Want to help save the world? Take the kids to the 2018 Children’s Film Festival at the Northwest Film Forum. No disrespect to Pixar and friends, but if you limit young folks’ filmic diets to mainstream American fare, you’re neglecting an entire universe of diverse, exciting, and ingenious movie-making from around the world. Such is the philosophy of the 13-years-running festival, which, for this edition, is screening shorts and features from every inhabited continent.
These movies, grouped under the theme “Dream the Future,” grapple with matters of hope, power, responsibility, tyranny, destruction, and resistance in genres that range from fantasy to documentary. The festival begins with films from two countries renowned for their animated cinema, Japan and the Czech Republic. Hayao Miyazaki’s fantasy Castle in the Sky (Jan 25) follows a girl from a magical floating island, the spies and military men hot on her heels, and the ordinary boy who tries to protect her. If the setting is fanciful, the world-threatening danger of authoritarian ambition feels unfortunately like realism.
Castle in the Sky is followed by Karel Zeman’s 1958 Invention for Destruction (Jan 26), which collages live action adventure with animation based on the original steel engravings from a prescient Jules Verne novel. This newly restored work follows the assistant of a kidnapped scientist who must warn the world of a deadly new machine. The effect is part steampunk and part Terry Gilliam, with a good dose of Max Ernst-y surrealism. Though both these animated films involve weapons of mass destruction, they’re unlikely to upset anyone sensitive to the deluge of horror in the news.
Less escapist fare, the contemporary documentary Purple Dreams (Jan 28) introduces us to teenagers, mostly of color, who discover inner resilience through theater and dance in a Charlotte high school. These kids come from poor homes with absent, sometimes incarcerated parents. Their talent, vulnerability, and charisma are enormously appealing even as the film deals with systemic bias and the effect of poverty and stress on young minds. Not Without Us (Feb 3), another documentary, peers into the lives of children around the world—those who grow up far from war and drought, and those who face terrible hardship. These films exemplify the CFF’s desire to use cinema as a tool for developing empathy and awareness.
Two exciting nights will feature the screening of Indigenous Showcase (Jan 27, Feb 3), a collection of shorts highlighting Native filmmakers. One, Mountains of SGaana by the Haida Gwaii filmmaker Christopher Auchter, uses elements of traditional art to tell the story of the abduction of Naa-Naa-Simgat and his lover’s journey to the bottom of the sea to rescue him. The faces of the humans are Disney-sweet, but the underwater realm looks like your most gorgeous nightmares, and Auchter’s mimicry of Haida tapestry brilliantly fragments space in one of the coolest split-screen devices I’ve ever seen.
The Children’s Film Festival has proved every year that movies don’t have to be aimed at adults to experiment with form or tackle vital issues. Bring your favorite kid and find out how quickly cinephilia can take root.