If you don't have kids of a certain age, or any kids at all, the Children's Film Festival Seattle (CFFS) probably seems like an event not intended for you—if it's even on your radar. In this, you can't be blamed. It is an easy mistake to make.
Much of what you'll find on tap at the annual fest, now in its 15th year, can be experienced and enjoyed by adults—and they don't need to feel odd or out of place if they are unaccompanied by minors. In fact, festival director Elizabeth Shepherd says the majority of CFFS pass holders are adults who attend alone or with friends, and they're there to see everything; families tend to purchase tickets to specific, individual events. "I think the festival is known as a treasure trove of animation," she told me via e-mail. "But I have asked adult pass holders why they come back year after year, and I've heard that they trust the content overall to be uplifting and thoughtful and gentle, and they appreciate that."
CFFS's slate of international films features visual storytelling centered on narratives about childhood—the way that children view the world, deal with adult issues, and work as agents of change in their communities. Curated by Northwest Film Forum, the 2020 fest encompasses 175 animated, feature-length, and short films from 47 countries.
For obvious reasons (read: short attention spans), the biggest chunk of offerings are shorts packaged in thematic and age-appropriate blocks. And there is just so much to see during the fest's run (February 27 to March 8).
Festival opener The Cat's Meow (Feb 27 and March 7) features a range of different types of animation in films all related to felines, like Chinese filmmaker/animator Jie Weng's stop-motion The Quintet of the Sunset, a poetic exploration of aging as told via five very different cats and the human they have in common, and Colombian outing Wild Leah, about a patchwork floral cat with an indomitable spirit and the cautious household that takes her in.
There's Caleidescope (March 1), a series of colorful animated films in a range of textures and colors, about embracing being different, like the ridiculously adorable stop-motion Koniguri-Kun Butterfly, its characters made up of foods commonly found in a Japanese bento box (also showing in Sun Circle: Films from Japan on Feb 29 and the Om Nom Nom food-themed shorts program on March 8), and the French-Swiss Last Day of Autumn, a charming line-drawn race against winter. And there's Rainbow Roar (Feb 29), a shorts program celebrating LGBTQ identity and diversity that includes the stirring 15-minute Canadian doc I Am Skylar, which follows a trans girl navigating the complexities of puberty, and the family and community supporting her along the way.
Amid the feature-length fare is Microplastic Madness (Feb 29), an enlightening, vibrant, take-action documentary about a group of Red Hook, Brooklyn, fifth-graders who spent two years investigating plastic pollution, and became citizen scientists and advocates of plastic-free action. Closing night includes a live dance performance and presentation of Moving Stories (March 8), a doc about several diverse NYC dancers who work with at-risk youth from around the world, and the challenges faced (and transformations experienced) by both the teachers and their students.
For those seeking recs for events that are more geared to "older" (ages 13-plus) audiences, there's Borders, Boundaries, and Home (March 4 and 7), a program of narrative films and docs focused on young people dealing with displacement, immigration, occupation, and separation from loved ones. One of its best offerings is the delightful and humorous Maradona's Legs, set during the 1990 World Cup and following two Palestinian boys seeking the last sticker to complete their World Cup album and win a free Atari. And the Color of Dreams program (Ages 8-plus, March 1, 5, and 7) features a selection of nonverbal animated films with dreamy, fantastic premises and colors to match, like the forward-looking, very condensed but rather deep sci-fi short Floreana (also screening as part of For the Planet on Feb 28 and March 1).
Some more quick hits: the Indigenous Showcase, short films by pro and youth indigenous filmmakers, like What’s My Superpower?, in which an exuberant, charming little girl worries about what her superpower might be (March 1); Conscious Cartoons for Radolescents (March 6), a “best of” compilation from the Conscious Cartoons International Animation Festival; For the Planet (Feb 28, March 1), a collection of live-action and animated films that focus on the earth and its future; and Home Sweet Home (March 1), featuring shorts about home and family, its highlight is The Kite, a film rendered in an intriguing stop-motion cloth format that explores the subject of death gently, poignantly, and with metaphor via the story of a little boy, his grandfather, and the sky-touching pastime they enjoy together.
There is so much else I don't have room to talk about here. Go explore. I guarantee you'll see something you like. And don't mind the kids. Or bring 'em along.