The epi-center of children's cultural life in this country for the next few weeks shifts once again to Chicago, with the opening of the twentieth Chicago International Children's Film Festival today. Each year the Festival screens hundreds of films and videos made for and by young people from around the world -- dramas and documentaries, comedies and social commentaries, meditations and animated shorts of every variety. In fact, just to give you an idea of the quality of the movies being shown in Chicago, one of the prize-winning animated films at the festival will become a nominee for this coming year's Oscars.
The films themselves fly in from Norway and New Zealand, China and Cameroon, Iceland and Iran, Austria and Australia. There are some films made by or with stars in them, like last year's, "The Red Sneakers," directed by the late Gregory Hines, about a magical pair of battered basketball shoes that come to the aid of an aspiring young athelete. And this year, Jane Seymour will be screening her new film for young people, Touching Wild Horses.
For the most part, these are films that you will never see in our multiplexes or on American television because they aren't backed by huge publicity budgets and driven by the entertainment engines that affect so much of what our children see. Instead, the films in Chicago reflect the guiding purposes of the Festival -- to "[present] the best in children's media and [advocate] positive programming for children: humanistic, non-exploitative, culturally diverse, and non-violent work that not only features children in leading roles, but tells their stories and addresses their issues."
The festival also sponsors a number of workshops for aspiring filmmakers, during festival times and throughout the year. Indeed, one of the intentions of the festival is to provide guidance that isn't generally offered to young people today by encouraging children to watch what's on the screen with a critical eye. To this end, children play a key role in the juries that select the films that are shown at the festival, and, independent of the adult judges, give a series of their own prizes to the films that speak to them -- like last year's hysterically funny film from the UK, "Hamilton Mattress," about an aardvark who finds his true calling as a drummer in a salsa band. This a week full of surprises and wonders. So if you can, just let the wind take you and your family to the windy city.
Copyright 2003 © John Cech
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