The fifth International Children’s Film Festival threw light on how children are coming to terms with today’s reality.

If films hold a mirror to the society, going by the films hand-picked for screening at the fifth International Children’s Film Festival, children around the world are coming to terms with their identity in a volatile, changing globalised world full of tensions - both domestic and cultural.

About 231 films from 29 countries played at the City Montessori School, Lucknow, the hosts of this unique festival that is attended by one lakh students, including about 40,000 from the host school, as festival director Varghese Kurian informs us.

“With almost one lakh children participating, it is the biggest festival for children around the world,” adds Santhanam Srinivasan, programmer of the festival.

“We need to protect our children from the vulgarity and violence in films today,” says Jagdish Gandhi, founder of CMS, explaining the vision behind the festival.

The 18 films in the international competition were judged by a jury including actress Rohini, Samar Nakahthe, film academician and theatre personality, and Diana Groo, a filmmaker from Hungary.

De Indiaan (The Indian, The Netherlands, 76 mins) was the find of the festival, a film that went on to win the Best Children’s Feature Film prize. Directed by Ineke Houtman, the coming of age film tells the story of an eight-year-old boy, Koos, who discovers that he was adopted after birth from Peru and gets curious about his roots and identity.

De Indiaan is a sensitively crafted simple film about love that deals with complex issues of adoption and displacement through the eyes of a spirited child coming to terms with his identity and parentage. A fine example of the role that a caring family ought to play in nurturing and shaping young curious minds and introduces children to the very simple truth behind culture and identity: That we are just who we are.

The films from The Netherlands were the pick of the lot, with Boudewijn Koole’s Kauwboy, close on the heels of De Indian, with the jury but ended up with a Special Mention, only because it was found to be a little too bleak for children.

Kauwboy (The Netherlands, 77 mins) tells us the bittersweet story of the friendship between a ten-year-old boy and a baby jackdaw. The bond between the boy and the bird is brought alive with a touch of humour and the film packs in philosophies of life and death, love and loss without ever making it too preachy. Simply brilliant, this film will tug at your heart strings.

Sander Francken’s Bard Songs (The Netherlands, 95 mins) that won the Second Best Feature Film, showed us how similar we are all, despite the different cultures we hail from. Bard Songs is a delightful musical that employs oral traditions of storytelling in a modern context. Though these fables that have been passed on from generation to generation, are well-known worldwide, this fresh spin on folklore is simple, engrossing and rich in ancient wisdom.

Joel Fendelman’s David - One Boy, Two Faiths (USA, 80 mins) too explored issues of identity and belonging through the eyes of a 11-year-old son of a Maulana who teaches the Koran, discovering a new perspective on religion when he strikes a friendship with a Jewish boy, and his curiosity on the other faith is stoked. Told almost like a documentary, this film keeps it real and the strong performances by the children made it all the more poignant.

Maryam Milani’s Kaghaze Khoroos Neshan (The Rooster Trademark Paper, Iran, 93 mins), Ilgar Najaf’s Buta (Azerbaijan, 98 mins) and De Groten Van Mike (Greetings from Mike, 93 mins) were the other competition films that were unlucky not to win.

In the animation category, Estonia’s Lotte and the Moonstone beat India’s Delhi Safari and Krishna Aur Kans for the first prize. Original, funny and beautifully animated, the film’s lyrical style and attention to the finest smallest detail, brought the adventure alive, even if it employed old school 2D animation, proving that if the script is good, the technology does not matter.

(The author was on the jury of the International Children’s Film Festival on invitation from City Montessori School, Lucknow)