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Why not international films?

Do you think your children are capable of reading subtitles? If not, do they like being read to? At the world-renowned Berlin Film Festival's 24 year old Kinderfilmfest, both are incorporated in a technique used to offer films of the world to children ages four to seventeen. With this method, Berlin audiences are often exposed to three languages: the original language of the film, English subtitles (and sometimes French, too), and simultaneous translation read aloud in German. This is the same technique used to translate the great export of American programming on Swedish television. A packed 900-seat theater for fifteen days is proof that this method, along with an excellent and diverse selection of films from Iran, Denmark, China, Turkmenistan, Brazil and more, is successful.

Surprisingly, there is an astounding lack of American participation at this festival. In 1993 when I visited the Kinderfilmfest to find films for my first children's program, I examined the program archives from 1977 until 1993, and saw that there had been only one American feature film and one short film in past festivals. Not only were these films not coming to America, American films were not competing in this critical forum (the Kinderfilmfest offers a 15,000DM prize selected by its adult International Jury and a Crystal Bear selected by its Kinder Jury). Since\ 1993, though, there have been two American Crystal Bear winners, WHERE THE ELEPHANT SITS by Mark Lowenthal and THE TIC CODE by Gary Winick (a film that received and "R" rating in the U.S.). This year there was an American short, a feature and a co-production with Wales but the two former garnered very little consideration from the judges and the latter was ultimately eliminated.

This year, the International Jury awarded the first prize to a subtle and beautiful Japanese film called NAGISA by Matsuro Konuma . NAGISA was so masterfully directed and photographed, that it made the 12 year-old cautiously watching and sampling adulthood seem as familiar as a sister, a daughter or yourself. The Kinder Jury chose THERE'S ONLY ONE JIMMY GRIMBLE by John Hay, a classic British underdog story about a timid soccer player from a working-class, single parent home who has to learn to believe in himself. Not just a boy's film, Jimmy's mom and a young female "pugilist" are also complex, original characters.

International programming on television and in cinemas provides access to languages and cultures in fresh stories told through children's eyes and their sense of time. It's questionable whether these films from the Kinderfilmfest will get American distribution in cinemas much less televised. But once, a producer at ABC in the 1970‚s took the risk to bring foreign programming to The ABC After School Specials and that's where I saw my first foreign film.

Look up the Kinderfilmfest at www.kids@berlinale.de; it happens annually in February. The Mill Valley Children's Filmfest is in October and the Pacific Film Archives children's program in Berkeley is in January.

Katy Kavanaugh was the first programmer of the Children's Filmfest at the Mill Valley Film Festival, she coordinated the nation's most established festival, The Chicago Children's International, has served on numerous juries selecting films for children and youth in the Bay Area and Chicago. Most recently, she served on the Kinderfilmfest's International Jury and the International Jury for the 41st International Festival for Children and Youth in the Czech Republic.