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Kinderfest grows up as kidvid gets hot

Kidpics now boast myriad subgenres, sophistication

The Kinderfilmfest/14plus sidebar got off to a rollicking start with a slew of sold-out premieres as kids, families and school classes stormed the Zoo Palast, the sidebar’s main venue, over the weekend.

Kinderfilmfest and 14plus openers Peter Cattaneo’s “Opal Dream” and Wash Westmoreland-Richard Glatzer’s “Quinceanera” have already piqued Market interest with a number of buyers joining tykes and teens at the screenings.

At 29, the Kinderfest has become the premier place for new children’s films from across the globe and the industry itself has grown from infancy to at least young adult.

“It’s a very rare case when a company decides not to accept an invitation from us,” Kinderfest/14plus director Thomas Hailer explained.

Kidpics, no longer lumped into the quagmire of family entertainment, now boast myriad subgenres and new sophistication.

Case in point: Niels Arden Oplev’s drama “We Shall Overcome,” about a 13-year-old Danish boy inspired by the speeches of Martin Luther King to rebel against an abusive teacher.

“This film would be a nightmare for a U.S. producer to pitch, but children should not be underestimated — they experience the highs and lows of life and can appreciate quality stories. Kids can relate to stories of civil disobedience — no kid likes to be talked down to.”

The main criteria of the competish, Hailer said, is that “the point of view must be told from the same eye level as the main character.” Kids’ films today no longer have to be sugar coated, he adds. “We don’t go looking for specific themes, but they do emerge in the lineup.” This year’s thread is the impact of world migration on family life.

Although venues are selling out, Hailer said “making money is not the point. We are investing in the future of German cinema, in helping kids develop a taste for film.”

To that end, the already low-priced Kinderfilmfest/14plus offers discounts for groups of five or more to attract school classes.

The close cooperation with Berlin schools is paying off. “We have to support teachers who are brave enough to bring 40 or more kids to the screenings. If they are treated right, they’ll be back the following year.”

Although international in scope, the fest’s selection of 21 features, 12 in the Kinderfilmfest competition and nine more in the 14plus competition, has a northern European cast — not surprising since the Nordic territories, in particular, are among the most prolific makers of kidfare.

Seven of the pics in the Kinderfilmfest are from northern Europe, “Opal Dream” is a U.K./Australia co-production; three are from Asia and one is from Latin America.

The 14plus competition lineup of nine pics has a wider global spread, with two from North America — Canada and the U.S. — one from France, two from Asia and four from Northern Europe.

The five Asian pics in the feature lineup reflect in part an explosion in the film industries in several countries on that continent.

According to Ferdoze Bulbulia, chair of the fifth World Summit on Children and Media, to be held in South Africa in 2007, “Asia as a whole has a much greater interest in production of children’s programming and in development issues, such as girls’ education and child labor.”

The impact of multicultural societies is another thread that runs through the competish pics. Hailer points to “Schnitzel Paradise,” Dutch lenser Martin Koolhoven’s comedy about a Moroccan family trying to fit into Dutch society, in the 14plus competition.

The pic was also one of the three biggest box office hits in Holland in 2005.

“We were amazed at the courage it took to do such a film, and certainly, making it in Germany would be very difficult,” Hailer said. “We are not used to making jokes about our problems.”

Across Europe, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, funding and production of kids pics is being cut, but there are patches of turf where that clearly is not the case.

Scandinavia, partially through the bulging pockets of the five-territory Nordic Film and TV Fund, never seems to run out of money for kidpics.

“If you release a film at fall and winter holiday, you can make a lot of money here with children’s films,” said Klaus Rasmussen, sales exec for Nordisk Film.

Case in point: “Father of Four,” a film about a dad raising four kids that pulled some 500,000 admissions, more than a 10th of the Danish population.

“We do everything we can so that the films being screened here will also have economic success, and we are not trying to be artistic for arts’ sake, but our main job is to find brilliant films,” Hailer said. “Let the buyers and audiences take it from there.”

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