audience loved and packed the auditorium. That is the best proof of the quality of any movie.”
The gilded nine-year lineup includes Nicostratus the Pelican starring Emir Kusturica, which sheds some light on father-son relations; the delightful Rafiki from Norway which touches on the sensitive issue of ethnicity; and Crocodiles from Germany, which tells the story of a social outcast who eventually gains acceptance and the respect of his peers.
According to Matus, the festival’s raison d’etre is to provide children and youth with a different cinematic experience. “This festival, in terms of its agenda, manages to offer children something they don’t normally get from mainstream cinema, or from TV.”
Matus is naturally aware of the competition, not just from the movie theater and television, but also from the Internet. She and her cohorts are catering to the tastes of kids who have grown up with computers and are used to accessing practically anything they want at the click of a mouse button. It is quite a challenge.
That slippery slope becomes even more difficult to navigate in this country, where state funding of cultural endeavors is pitifully small.
“The fact that we have managed to survive in the state of Israel for 10 years, to my mind, means we have managed to reach out to our audiences,” she declares, adding that she and the festival are not just treading water.
“Every year, the audiences grow and the range of ideas widens.”
Matus is unabashedly proud of what she and the festival have put out there for the last 10 years. “We have brought award-winning movies, and movies that make a difference. These are movies that make you view the world in a different light after you see them.”
That sounds more than a little educational, and the artistic director fully admits to having designs in that area. “I wouldn’t say the films are didactic, but I would say there is a thought-provoking element here.”
Matus also proudly informs me that the festival’s international standing was recently cemented. “This year, the festival was chosen by the European Film Academy (EFA) to start the voting for the Best Youth Film of 2014, at a competition which took place in May. That’s a great honor. There were 17 countries involved, including England and Spain. It’s amazing that all the youth jurors voted for this film.”
The winner, naturally, features in this year’s Tel Aviv lineup. The movie in question is a Dutch production called Regret!, directed by Dave Schram, about the all-too-common problem of bullying. Regret! will open this year’s festival program and is aimed at the 14-plus age sector.
It is one of eight works sparring for the Best Film award at the festival, and it faces stiff opposition. For starters, there is a German offering for the 10-and-above age slot called Windstorm.
The film tells the stirring tale of a 13-year-old girl who is considered to be an underachiever, until she proves everyone wrong by taming a highly strung horse. The eponymous hero from South African production Felix has no such problems. He is considered a highly talented recorder player, but he has a struggle on his hands if he is to realize his dream of playing the saxophone.
Elsewhere in the competition lineup you can find Killa from India, for the 12-and-up age group, about a youngster who has to learn a few dirty tricks if he is to survive a baptism of fire at his new school. Young soccer fans – in the aftermath of the World Cup currently in progress in Brazil – should enjoy Believe from Britain, which features legendary Manchester United manager Matt Busby and a highly talented – and mischievous – young player.
The festival roster also includes family- oriented films, movies made by children, as well as movies about children, from Israel and around the world. Little ones, and their parents, will be catered to by the Pizi Pizi film category, and there are short films and youth-friendly documentaries in the lineup too.
Matus notes that this is a festival for children and youth in which the youngsters have as much say in the proceedings as possible. The 2014 EFA winner is a case in point. “Regret! is not an easy film, and I don’t believe that an adult jury would have voted for it. That’s another important feature of this festival,” says Matus.
“This is a festival that addresses children and youth on their own terms.”
She is keenly aware that the current younger crop is a very different kettle of fish to kids of yesteryear. “Today, childhood is not the childhood of the past. Today’s children are far more intelligent and are exposed too all sorts of content, are less innocent and live in a reality that is less innocent. We [adults] know we cannot be protective, and we must not stick our heads in the sand.
“We have to address the children’s areas of interest and their needs, and of course provide them with good entertainment. We must never forget that.”
For tickets and more information about the Tel Aviv International Children’s Film Festival: (03) 515-7929, (03) 606-0800 ext. 9 and www.cinema.co.il