Eighth annual international children's film fest set Jan. 29-31
By Lou Fancher
Writer, film director and Academy Award-nominated Pixar animator Jim Capobianco said that as the curator of the Bay Area International Children's Film Festival he's in charge of "a happy puzzle of entertainment."
But there's nothing confusing for visitors to the popular, family friendly annual event that operates like a gigantic magnet. If the festival's eight-year history holds true, it will attract close to 2,000 people to the Chabot Space & Science Center on Jan. 29-31. Short films, documentaries, workshops, guest appearances, local filmmaker showcases, international children's television series episodes, and a first-ever opening night party make a complete package.
"Our standard and aesthetic toward the films has not changed in the eight years of the festival's existence," Capobianco said. "We look for high quality, sometimes challenging, thought-provoking films for families."
Festival co-founder Shelley Trott is no less emphatic.
"The films have always appealed to a broad range of people, from race and ethnicity to age. We've heard from parents and grandparents that they love the films just as much as their kids do," she said.
Founded in 2009, the films were first screened at The International Renaissance School in Oakland with the goal of supporting the school's international programs.
This year, hands-on animation workshops have children creating clay animation puppets or using found objects for their stop-motion films -- or learning to "vanish" with pixilation tools before adding Foley sound effects in short films they can take home on DVDs. The morning short-film screenings are aimed at all ages while afternoon films are geared for the 7 and up crowd.
A movement and music program features the documentary "Let's Get the Rhythm" and picks up on hand games while subtly teaching history and the importance of play in children's development. Capobianco calls it "a play date for the imagination."
Several films subtly establish society's universality by highlighting triumphs, desires and struggles common to children worldwide.
Capobianco said the commonality experienced by children in India, Egypt and the Bay Area sends a clear message. Pixar artist Sanjay Patel will lead sessions on "How Did They Do That?" Patel, author-illustrator of the short, "Sanjay's Super Team," will explain how he created his seven-minute film.
Capobianco selects the films based on quality, clarity of storytelling, appropriateness, length and country.
"I do the final choosing. If you hate the films, you can blame me," he said. He added that seriousness, freshness, expressivity and a command of craft guide his selections.
This year, he saw a strong showing of entries from the United Kingdom, Canada, Spain and Switzerland. Typically, American submissions top the list, with significant participation from Australian and French filmmakers.
Films made by children are rare, but this year, "Persevere: The Wilma Rudolph Story," was written, acted and made by teacher Lisa Rossi's second-grade class at Jefferson Elementary School in Berkeley.
"It's super well done, charming and just awesome. (It's) kid empowered. It shows how important great teachers are as well," Capobianco said.
He noted an increase in films by women filmmakers.
"Hopefully, that's a sign that more women are making films and getting their voices out there." he said.
"There are a lot of films about African Americans, but they're all made by a white woman or white man directing," he noted. "That's too bad. I'd like to see more diversity."
Two events anchor the festival. The Friday night Pixar Story Artist Showcase offers five story artists showing their work on "La Luna," "Inside Out," "WALL-E," "Cars 2" and "The Incredibles." Saturday's screening of Bay Area director Carroll Ballard's 1979 feature film, "The Black Stallion" is preceded by his short film "Rodeo" and followed by a question-and-answer session with Capobianco and Ballard.
The films are distinguished by long stretches -- the first 40 minutes of "The Black Stallion" -- without dialogue.
"Ballard has a distinct feeling about films made for children," Capobianco said. "His films are art house movies. They're poetry. Mainstream moviemakers don't consider that as a technique, which is a shame. Films shoveled out to kids are too limited."