We spent the past weekend at the New York International Film Festival at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side; Saturday we took Tiny and three of her BFFs to the "Shorts for Tots" screening (for ages 3-to-6), and then lathered, rinsed, and repeated a day later with Fellow and three of his Wee Pals, who took in the slate of shorts for 5-to-10-year-olds, along with every other seven-year-old kid we know.

And the films were wonderful. There were about a dozen shorts each day, ranging from a minute to about 10. Each kid (and parent) was given a pencil and a ballot to fill out, so they could review each short and name their favorite. The kids' selections were fairly predictable (as were our own), and there will be few surprises when prizes are awarded at the close of the festival next weekend, after which many of the shorts will be posted here for home viewing.

The reviews:

1. Shorts for Tots:

The animated version of Mo Willems' best-seller "Knuffle Bunny" was included on this slate, which struck as unfair since its familiarity will certainly sway many young voters. We read "Knuffle" when it came out a couple of years ago, but never purchased it because it seemed to us an example of a children's book that is really for, and about, the parents. But based on the kids' responses to the short film, we may have been wrong. The kids loved it because it's really, we now see, in the genre of "What was I like when I was little?" books. We expected all of our girls to list "Knuffle" as their favorite, but we underestimated them. Because two out of three chose . . .

"Rain Down From Above," (see it on YouTube) a wordless film directed by Ivan Maximov of Russia about a biblical deluge in a quiet village where elephants, children, and the elderly live side-by-side. We thought the downpour was a little too scary but the girls were drawn in by the beauty of Maximov's art, the accompanying music by Prokofiev, and the emotions of the villagers, separated from each other by the storm but eventually, ingeniously reunited.

But our own favorite was "Animal Book," (see the trailer on YouTube) from the U.K., about a girl and her big sister who tend to the massive cogs and machinery in an oppressive, industrial city but find figurative and literal escape when a book with wings flies by. It's the Quay Brothers meets "Teletubbies," and it just pushed all of our buttons. We thought it was stunning.

As for the other films, several featured the Sun in various moods, and a pair of shorts from Japan were simply unwatchable.

2. Short Films One:

The big boys enjoyed "Crank Balls," (see excerpts on YouTube) about grumpy balls of dough whose lives are considerably brightened by a happy, alien force. They also loved "Game Over," (see it on YouTube) an inventive set of stop-motion reimaginings of classic video games, featuring a pizza as Pac-Man, bugs as Space Invaders, and a "Centipede" game in which a salt shaker fires at muffins. These two shorts collected all of the boys' votes. But again, our favorite was something more arty: "The Tide," a magical and moving film by Mette Skov of Denmark, which tells of a boy and his talking teddy bear who sit glumly in the back of his parent's car on the way to a vacation by the shore. The parents argue, then stop at a gas station, where the boy and his bear run off to the shore to help a beached whale they had spotted before the family pulled over.

Also on the slate was the completely delightful "Zhiharka," from Russia, an old Ural fairy tale that crosses "Little Red Riding Hood" with "Road Runner," and "Shhh," a British short that thoroughly rips off the old "Kids in the Hall" "I'm crushing your head!" sketch, while making it vastly creepier.

We'll update if and when more of our favorites become available for viewing online. To read about one animator's experience on the children's film festival circuit, check David Levy's "Animondays" site.

March 14, 2008 | Permalink | Subscribe to RSS


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