Chicago International Children’s Film Festival

The Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, now in its 16th year, continues Friday through Sunday, October 22 through 24, at Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton; Biograph, 2433 N. Lincoln; and Burnham Plaza, 826 S. Wabash. Tickets are $6 for children and adults, $4.50 for Facets members; various discounts are available for four or more tickets. For more information call 773-281-2166. Programs marked with a 4 are highly recommended.


4 Annaluise and Anton

Anton, a sensitive boy whose waitress mother is seriously ill, becomes fast friends with Annaluise, a feisty, resourceful ten-year-old neglected by her career-minded technocrat parents. This 1998 German feature updates Erich Kästner’s classic children’s novel from the 30s; director Caroline Link (Beyond Silence) preserves its contrasts in class behavior and parental accountability and punches up the emotional highs and lows the children experience through the adults’ approval and rejection. In the end, however, Annaluise and Anton teach their elders a thing or two about altruism and responsibility, a closure achieved with impeccable logic. (TS) (Burnham Plaza, 9:45 am)

Girlz Rule

Short films from Brazil, Germany, India, Norway, the Netherlands, and the U.S. (Facets Multimedia Center, 9:45 am)

Ruby Bridges

Six-year-old Ruby Bridges was one of the first children to integrate a public school in the south; escorted by federal marshals, she walked past chanting crowds for a year to attend a class in which she was the only pupil. The subject matter is inherently moving, and this made-for-TV film makes effective drama of it (despite the indifferent direction of Euzhan Palcy, who can’t seem to come up with an original composition). Most of the plot developments–Ruby’s father losing his job, her northern teacher encouraging and comforting her, psychiatrist-writer Robert Coles helping her while also studying her–are drawn from the actual case. As Ruby, Chaz Monet captures the child’s happiness and sadness, fear and fortitude, with genuine subtlety. But why does New Orleans, one of the most distinctive cities in the U.S., look like a bland suburb? (FC) (Facets Multimedia Center, 9:45 am)

Anne Frank’s Diary

This animated 1998 European coproduction, directed by Julian Y. Wolff, adapts The Diary of Anne Frank for today’s young audiences, streamlining its sequence of events, skirting the politics of the Holocaust, and flattening out the emotional complexity that’s made the diary such an enduring document. Like the Classics Illustrated comic books, the film maintains a monotonously respectful tone: Anne is presented as a spunky teenager who speaks her mind to the adults, and almost everyone suffers nobly. Still, the highly realistic animation offers suspenseful touches and unusual points of view, and the music is excellent: spare and evocative, it grows progressively more ominous as the Franks approach their fate. (TS) (Burnham Plaza, 10:15 am)


Malli, a ten-year-old village girl, strikes up a friendship with the deaf-mute daughter of a middle-class park officer and rescues a doe injured by poachers. Santosh Sivan shot and directed this lovely, beguiling tale from India, easily conveying the children’s mood swings and their readiness to believe in the curative powers of animal gods. He also lets Malli burst into song and dance, in sequences whose giddiness echoes the raga-spiked sound track. (TS) On the same program, the German short Idell. (Burnham Plaza, 10:45 am)

4 Kirikou and the Sorceress

A marvel for eye and ear, this superior animated feature by French filmmaker Michel Ocelot adapts a West African folktale about a fearless, inquisitive boy who breaks a beautiful sorceress’s spell over his village. In Ocelot’s hands the tale stresses the virtues of patience, determination, and independent thinking, though it’s subtly propelled by themes that range from the tribal to the universal. The animation is not only riveting but highly attuned to African culture, drawing inspiration from such disparate sources as Gustave Moreau (Karaba the sorceress), Henri Rousseau (the lush jungles), ancient Egyptian art (the villagers), and African sculpture (Karaba’s slaves), all of them enhanced by its vivid and sensibly schematic colors. Also faithful to the African origins is the sound track: the French dialogue is spoken by African actors, and the vibrant music by Dakar-based Youssou N’Dour is performed on indigenous instruments. Though created by a Frenchman (albeit one who grew up in Guinea) this highly entertaining and thought-provoking film is far more appreciative of its origins than The Lion King. (TS) On the same program, the Brazilian short A Soccer Story. (Burnham Plaza, 11:15 am)

Miracle at Midnight

Ken Cameron’s television film dramatizes one of the more heroic episodes of the Holocaust, the rescue of almost all of Denmark’s Jews. A Danish doctor and his wife (Sam Waterston and Mia Farrow) save a friend and his family, while the doctor and his son help organize the Jews’ escape to neutral Sweden. The moving story is rendered a bit false by a too calculated script, building suspense by introducing ever-larger impediments to the rescuers’ plan; these thrill-a-minute machinations debase both the Holocaust and the courage of those involved in the rescue. (FC) (Facets Multimedia Center, 11:45 am)

Step It Up

Short films from Sweden, Greece, France, Ireland, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and the U.S. (Facets Multimedia Center, 11:45 am)

4 Kudos for Kids Flix

Nineteen short films by kids, from the U.S., Korea, and Mozambique; the best of them combine enchanting narrative ideas with playful, rough-edged technique, generating more honest emotion than many smooth, big-budget productions. In Fool’s Night Out, enacted by young kids with improvised sets, a disruptive opera patron tries to sing along with the performance and eventually gets booted out; the kids’ version of opera singing is itself pretty hilarious. Fitting in is a common subject: in The Picky Person at the Potluck Party, made by seven- to ten-year-olds, a latecomer’s disgust at the food (such as “monkey brains”) changes after she tastes it. In several animations, the children’s drawings fail to produce transparent illusions, but that’s the key to their charm: they allow the viewer to share in the creators’ delight. The ghost in The Haunted Camp won’t fool anybody, but the color drawings in combination with animated black-and-white photos of young campers is wonderfully disruptive. Carlitos Baloi’s Mozambican animation Famine and Joy tells the story of a poor village in beautiful drawings with strikingly elongated faces and powerfully earthy colors, reminding us that cultural differences still exist. Several films argue for tolerance and diversity: red and yellow dragons fight it out in Apple Mania, the father of a family of blue cats wishes for cats of other colors in The Renaissance of Color, and kids dressed in blue sit at the back of the bus in Why? The south-side kids who made Streets of Chicago–From Southside to Downtown show an appreciation for the city’s institutions even while noting that their neighborhoods are overlooked. (FC) (Facets Multimedia Center, 4:00)

The Little Man

Mamal, a poor village boy, tends a small garden to help his mother while his father works abroad, juggling his responsibilities at home and at school. Like much recent Iranian cinema, this modest 1998 effort by Ebrahim Frozesh draws a sensitive portrait of a resilient child, detailing with quiet craft and considerable affection his perseverance in the face of misunderstanding, embarrassment, and capricious weather. The film’s occasional sermons on obedience and conformity are leavened by its sincerity and its sympathy toward the characters’ arduous way of life. (TS) On the same program, the Israeli short Sea Horses. (Facets Multimedia Center, 4:00)


Miracle at Midnight

See listing for Friday, October 22. (Facets Multimedia Center, 10:00 am)

The White Pony

A young girl meets a leprechaun and a magical pony in this Irish film by Brian Kelly. On the same program, the Finnish short The Sun Is a Yellow Giraffe: A Portrait of a Bird. (Facets Multimedia Center, 10:00 am)

4 Kirikou and the Sorceress

See listing for Friday, October 22. (Facets Multimedia Center, noon)

Restless Spirits

Katie, a cynical 12-year-old staying with her grandmother in Newfoundland, meets the ghosts of two French aviators who vanished in 1927 while trying to beat Lindbergh across the Atlantic. Only she and her little brother can see the ghosts, though apparently the children’s father, a test pilot who died four years earlier, met the ghosts as a little boy and decided to take up flying. The aviators crashed in a fog, and on every foggy night they’re doomed to repeat the disaster, so Katie and a young friend help them salvage the plane’s physical wreckage so they can resume their flight and find peace–these are healing rather than haunting ghosts, standing for the curative power of children’s imagination, and Katie’s time with them helps her recover from the loss of her father. Unfortunately Newfoundland is only a name here: its unique dialects, topography, trees, and buildings are absent from the suburban production design and David Wellington’s competent but anonymous direction. (FC) (Facets Multimedia Center, noon)

4 Animation Explosion

Short video animations from around the world, the majority of them about animals. In Oi! Get Off Our Train from the UK, a young boy dreams of taking a train around the world and picking up animals whose habitats have been wrecked through human exploitation; director Jimmy T. Murakami does a good job of using varied textures to depict different landscapes. In Banjo Frogs, an Australian video by Nick Hilligoss, a frog is taken by truck to a dump where it tries to make music; the video implicitly compares its underappreciated performance to disregarded sites such as dumps. In Chris Elliott and Gerald Conn’s UK video Samba Paloma, street musicians are upstaged by pigeons that set up their own street band. The public-service spot Put to Sleep asks viewers to save pets through adoption; its powerful clay animation, created by 15-year-old Ryan McCulloch, makes use of shadows that suggest film noir. The Japanese video A Small Persimmon Tree: “Mokkii” features spare and expressive black-and-white drawings, but its main character, a tree that wanders about with a face on its trunk, is both anthropomorphized and irritatingly cute. In Joe Fournier’s Polar Lust polar bears dream of playing cool jazz in the big city, as if that were a higher aspiration than living in the wild, yet the video’s dark blues blend well with the slow jazz–also by Fournier–on the sound track. In the French video Pictopolis, by Guillaume Lenel, a human icon departs from a street sign and drifts into a chaotic, collagelike city of building facades and abstract forms. (FC) On the same program, videos from Hong Kong, Canada, France, Slovakia, Australia, and the U.S. (Facets Multimedia Center, 2:00)

Weird, Wacky, and Wild

Short films from around the world. Warrick Attewell’s The Murder House, from New Zealand, cleverly and succinctly captures the terrors of visiting the dentist, as a doctor with a crocodile grin finds every opportunity to turn her drill on fearful schoolchildren. In Idell, a maddeningly surreal clay animation from Germany, a macarena-mad house cat and an aria-singing flower drive each other crazy. Konstantin Bronzit’s sophisticated French animation At the Ends of the Earth drolly chronicles the chain of events that causes a house on a summit to tip precariously. In Theis & Nico, by Denmark’s Henrik Ruben Genz, a seven-year-old prods his older brother into his first kiss, with an immigrant girl from a neighboring apartment tower. And Sientje, by Dutch animator Christa Moesler, rehashes the notion of an obedient kid who dreams of causing anarchy. Andrea Katzenberger’s Anja, Bine, and the Gravedigger is a cutesy vignette about an impressionable girl who learns to cope with her best friend’s death. (TS) On the same program, shorts from Japan and the Czech Republic. (Facets Multimedia Center, 2:00)

Kids’ Quest

In an episode from a Uruguayan TV series, Enlightenment Adventure, children calling themselves “bio-reporters” assert a “right to silence” and call on everyone to take responsibility for reducing excessive noise. Children of the Fishing Boats, directed by Cao Ning for Chinese television, depicts the children who live on boats on Hongze Lake; its bland documentary style proves rather stultifying–similar to the song they all sing about their love of work and study–but the video still gives a good picture of an unusual culture. The traditional native legends in Stories From the Seventh Fire are both interesting and eco-friendly, but they fail to survive this Canadian short’s obnoxiously cliched devices and, even worse, a smirking tone that disprespects the legends. At least Dave Thomas’s A Dog Cartoon doesn’t pretend to be anything else, and it’s lively enough to occasionally recall Chuck Jones’s great Road Runner series. (FC) On the same program, shorts from Canada and the Netherlands. (Facets Multimedia Center, 4:00)

Scratches in the Table

A young girl travels to a small village to visit her curmudgeonly grandfather, whose wife has just died, and combs over the couple’s summer cabin for clues that might explain how her grandmother changed from a lively free spirit into a strict, reclusive housewife. Dutch director Ineke Houtman does a credible job maintaining the suspense–though stretching it too thin for the final payoff–while showing the girl’s efforts to restore harmony in the family. Despite a deliberately upbeat ending, the film adroitly soft-pedals the consequences of nonconformity and feminism. (TS) On the same program, the Indian short It’s Got to Be a Boy. (Facets Multimedia Center, 4:00)


Magic Mailmen and Talking Tugboats

Short videos for young children. In my favorite, David Culp’s Box Head Man, a dreaming boy meets a cast of bizarre characters with funny heads, while one narrow-minded figure blames everything that’s gone wrong on “them.” In Xue Linfeng’s Chinese video Open a Door: Haini a little girl follows her dog outside, the dog follows her to school, and her father takes her on his bicycle: lacking an overarching narrative, the film eschews adult causal thinking for the disconnected way young children list events. In Poems for Children, a Brazilian video directed by Celia Catunda, 14 short animations bring to life poems on the sound track, most concerning lessons such as how an echo is produced. (FC) On the same program, videos from France, Canada, Taiwan, and the UK. (Facets Multimedia Center, 10:00 am)

Upsidedown Mountain

In this Polish feature, a giant and various spirits try to free children from a fortress on the title mountain. On the same program, short films from Germany and the U.S. (Facets Multimedia Center, 10:00 am)

Summer’s End

James Earl Jones stars as a doctor befriended by a boy who’s lost his father in this 1998 drama. Helen Shaver directed. (Biograph, 11:00 am)

Anne Frank’s Diary

See listing for Friday, October 22. (Facets Multimedia Center, noon)

Exhuming Mr. Rice

David Bowie stars as the 400-year-old title character, who helps a terminally ill boy search for the elixir of life. On the same program, the Australian short The Calling. (Biograph, noon)

Fright Fest

Short videos from Latvia, the Netherlands, the U.S., and the UK. (Facets Multimedia Center, noon)

Ruby Bridges

See listing for Friday, October 22. Penelope Ann Miller, one of the stars of the film, will attend the screening. (Biograph, 1:00)

4 Annaluise and Anton

See listing for Friday, October 22. (Facets Multimedia Center, 2:00)