What children want

With the first Asian Children's Film Festival beginning today, it's time to discover the fine line between entertainment and a chore, writes MINI ANTHIKAD-CHHIBBER.

IF IT is November 14, it must be children's film festival time, the Hyderabadi would mutter and before you have time to say that the International Children's Film Festival is a biennial affair and that there was one held last year, surprise, surprise - we have the announcement of the First Asian Children's Film Festival.

When one thinks of children's films, one thinks of paucity of funds, the festival circuit and the whiff of "we know what is good for you." Just like healthy food does not seem half as attractive as the oily comestibles the friendly neighbourhood bandiman dishes out, children's films with morals as their raison d'etre do not particularly find favour with children.

`Saroja' explores the theme of friendship in the times of ethnic strife.

`Saroja' explores the theme of friendship in the times of ethnic strife.  

Something is rotten in the state of movies if films classified as "children's films," need government funding, festivals and workshops to get to the target audience. While, a look at blockbuster history reveals that the biggest hits from -- E.T and Star Wars to the recent Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and Bend It Like Beckham - have become hits mainly because of the younger audience.

Children do not take very kindly to being talked down to as Alisha Choudhary, a child jury member said at last year's film festival, "Cinema should walk with us rather than talk down to us." Grown-ups, who generally make the films, find it very difficult to get off the "been there done that" patronising attitude.

Again, if one were to take the example of commercially successful films, one realises that most of these filmmakers never lost their sense of childlike awe at the magic of movies. Sam Raimi who was a fan of Spider Man from when he was 12 (when his parents got him a huge painting of Spider Man that he still has) made Spider-Man that had fans from five-year-old Nikhil to 35-year-old Ajay.

At earlier children's film festivals, there were children who admitted to liking the festival fare and as well as the blockbusters of the time like Jurassic Park and Lagaan. The minute a film is called a "children's film" parents immediately realise they are awfully busy.

"I find kiddies' stuff quite boring," says Satish, a software engineer candidly. "For every child you want to come to see your film, you have to offer something for the parents as well," says Mahesh an ad executive. "To effectively reach out to children, you have to grab the parents and that can only be done by addressing the child in the adult. For instance, my kids love animation films." Instead of a regular animation film, films like A Bug's life or Antz had the kids glued to their seats with all the action and my wife and I enjoyed the sly jokes and the state-of-the-art animation."

Swami joins the freedom stuggle.

Swami joins the freedom stuggle.  

As Akshat Misra of Sangeet theatre said, "Out and out children's films do not do as well as a film that offers something for everybody. Wholesome family entertainment guarantees sure shot success."

Wholesome films for the entire family translates to good box office which in turn would bankroll meaningful cinema with stuff one would like children to be aware of. There is no harm in slipping in a couple of moralistic pills in pile of good fun entertainment, now is there?

Coming to the Asian Film Festival, more than 150 films from six countries including Iran, Japan, Sri Lanka, China and Israel would be featured in the week-long festival starting on November 14. Organised by the Children's Films Society, AP, a voluntary organisation, the festival aims to create interest and awareness about Asian films.

Say children's films and can Iran be far behind? A festival favourite, films from Iran have a special dreamy idiom that successfully merges the metaphysical with the physical. The everyday takes on a mysticism that is attractive for its accessibility. There is something childlike about Iranian cinema - in its awe and wonder as well as its shrewd understanding and matter of fact acceptance.

The inaugural film, `Willow and Window.'

The inaugural film, `Willow and Window.'  

The film festival has a section with Focus on Iran which would feature thirteen films including the opening film Willow and Window, master filmmaker Majid Majidi's Father and Cart, a wonderful story of friendship where the cart becomes an allegory of life, that swept the awards at the International Children's Film festival in `99.

The Asian Cinema category featuring internationally acclaimed, award winning foreign and Indian films has Saint Clara from Israel, which we saw as part of the Israeli film festival. Saint Clara is the story of thirteen-year-old Clara who is an �migr� with "violet eyes" and a supernatural power and the effect she has on her classmates. Incidentally, a film festival regular would be familiar with quite a few of these films. Somaratne Dissanayake's tale of friendship in the time of ethnic strife, Saroja, is also among the films to be screened in the section.

Other repeats from earlier festivals include Meenakshi Rai's animated Generation Gap, Vinay Rai's Trr Trr, Santosh Sivan's Malli and Virendra Saini's Pehle Aap, a delightful story about a king, his wily jester, predictions and greed.

A Chinese Section (a package of six features), a homage to B.V. Karanth with the screening of his Chor Chor Chup Ja and a tribute to the immensely successful Satyen Bose with the screening of his Anmol Tasveer are the other categories at the festival.

Clara wreaks havoc with her special powers.

Clara wreaks havoc with her special powers.  

The popular Open Forum where children get to interact with filmmakers would be held everyday at the main venue Hari Hara Kala Bhawan at 1 pm from November 15. Other venues include Sri Potti Sriramulu Telugu University Auditorium, JNTU College of Fine Arts, Seminar Hall and Sri Sarathy Studios. Apart from these, films would be screened in about 41 theatres in Hyderabad and Ranga Reddy Districts.

About 250 child delegates and 50 teachers from the city and 50 child delegates, 10 teachers from the districts would participate in the film festival. Workshops on Animation, Puppetry and Dramatic Presentation would be conducted during the festival. Two films made by children at a workshop would also be screened. Swami, based on R.K Narayan's Swami and Friends directed by Shankar Nag is another not-to-be missed offering.

So, remember, remember the 14th of November and also remember children do not have to be force-fed. Show them films they would like to see rather than films you would like them to see. And in that you will discover the fine line between entertainment and a chore.

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