Located in the south of Italy, close to the Amalfi Coast, the small town of Giffoni Valle Piana (population 11,000) opens its border each year to something resembling the Children’s Crusade. Now celebrating its 38th edition, the Giffoni Film Festival is regarded as the world’s premier fixture for children’s cinema — a kind of annual summer camp for aspiring cinephiles.
Each year, more than 2,000 kids from around the world are invited to attend the July fest. For 10 days, they watch movies, serving as both audience and jury, as they select various award winners in the competitive section.
This year’s event will showcase a number of high-profile Hollywood pics (Italo preems of “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” and Eddie Murphy’s latest laffer, “Meet Dave”) alongside a selection of well-chosen kiddie fare from elsewhere on the fest circuit (Daniel Barnz’s Sundance fave “Phoebe in Wonderland,” Aussie coming-of-age comedy “Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueburger”).
But with 30 features in competition and enough young jurors to fill a school system — all conversing in a Babel of languages — it’s likely to make the higher-stakes deliberations at Cannes or Venice seem positively genteel.
For youth-oriented filmmakers, the appeal is clear: a chance to connect directly with their target audience, unmediated by the meddlesome influence of critics or parents. And in many ways, it’s an ideal environment: Both the screenings and the Q&A sessions that follow are characterized by an earnest willingness to engage with the work.
But the experience can be bruising as well as exhilarating: If the kids are inspired, then there’s no mistaking it — there are cheers, deep, rapturous sighs, howls of laughter or delight. But if they’re bored, then they won’t disguise it either. Even a lousy review can pale by comparison.
“It’s true,” laughs artistic director and founder Claudio Gubitosi. “But this honesty, this lack of pretense, is precisely what makes it attractive, both for filmmakers and for the audience.”
It also fits with the fest’s ethos. “We’ve always tried to program a kind of cinema that doesn’t feel it has to hide anything from young viewers,” he says: “(films) that can deal with difficult issues and don’t condescend to them in any way. Which is why we have nearly 50,000 requests from young people to take part each year.”
Gubitosi’s passion is understandable: The fest is, after all, his life’s work; he oversaw its first edition at the tender age of 18. Now 52, and married with two children himself, his enthusiasm remains undimmed: “I remember in 1982, Francois Truffaut and Fanny Ardant came to Giffoni. Afterwards, Truffaut wrote a beautiful letter to me in which he said, ‘Of all the festivals in the world, Giffoni is the most necessary.’ That comment really moved me. And even today, after so many years, I believe it absolutely.”
When: July 18-26
Where: Giffoni, Italy