Tenth Annual Chicago International Children's Film Festival (1994) by Marie Cenkner

One of the advantages of living in Chicago is the yearly opportunity to view the many children's films entered in the Chicago International Children's Film Festival. This festival has been presented for the last ten years by Facets Multimedia at 1517 Fullerton Parkway, Chicago.

I have had the pleasure of being on the animation jury for the last two years. This entails spending five or six evenings during the summer viewing about sixty-five pre-screened (thank goodness) entries from around the world. The festival takes place in early October. Shorts through features are accepted. The animation jury consists of educators (college, museum), publishers, distributors, film professionals and animators -- people with different knowledge of and perspective on animation and children. This mix guaranteed some "stimulating" discussions, one of the by-products I enjoy most about "jury duty."

Since the awards list closely resembles my personal list of films that animators might find interesting, I will high-light those films here.

Special Festival Award for Global Awareness:

"To See the World" National Film Board of Canada (35 min. total) -- one segment from "Rights From the Heart," a series of animations illustrating the United Nations Rights of Children Declaration. This film combines live motion with animation in a serious view of what is happening in the world today.

Special Festival Award for High Artistic Standards:

"Madre Tierre" Imagenes, Uruguay (36 min. total) -- a series of nine short films, each with an original story about our relationship to Mother Earth. They show a creative, original combining of different animation techniques (stop motion, object animation, drawn animation). While the slick smoothness we are used to seeing in US animation is missing, the stories and artistic vigor help us overcome our bias. One of the young animators, Javier Peraza, was able to attend the ASIFA reception and he gave us interesting insights into filmmaking in Uruguay.

Special Festival Award for Individual Creativity:

"TV Tango" Film Board of Canada (36 min. total) -- another of the segments from "Rights From the Heart," very nicely designed and executed cel animation with a highly original story showing the ill effects of TV on kids.

Special Festival Award for the Elevation of the Technique of Motion Graphics:

"John Henry" (30 min.) and "Follow the Drinking Gourd" (30 min.) Rabbit Ear Productions. Both films use beautiful camera work, illustrations and sound tracks to tell their stories. "John Henry," with narration by Denzel Washington, also uses interesting multiplane effects to tell this non-traditional version of the tale. "Follow the Drinking Gourd," narrated by Morgan Freeman, beautifully illustrates the story of a slave family's escape via the underground railroad by following the drinking gourd (big dipper) north.

Festival Awards for Intercultural Understanding: (3 awards)

1. "Gota A Gota" (Drop by Drop) from Madre Tierre by Imogenes, Uruguay

2. "Lord of the Sky" Film Board of Canada (13 min.) -- an Inuit story brought to life via cut paper animation by Ludmila Zeman Spalemy and Eugene Spalemy (daughter and son-in-law of Karl Zeman, the Czechoslovak stop motion master who brought you "The Wonderful World of Jules Vern" (1958) and many other wonderful films.)

3. "Follow the Drinking Gourd" Rabbit Ear Productions.

Best Shorts (30 to 60 minutes):

1st. "Mouse Soup" Churchill Films (35 min.) -- another excellent stop motion film by John Matthews with lots of up-beat songs based on the well-known children's book by Arnold Lobel. This time, Matthews includes some drawn animation too.

2nd. "Tinder Box" Statens Film Center, Denmark -- This traditional story starts with a beautiful underlite cut-paper segment back story then switches to stop motion for the body of the film. It includes elaborate sets, imaginative camera work and delightful character acting, but the animation is often too wobbly for my animator's sensibilities. Other jury members liked it for that rugged character. The film's most unique quality is that the animated characters both speak and sign their lines. The director-animator, Mihail Badica, was able to attend the festival. He amused animators at the ASIFA reception with his "war stories" about making films in the Soviet Union. They had a familiar ring. He also showed his clay animated film for adults, "Evolution," which was excellent.

Best Shorts (10 to 30 minutes):

1st. "Here Comes the Cat" Weston Woods (10 min.) -- a Soviet-U.S. production. Excellent design and animation tells the story of a mouse town using only four words and a twist to the ending.

2nd. "The Lump" Film Board of Canada (7:35 min.) -- mixed media animation by John Welton who brought you "Special Delivery." It has humor for older kids and animators.

3rd. "Gutter Pirates" Christina Schindeler, Germany (10 min.) -- Live motion backgrounds with drawn animation of three creatures in a paper boat discovering pollution. This film also won the audience vote for Most Popular Film Award.

Best Shorts (under 10 minutes):

1st. "El Nino El Arbol" Madre Tierra -- a lyrical story about a boy in a drab town who paints a tree on a wall and finally gets the real thing. Combines stop motion with drawn animation sequences.

2nd. "Black Fly" Film Board of Canada (5 min.) -- this drawn animation by Christopher Hinton is a delightful toe tapper in the tradition of "The Log Drivers Waltz." It is close to the funny bone of anyone who has spent time in the north woods in August.

3rd. "Joey Learns to Fly" KET Productions, Ed Counts (5 in.) -- This is an insightful story by Earl Haas, brought to life by ASIFA Central member Ed Counts. It tells about a young man who knows how to fly but bows to pressures and forgets until a crisis in his old age forces him to fly again. Ed was able to come to Chicago for the festival and at the reception he confessed that he animated the whole 5 minutes in his spare time with a little help from his computer.

ASIFA Central member, Millie Goldsholl's long awaited "Rebellion of the Flowers" also made its Chicago premier at the festival. The 7 minute film, in a highly graphic cartoon style, tells the original story of a farmer who raises flowers but is overcome by his perceived power and, in retaliation for his extremes, is "done in" by his charges.

That about wraps up my comments about the films entered in the 10th Chicago International Children's Film Festival. If you would like to enter a film in the 11th annual Festival, the entry date will be June 15th, 1994. You can request an entry form several months in advance by calling Facets Multimedia and asking to speak with the Festival Coordinator. (312) 281-5437.