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A film festival engages children proactively in the process of bringing about social change. By Kritika Dua

( December 12, 2017 )

Children are no longer running away from reality but learning to face them head on rather early in life. So they have shot on subjects as diverse as climate change with guidance by industry experts, relationship with parents and peers, loneliness, education and child abuse. All of these were part of the celebrated Smile International Film Festival for Children and Youth (SIFFCY). For the first time, a young jury comprising six children gave its inputs in the selection process along with an international jury. It was done to let the children have a say in the films they would like to watch on screen, giving them freedom of choice.

The festival director, Jitendra Mishra, felt that it was the need of the hour to use films as a leveller for the jury which comprised children from both privileged and underprivileged backgrounds. Around 35 countries are participating this time, including Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Iran, Canada and Japan. Over a 100 films will be screened over the week.

The international jury comprising Arend Agthe (Germany), a celebrated filmmaker known for Karakum and My Friend Raffi; Gert Hermans (Belgium), Chief-editor, European Children’s Film Association; Judita Soukupova (Czech Republic), Festival Director, Junior Fest; Michal Matus (Israel), Head of Education Department, Cinematheque and Festival Director, Tel Aviv International Children’s Film Festival and Chantal Bowen (Canada), a veteran filmmaker and Executive Director of Youth Media Alliance and National award-winning filmmaker. Raveena Tandon, Jitendra Mishra and Santanu Mishra were part of the inaugural ceremony.

Movies are the most appropriate medium to educate and empower children in an amusing manner. Tandon said, “I am really proud that there is a film festival only and wholly for children. I want kids to take a vow that whatever they will learn from here, they will follow in their daily life. Movies are the best channel to educate our children, so I also want to thank SIFFCY which has acted as a medium to communicate goodness and morals to our children, as it is the right time to educate them about the good and the bad.”

Festivals like this evoke creativity and spark inquisitiveness. Santanu Mishra, Executive Trustee of Smile Foundation and Chairman of SIFFCY, mentioned, “I hope through this festival, we will be able to channelise the energy of children and youth in a positive way and engage them proactively in the process of initiating a social change. The idea behind it is to design a copious blend of films to build and support the growing interest in the infotainment industry. This includes films that cultivate an audience for world cinema while supporting filmmakers in career development, so that this powerful medium can be explored in a more focussed manner for disseminating serious yet effective social messages.”

The festival will have a Take One section featuring 25 shorts films made by children from across the globe. “This is a unique platform to encourage and support the growing interest in meaningful cinema among young, aspiring, independent people without any favouritism. This year we have been fortunate enough to have many international partners, who have extended their support towards our initiative to entertain, engage, educate and empower the children and youth through various cinematic experiences and related capacity building workshops,” added Mishra.

There will be scheduled panel discussions and fora on the environment and climate change, road safety, skill development and role of cinema along with regular technical workshops by industry experts on filmmaking, cinematography, production design, storytelling and photography. Amrit Pritam Dutta will be conducting the sound design workshop.

Tandon recalled, “When I was the chairperson of CISF, I had collected all the good movies and we screened each one of them for the children of government schools. I remember a bus used to go and pick up the children so that they could watch some delightful cinema.”

Children-centric films are not promoted well in our country and most often these films are made on a shoestring budget. Said Tandon, “It’s true but while growing up movies like Makdee and Chhota Chetan were a rage in our time. Fine films have always been made in our country. There are children-centric movies with considerable budget also, though it’s a rare occurrence. When I was the chairperson of CISF, I increased the allocated budget from 20 lakh to 80 lakh as I felt that how can we encourage quality cinema without the presence of a good budget.”

Mishra concluded, “We wanted to bring in a range of enjoyable films with an aspirational element for children under one umbrella. We will be showcasing films on child abuse as children should be aware of dark realities. It will also provide them with possible solutions. The films are presented in a light manner so that it will not cause an adverse effect on their psychology. It will educate them to be mentally prepared in the future to tackle issues like bullying, peer pressure or abuse.”

The Indian production Village Rockstars by Rima Das was chosen as the opening film at the third edition of SIFFCY. The opening day of the week-long festival also had an international film — Cloud boy, a joint production by Belgium, Sweden, Norway and Netherlands directed by Meikeminne Clinckspoor. The festival will also screen films such as The day my father became a bush, a film about war through the eyes of a little girl, Nafas and Glasses from Iran.


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