By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Now in its 15th year, the annual Seattle Children’s Film Festival counts itself as “a teenager now, deciding who it wants to be when it grows up,” in the humorous terms of festival director Elizabeth Shepherd. She’s held that title since the first festival back in 2005, so she should know.
“It has grown in every way, with more films and a more expansive program every year,” she explained.
“Technology has changed quite a bit in 15 years, so the way we do everything here is different from the way it was when the festival started. But one thing has always remained the same—our mission to help kids see the world and feed their minds and gain global awareness through the beautiful medium of movies.”
The new festival boasts a substantial number of Asian films, particularly the “Sun Circle” programming set, with eight animated shorts from Japan.
“Summer of the Ice Age,” directed by Kiyomi Aoyagi, features no spoken words at all—a canny tactic for kids, some of whom can’t read subtitles. In it, a boy’s memory of drinking a cream soda in summer becomes so vivid in color and intensity that the soda starts to seem like an ocean.
“Pickle Plum Parade,” from Eri Sasaki, follows a little girl who sets out to discover her town and finds a wonderland in pink and yellow hues. She’s delighted at all the colors, and happy to be moving through the universe of her town.
Mari Miyazawa’s “Konigiri-Kun Butterfly,” another non-verbal short, uses vivid textures derived from Japanese bento box lunches, to portray a day spent chasing butterflies.
“Pen&Magic” [sic], directed by Ayako Kishi, again uses no words. It’s a film about dreaming, as a boy finds a way to bring his dreams of food, friends, and flight to life.
“Jinja,” from Talin Tanielian, is the one film in this program from America, although it’s shot in a very Japanese-influenced manner. It stars Mango, a red panda who suffers because he’s different from all the other red pandas, and goes on a search to find peace.
Koudai Sato’s “Engimon” returns us to Japan, and a very Japanese-themed story. The Engimon themselves watch over small children from the spirit world. They have their hands full one bright day when a little girl gets lost, and her brother needs help finding his sister.
“Good Night,” from Makiko Nanke, completes the program with, appropriately enough, an ode to sleepy-time. The last part of the night, when it is time for bed, and even though you feel tired, it feels hard to let go of the day. A pair of quarrelsome twins fall asleep still fighting, then find adventure in their dreams.
In addition to the “Sun Circle” selections, the festival includes short films from mainland China, such as “Ray’s Great Escape,” “Carry My Heart to the Yellow River,” “The Quintet of the Sunset,” “Little Thinks,” and “Gallery Experience,” plus Taiwan’s “The Rainbow Giant.”
South Korea’s represented with “Saturday’s Apartment.” From India comes “Apples and Oranges,” “Saving Mr. Green,” “Baitullah,” “Nooreh,” and “The Fish Curry.” Films from Qatar and Iran also figure in the mix.
The closing night feature-length film is Rob Fruchtman’s “Moving Stories,” which, according to Shepherd, “tells the story of a group of dancers from New York who travel the world working with children in difficult situations. One of the groups they work with is in South Korea, where they teach refugee children from North Korea how to dance with children who grew up in South Korea.
“It is very moving to see how these two groups of children learn to trust each other and work together to create a beautiful dance performance.”
The director isn’t sure how the festival will grow from here. But, she affirmed, “We think it is more important than ever now for children to see these films, which have messages about compassion and empathy and how life is different and the same in other countries. The past 15 years have given us a great foundation.”
The Seattle Children’s Film Festival plays Feb. 27 – March 8 at the Northwest Film Forum, located at 1515 12th Avenue. For prices, showtimes, and more information, visit childrensfilmfestivalseattle.org.
Andrew can be reached at email@example.com.