Programming for Children with an International View:
The Berlin Kinderfilmfest
Just hours before the International Jury of the Berlin Film Festival presented
its Berlin Golden Bear Award to Patrice Chereau's INTIMACY, young cinema
fans and adults packed the 900-seat Zoo Palast Theater to await the announcement
and screening of the winners of another section of the Berlinale, the
Kinderfilmfest. In one corner of the foyer, seven and eight year olds
chanted the title of their favorite film. In another, a group of girls
mimicked the hairstyles of the character in their favorite and the adults
in the shoulder to shoulder crowd appeared as thrilled as the kids. This
was the fourth time I had been part of such an enthusiastic audience at
the closing night of the Kinderfilmfest. This year was especially rewarding
because they came to hear the results of two juries' labors, on one of
which I had the honor to serve.
Like its parent festival, The Kinderfilmfest is one of the world's leading
critical forums. For 24 years the Berlinale's Kinderfilmfest has been
developing discerning viewers of international film programmable for children.
Two juries judge the films: an eleven member Kinder Jury of children aged
11 to 14, which awards the Crystal Bear Award and the International Jury
which awards a 15,000DM prize. The Kinder Jury is selected primarily through
audience questionnaires from past festivals, and similarly, the International
Jury is selected from participants-programmers, writers, filmmakers and
producers-of past festivals. Contrary to what might be expected, the juries
watch the films during the regular festival screening times along with
the audiences. The festival's director of 18 years, Renate Zylla, has
maintained a model that has influenced festivals worldwide including America's
most established children's film festival, The Chicago International Children's
Film Festival and The Children's Filmfest at the Mill Valley Film Festival.
The language barriers are managed with ease through another innovation
of the Kinderfilmfest. Films are screened in their original language with
subtitles and simultaneous translation, a technique that preserves the
integrity of the film and offers the audience exposure to multiple languages.
This year, the audiences heard 17 languages from 23 countries. In another
remarkable endeavor, the audience included blind children when the German
production, "The Nuisance" provided a visual description of
scenes coordinated in the dialogue and transmitted over headsets.
Over the week, I came to recognize faces of the many families and school
groups in the audience. One in particular, 11 year-old Felix, a German
boy also fluent in English and Spanish, became my "informant"
from the under side of twenty and his father, mother, sister and friends
became a sort of "Nielson" family for me.
The Kinder Jury awarded its Crystal Bear to director John Hay's THERE'S
ONLY ONE JIMMY GRIMBLE which tells the story of a boy from a working-class,
single-parent home who, with a little magic, learns to believe in himself,
on and off the soccer field. Not just a boy's film at all, Jimmy's mom
and a young female "pugilist" are also complex, original characters.
With performances from notable actors, Robert Carlyle, Ray Winston, Gina
McKee and Lady Jane Lapotaire, the film easily entertained everyone around
me, especially Felix.
The International Jury awarded its first prize to NAGISA, directed by
Masura Konuma. The film is a portrait of a girl in the early 1960's and
her apprehensive examination and exploration of adulthood through the
events of her twelfth summer in a Japanese seaside town. Each scene is
constructed and photographed economically and recognizes the beauty in
the everydaywhat some might describe as quintessentially Japanese
stylingthe film tries to be nothing else. It was purely the adept
and sensitive vision of an artist. The film's rhythm required the viewer
to adjust to the subtle pace of Nagisa's life, leaving me with a sense
of preteen impatience at times. The story is by no means pedagogical,
a frequent fault of films made for young audiences. We learn from Nagisa
as we watch her carefully tabulate her earnings from her aunt's cafe for
a record player when we see her summon responsibility for the frail boy
who becomes her swimming student. Equal care is taken by the director
who, in effect, nestles the young actress in scenes which allows her to
respond uncontrivedly, giving a true, yet sometimes unexpressive performancebut
that's a conceivable twelve year old. It is not a film that is apologetic
for the difficulties of childhood or that tries to solve grand problems.
It is a pure examination of a time in a girl's life that by nature is
full of events, quandaries, and new hairstyles. Above all, NAGISA is a
film made with meticulous craftsmanship and sensitivity, without an excessive
budget. If we're looking for a pedagogical note, that's one.
The American/Welsh co-production, THE TESTIMONY OF TALIESIN JONES, won
a Special Mention from the Kinder Jury, who stated, "We found the
film's moving and profound exploration of belief particularly convincing."
During the delicate days immediately following the break-up of his parents,
12 year-old Taliesin Jones witnesses a successful healing session performed
by a trusted friend. He is moved to practice it himself on his schoolmates
and struggles with his zeal at home and at school. His principal, though,
sees the intelligence in his quest and offers some structure to the boy's
fervor. Without much background, though, the film asks us to bring to
it our understanding of the greater commonplace of mysticism in Welsh
life. Ultimately, most of the adult jury could not support this film despite
fine performances from veteran U.K. actors Jonathan Pryce, Geraldine James
and young John Paul McLeod. On the contrary, I found the story was unique
and a respectable exploration of a likely response to such controversial
information, the occurrence of which in an adolescent's life is very likely.
The film is adapted from the novel of the same name by Rhidian Brook.
The International Jury awarded Special Mention to the Italian film, IL
CIELO CADE, (The Sky is Falling) by twin brothers Andrea and Antonio Frazzi.
The true story of author Lorenza Mazzetti was adapted for screen by veteran
screenwriter Suso Cecci D'Amico who with the masterful direction of the
Frazzi brothers and performances Isabella Rosellini and Jeroen Krabbe`,
recreates life in rural Tuscany as a partly-Jewish family faces the mounting
threat of the war. The points of view are evenly shared between two adopted
sisters and other family members as they watch their daily events and
curiosities gradually become overtaken by the presence of the German army
in their house; but ultimately, it is through the girls' eyes that we
witness a harsh but non-graphic scene. My "informant" Felix
felt the scene just referred to was too harsh for kids. His mother told
me that Germany's WWII history had yet to be discussed in school at seventh
grade. "We will have a discussion now," Felix's mother told
Both the adult and kinder juries agreed that the claymation film by Richard
Goleszowsky's HOOVES OF FIRE was the hands-down winner of the short film
competition. Once again, like the other BBC productions, "Creature
Comforts" and "Wallace and Gromit", the English wit and
parody of human behavior animated in, this time, Santa's reindeer during
preseason training or "The Reindeer Games." The characters are
full of insightful subtleties and hilarious detail. This one should get
to the U.S..
The Kinder Jury found the story of a blind boy imagining colors and ascribing
them to the days of the week in O BRANCO from Brazil worthy of Special
Mention. The grown-up jury felt that one fell short in it's craft but
also found the storyline refreshingly original. Instead, we felt a six-minute
film from Cuba, LA NOTAFINAL, by Maite Rivera Carbonell was a gema
single idea elegantly crafted. The filmmaker showed us a brilliantly photographed
slice of Havana through a search of the perfect bottle to complete a boy's
bottle flute which he plays into wonderful closing music. This was the
first film that said to me without reservation, "This is beauty and
economy, art on a screen or in a museum. This is for children and everyone."
By design, the two juries never communicate about the films before the
awards ceremony, making the opposing outcome very exciting. In this refreshing
array of stories offered us in the programmagic, poetry, skillfully
insightful visions of childhood questions, dreamsI see that the
two juries were most often divided by knowledge of the filmmaking craft.
This is also by design. It is my hope that awareness of this critical
forum offered by the Kinderfilmfest will encourage more American competitors.
Ultimately, by this increase in original work for the children's market,
we might see a broadening in programming both in the cinema and on television.
Perhaps even the bigger studios might consider subtitling children's films
like European distributors pay for American subtitling.
For a kids' eye view of the festival written by former kinderjury members,
log onto firstname.lastname@example.org