For the Four-Year-Old Pauline Kael

Swedish Film Institute

The word "childish" often carries negative connotations and the full-diaper stench of immaturity. Perhaps it's time for us adults to reclaim the word by summoning up memories of the anticipation we found at the movie theater, back when our feet could hardly reach the sticky floor. That's the goal of "Childish Films," a program of live-action and animated shorts, as well as a few features, that is part of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival. According to programmer Deborah Girdwood, budding fans and junior critics will have a chance to learn that "film can be a window into other people's lives. Kids will meet unique characters, experience a breadth of humor and artistic styles, and discover all the many things that make each culture and each individual special."

Though that mission statement may sound a little sugary, it's a world away from the Splenda-flavored cynicism that gets movie characters placed on soda cans. The Childish films never insult children's intelligence. Girdwood first came up with the concept at Seattle's Northwest Film Forum. "I kind of stumbled into the genre of children's cinema when we started a daytime program for kids in 1997," she explains. "I fell in love with the classics, with showing The Red Balloon to a roomful of kids. I realized kids hadn't been back to see the booth and projectors. They were so curious about the movies. Going to an art house is a big experience for kids as well as adults; it's not like a multiplex."

Once Girdwood became a parent, her interest grew stronger, and she hit the film festival circuit, watching children's movies from all over the world. When she moved to Minneapolis—following Jamie Hook, who was director of Minnesota Film Arts—it seemed only natural to bring Childish Films with her.

The Childish Films program spans a week and is noteworthy for its stylistic breadth and global range. (A few of the films, as noted below, have subtitles that are appropriate for roughly ages eight and up.) Consider Max and Josef: Double Trouble (11:00 a.m. Saturday at Landmark Edina and 11:00 a.m. Sunday at Oak Street Cinema; subtitled). Swedish director Erik Leijonborg's 2004 feature is a subversive take on sibling rivalry, hilariously recounting the efforts of a young boy to win attention in his crowded household. He receives the help of a talking turtle who indoctrinates the kid into a twisted Lord-of-the-Flies philosophy.

By contrast, Bluebird (5:00 p.m. Saturday at Riverview Theater and 5:00 p.m. Sunday at Landmark Edina; subtitled), an award-winning 2004 film from Dutch director Mijke de Jong, is an insightful glimpse into the life of an adolescent girl who is the target of bullying at her school. Though a good daughter, sister, and student, she starts to rebel in small but poignant ways. "It's so authentic," observes Girdwood. "It's not a huge drama but an ordinary story. She's really starting to define herself and push some boundaries."

Other features include The Thief Lord (1:00 p.m. Saturday, April 29 at Oak Street Cinema), based on the novel by Cornelia Funke (Germany's answer to J.K. Rowling), about kids who live in an abandoned cinema; and Valo (1:00 p.m. Sunday at Landmark Edina; subtitled) a compelling story about children who start a secret school, which is drawn from the childhood diaries of Finnish writer, artist, and philosopher Aleksanteri Ahola-Valo.

Two short programs follow specific themes. "Small World Cinema" spans the globe—from Senegal to Sweden—with a variety of memorable works, a few of them subtitled (1:00 p.m. Saturday at Oak Street Cinema and 1:00 p.m. Sunday, April 30 at Oak Street Cinema). Justin Edgar's Special People, from Great Britain, is a witty tale about a filmmaker who's trying to make a film about a group of disabled teens climbing up a mountain in order to fulfill his trite message about their life struggles. The kids brilliantly foil his scheme, smashing stereotypes along the way. Binta and the Great Idea provides a glimpse into life in a Senegalese village while simultaneously telling two stories. One follows the inspiration that seizes Binta's father (the great idea!) and the other traces a community group's creative way to convince Binta's uncle to allow this daughter to attend school.

And the short program "Imaginary Friends" (11:00 a.m. Saturday and 1:00 p.m. Sunday, April 30 at Oak Street Cinema) abounds with various methods of animation, including local artist Tom Schroeder's A Plan, which follows the adventures of a mischievous young boy who wants to save the day. Germany's Jutta Schunemann offers up a lovely bedtime story in Moonwalking and Josh Staub's Mantis Parable, made with gorgeous CGI animation, offers up lessons about helping others. Watching animation, says Girdwood, makes kids "want to draw, do art work, they want to invent characters. It is a really neat experience for them to see animation that looks like something they could make." 

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