Little Big Shots: Melbourne's International Film Festival for Kids
June 6-11 2007
ACMI Cinemas, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
It was the first day of the festival, first morning, first film, and Marcella Bidinost was standing in a spotlight asking if anyone here understood Hebrew. Yes! shouted part of her audience. Woo! Yeah! We do! The boys who were shouting looked about fourteen years old. Some of them -- the ones whose hair I could see in the light from the screen -- were wearing teased mullets. You knew they were from well-off families, middle class at least, because no one, no matter how hard they banter and snicker, can look seriously tough in a teased mullet.
Almost half of the films are Australian premiers, two have been nominated for Oscars, and 25 of them are made by children themselves. This is important. One of the festival's aims -- stated in the publicity, and again when you talk to the people who are running it -- is to show children that they can make movies themselves, that they can do more than gawk tamely at the screen, that they can be the grown-up filmmakers of the future. Being Australian they'll make one film here and then hive off to Hollywood and direct Legally Blonde but we don't tell them that yet. For now, they are our filmmakers.
The festival travels. This year it's going around Australia and then to Singapore. Marcella will go with it. Little Big Shots is partly her brain-child. She stands at the front of each session, she welcomes everyone. She is the festival's face.
It's a festival free of breathless interviews and high-profile names, unless you count Disney, whose Little Match Girl left people sniffling as the lead perished in the deathly blue Russian snow, or Nickelodeon, a primary sponsor. The filmmakers who turned up for question time were all Australian. No one, it transpires, is going to fly umpteen thousand miles around the earth to discuss Het Monsterlijk Toilet, or The Monsterous Toilet, a handsome fourteen-minute Dutch short in which a girl eats a table-load of cakes and chocolates and then has to confront a cistern that growls at her.
Nah, not really, he said diffidently. The kids did most of the work. He put one hand lightly on his son's head.
Marisa Lai was more forthcoming. She was 14, with two films in the festival. One of Marisa's films was titled Talk to the Toys; the other was Military Sandwich. In Military Sandwich there is a funny moment with the lettuce, which I'll leave you to discover if you ever get a chance to see it.
Why did she decide to animate talking toys? the audience asked.
Marisa said that she liked Creature Comforts and wanted to do a similar thing, but with toys. The decision made sense -- animals were already taken. She grinned and brushed her hair off her cheek. The spotlight was on her and she handled it well.
Five of Little Big Shots' child-made films came from Croatia's Škola Animiranog Filma, an animation workshop run specifically for children. Wonderful things are done there. Their films were part-surreal without being incoherent. One of them, Rose, was entirely the work of a 13-year-old boy named Toni Zadravec, whose Water appeared in the festival last year. "He draws above his age group," Marcella said before the screening, and it's true, he does.
Storytelling and jokes are not the preserve of adults. Nor are they the preserve of countries with an excess of money. The film that got the biggest laugh was a computer animation from Zimbabwe, Moondance, while the United States' Camp Lazlo: Treehugger was received with plain stares. Lazlo was flip, smart, noisy, and graphically stylised, with a pedigree that stretched backwards through Ren and Stimpy to Roger Ramjet and the UPA. Moondance was a series of simple visual jokes built around a giraffe. After sitting in on Little Big Shots, I wonder if marketers who say that kids won't watch anything unless it's edgy and hip aren't thinking more wishfully than realistically. Funny animals tripping over themselves seem to do the job just as well.
There were plenty of boys (Wander, The Big Race, Frankie's Story, Drive, Dobli, etc) but the resilience of the girls was more noticeable, perhaps because it doesn't always carry through to adult productions. If you're sick of watching films in which every female character is scripted and cast with the male audience in mind then you should try a children's movie. It might cheer you up. Try The Time-Out Chair, possibly the neatest little fuck-you to authority ever filmed. The lead character is a silent girl with long brown hair. Nobody gets hurt; nobody needs to, and the ending is funny.
Talk to the Toys, by Marisa Lai (Australia, 2006)
Wander, by Joshua Clark (USA 2006)
Small Ant Syndrome, by Anne-Marie Denham (Australia, 2004)
The Lollipop Tree Wish, by Olivia Allen-Wickler (USA, 2006)