Reviews from the first Burbank International
Children's Film Festival, October 2000

The Dinosaur Hunter
Dragonheart, A New Beginning
Undercover Angel
The First of May
Temet Teme

The Dinosaur Hunter (USA = Canada, 90')
Directed by Rick Stevenson
Produced by James Brooke and Gail Tilson
Written by Edwinna Fellows
Distributed by Credo Releasing

Set in the 1930's in Canada, while the Scopes trials in the U.S.. debating Creationism and Evolution, paleontologist have just gotten green lights from the Canadian government to unearth the country's ancient reptilian history. One paleontologist comes to the rural town where Julia Creath and her family live. He offers prize money to anyone who finds dinosaur bones and the frenzy begins for Julia and her brother and also for an archeologist-gone-bad who plans to steal the bones once they're found. The film is based on the book "My Daniel" by Julia Creath who grows up to become a paleontologist herself. The story is based in a very provocative time in history when Creationism received a blow from science and a time when a young girl had to persevere against the odds to keep her dreams alive.

The film is very well-produced, shows exciting digging finds, it drew actor Christopher Plummer as the wicked archeologist and Bill Switzer from Mr. Rice's Secret as Julia's brother Daniel.
..................................................................................................................
back to top

Dragonheart, A New Beginning
(USA, 85')
Directed by Doug Lefler
Written by Shari Goodhartz
Produced by Raffaella DeLaurentiis/ Universal
Distribution by Universal Family & Home Entertainment

This is a great piece of medieval fantasy with just enough action and technology to enhance a theatrical-looking production. Although there are battle scenes, no blood is spilt or graphic scenes. Geoff is an orphaned stable hand who dreams of becoming a knight. He discovers the last living dragon who has been secretly raised from the egg deep in the caverns below the monastery that he serves. As the mystical story unfolds, the two friends find they are at odds against a prince that has desires to rob the young dragon of his heart for its transformative powers. Writer Shari Goodhartz explained that through fantasy, a writer can subversively impart some valuable worldly lessons as she did with the use of Buddhist teachings sophisticatedly and subtly woven into the story. I found this story refreshing, although inclusive of very Hollywood production values, and definitely working toward goals for making Hollywood pictures that are good entertainment for children.
..................................................................................................................
back to top

Undercover Angel (USA 93")
Written/Directed/Produced by Bryan Michael Stoller
Distributed by PM Entertainment

This one is a tough choice because the child actor is too much at times.
But I liked the director's approach. He said, "I make children's films because
I'm a rebel." His film, though, uses his child actor as a vehicle for her stardom
and the elevation of his film. The girl is six, dropped off by her mother to a
friend's (whom she hasn't seen for seven years). The friend is a writer, struggling to get a novel written (his writing is depicted in a suspenseful and possibly scary-to-kids opening). The little girl is precocious and a smart allec, making her difficult to like. She helps the writer (who turns out to be her father) get on his feet with a series of children's stories she secretly records and sends to a publisher. She also helps him get to know a woman. A custody trial follows, the girl is separated from her new friend/father, but of course, everyone lives happily ever after in the end.

Here is what an independent filmmaker has done with a half-million dollars, a couple of recognizable (Yasmine Bleeth, Baywatch) stars and some high hopes and good cooperation. He calls it a romantic-comedy. The six-year old definitely drives the action (and drives us crazy with it!).
..................................................................................................................
back to top

The First of May (USA, 111')
Directed by Paul Sermons
Produced by Sermons and Gary Rogers
Written by Rogers Production

Acclaimed stage actress Julie Harris plays the "orphaned" old woman who runs away to the circus she once worked for with another orphan, an 11 year old boy who has just run away from his foster parents. Both are in search of the family they never had. Harris brings a cohesion to the cast that surely stimulates the fine performance the boy gives. Veteran American actors Charles Nelson Reilly and Mickey Rooney also contribute to the tightness of the production. The scenes at an actual circus cross all age and origin lines. And an appearance from the very private American baseball great, Joe DiMaggio (the only on-screen appearance before his death), although slightly abrupt in its placement, offers more charm to the production. The happy ending is not a must but a well-conceived choice.

Here, too, the director won me over, too. He is a hardworking, earnest, nice guy who wants to reach people with his film.
..................................................................................................................
back to top

Temet Teme
(Ethiopia, 30")
Directed by Richard Duplock
Produced by Andre Coggins and Alemayehu Yifru
Distributed by Bullfrog Films

I've never seen anything from Ethiopia, so I was particularly excited about this one: A 12 year-old boy runs away from his country home to the city where he hopes to find the education his father would not allow. His plans to stay with an uncle fall through and he is forced to find his way in the streets. The film was made with street children from Addis Ababa.
..................................................................................................................
back to top