Why talk about films for children in a serious magazine mainly made for an adult audience? Well: A couple of decades ago the answer to this question would have been rather difficult and many grown-up cinemagoers and even film experts would have shaken their heads with a frown about it: “Films for children? They better read books or listen to fairy tales of their grandfathers!” But opinions like this have changed a lot in the last, let’s say fifty years from today. This started already as early as the end of world war two especially in socialist countries like Czechoslo-wakia or Eastern Germany with very beautiful fairy tale films which not at all were political propaganda. This promising trend continued later in countries like Scandinavia or Iran which today have fixed budgets for children film productions and became exemplary worldwide. The expanding trend of children films as an own film category can also be seen from the quickly growing numbers of children film festivals worldwide (today in total more than 40 with rapidly growing tendency). This trend reflects the very pleasant observation of increasing numbers of children film productions of outstanding quality. Just to mention some of the most important international children film festivals in alphabetical order: Amsterdam/Netherlands, Berlin/Germany, Buenos Aires/Argentina, Chicago/USA, Copenhagen/Denmark, Frankfurt/Germany, Hyderabad/India, Isfahan/Iran, Montreal/Canada, Zlín/Czech Republic.

Some examples of recently released and prize-winning children films (seen at international children film festivals)  may allow an insight into the wide range of today’s children films topics which open the look at the world with true eyes:

Mean Creek by Jacob Aaron Estes, USA 2004, 87 min. For children from 12 years of age.

Set in a small Oregon town, a rag-bag group of troubled teenagers set out on a boat trip to celebrate the birthday of their youngest member. Cracks in the crew begin to form when some of the teens have second thoughts about what they are going to do. The trip ends with a disaster.

Fourteen  Sucks by Martin Jern, Sweden 2004, 83 min. For children from 12 years of age.

The 14-year-old Emma finds her own friends too childish and prefers to hang out with her older brother’s mates. This proves to be Emma’s introduction to a whole new and different world. She finds out that this world is by no means a bed of roses.

Sea of Silence by Stijn Coninx, Netherlands/Belgium 2003, 84 min. For children from 10 years of age.

Nine-year-old Caro lives with her four siblings and her parents in a small village in Holland. Her father breeds pigs and can only barely support the family with it. He is a habitual drinker and wastes a lot of his hard-earned money often and often again. Caro’s mother is really fed up with her husband and wants a divorce. When she is about to leave, the father promises to improve. Caro makes a deal with him: She will overcome her fear of swimming and he must stop drinking. But when her father shows up drunk again at her communion party and falls to death, Caro’s world comes tumbling down.

The Legend of the Sky Kingdom  by Roger Hawkins, Zimbabwe 2003, 84 min. Animation film for children from 6 years of age.

All characters and details are made of recycled garbage. Three friends are forced to work in a mine and they are dreaming of a better life. Their idol is Ariel, a prince who lives in a far-away kingdom. One night the friends manage to escape and they begin their journey to find Ariel. They have to overcome dangerous adventures until at last they succeed. Now they can live  their own life in a better world.

Bazi (The Play) by Gholamreza Ramezani, Iran 2004, 60 min. For children from 6 years of age.

Six years old Soraya gets bored entertaining herself with dolls in the rear courtyard of her parents’ house while her mother works in the living room. When she hears the voices of two children next door, Soraya pleads to be introduced to their family. But her mother steadfastly refuses, claiming she has no way of ascertaining their social status. However things change when the neighbour’s ball comes into Soraya’s  possession.

It should be obvious that the examples of children films mentioned above are not of mainstream cinema. They are not made for quick and superficial entertainment without deeper educational impact. On the contrary: They are able to produce talks of the young audiences after the screening for instance in schools, kindergartens or youth clubs at best under supervision of elder persons like parents, teachers or group supervisors. This is part of what is called media education for better and deeper understanding of the media and at the same time for the training of social techniques.

Bernt Linder

Producer and Director of Children and Youth Films. He is the Board Member of International Federation of Film Societies. Had served as Jury in different International Film Festivals. Based in Berlin, Germany.