GLUED TO THE SCREEN
MY JOURNEY INTO CHILDREN’S CINEMA
There is nothing that I like more than watching a favourite film with a group of children, in a dimmed classroom, all entranced by a story unfolding on the screen.
Although I had always worked in the UK film industry, it wasn’t until I had children myself that I paid much attention to children’s cinema. As a new parent I could barely wait to show my kids the films that I had loved as a child.
Once my own children hit primary school I found out about the film education charity Film Club and I set up my own club at school. Now I can indulge in this pleasure every week, treating the youngsters in my charge to old classics, forgotten gems and little-known foreign films.
My one criterion is to show films that they are unlikely to have seen at the local multiplex; so we have watched an unusual mix of old British and US classics like Whistle Down the Wind, Glitterball and Little Fugitive, older classics like Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid and The Circus, and also films from Mongolia, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, Japan, Ireland, New Zealand and so on.
What has struck me over the years is that children are willing to try anything if they are given the chance. I love seeing the children getting so engrossed in a film that they will jump up from their seat to do a quick dance with excitement or call out when something is unfair in a film. A few weeks ago we watched the New Zealand film ‘Whale Rider’ and the children were all aghast at the behaviour of the grandfather saying things like ‘I thought he was really sexist’. When I hear that coming from a 10-year-old boy I think there is hope for us all!
This is why in my opinion it is so important for our children to experience a wide range of films: films that can teach them about life and about growing up in this world. Although in the UK we are part of a world-class film industry our children are barely exposed to films produced in other countries.
In Europe where subsidy quotas are being set aside to produce content for young audiences there exists a flourishing film culture for children. These films also deal with a wide range of topics and don’t shy away from difficult subject matter.
In a world that is increasingly divided along social fault lines like race, gender and ideologies it is vital for our children to be exposed to stories from around the world. Stories which reflect not only their own realities, but also the realities of other children their age.
If you are stuck for ideas on what to watch with your children you can find some great examples on the Into Film website: www.intofilm.org @intofilm_edu or follow me on Facebook and Twitter @BromleyFilmClub where I will share the films that we watch in our club.
Here is a list of films mentioned in this article to get you started:
My Neighbour Totoro: It is hard to choose a favourite Studio Ghibli film but this one definitely ranks in my top five. A wonderful Japanese animated fantasy film by the master Hayao Miyazaki himself. Satsuki and her little sister Mei move to the countryside with their dad to be near their mum who is recovering from an illness in a nearby hospital. The girls soon discover that their new house and the forest surrounding it are full of spirits — but friendly ones. When they befriend the giant, furry Totoro, and take a ride on a magical cat bus, the sisters can deal with their everyday problems that little bit better. This is an absolute enduring masterpiece. My film club children loved the film so much they danced the conga as the credits rolled.
Whistle Down the Wind: An absolute gem by director Bryan Forbes about a group of children in rural Lancashire who give shelter to an escaped convict, mistaking him for Jesus Christ. Trying to keep him a secret is not as easy as it seems and soon word spreads amongst the children in the village.
The Little Fugitive: A classic American film said to have inspired Truffaut with its naturalistic style and use of non-actors. 7-year old Joey and his older brother Lennie are left alone for a day whilst their mother visits a sick relative. But Lennie is not keen on babysitting his brother and he plays a trick on him that results in Joey running away to Coney Island. Will they be reunited before their mother comes home?
Glitterball: A home-grown Sci-Fi from the Children’s Film Foundation about a boy who finds a mysterious ball that seems to have come from outer space. Together with his best friend he attempts to get the ball reunited with its mothership, thwarting the attempts by adults to capture it for their own purposes.
The Kid: Chaplin’s emotional tale of an abandoned orphan who is adopted by a tramp. When the authorities find out about their situation they try everything they can to separate father and son. Charlie Chaplin’s first feature film is a silent masterpiece and never fails to enthral the children.
The Circus: Another comedy classic and favourite at our film club. This time Charlie Chaplin inadvertently gets hired by a travelling circus as an entertainer, and sets his eyes on the lovely daughter of the evil ringmaster. Unfortunately her heart already belongs to the daring tightrope acrobat. Plenty of hilarious slapstick and daring stunts to keep the children entertained!
The Cave of the Yellow Dog: Blending documentary style with drama this film follows a nomadic family in Mongolia. When oldest daughter Nansal finds a small dog her father refuses to let her keep it, thinking it may kill his sheep. However he is forced to change his mind when the dog heroically saves his younger daughter from preying vultures.
Wadjda: Not only is this the first feature film to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia but it is also directed by a woman! A rebellious girl is determined to buy and ride a beautiful bike that she has seen on her route to school. Although girls are not encouraged to ride a bike she decides to enter a Koran reciting competition to gather enough money to buy it anyway. A great conversation starter for your sons and daughters!
A Town Called Panic: Described as ‘Toy Story on Absinthe’ this is a hilariously hectic stop-motion animation about three plastic toys; Horse, Cowboy and Indian. When Cowboy and Indian order bricks to build a surprise barbecue for Horse’s birthday they accidentally insert too many zeros at the end of their order and are inundated with bricks. This sets off a crazy adventure that sees them travelling to the centre of the earth, across frozen tundra and deep under the sea. Children fell over themselves laughing whilst watching this film. Best to watch it in its native language as the voices are just so brilliant.
Song of the Sea: A hauntingly beautiful animation from Ireland that was nominated for an Oscar in 2015. Rooted in ancient Irish folk tales and legends and inspired by the fantasy films of Studio Ghibli, this is the story of 10-year old Ben who discovers that his sister is a sea spirit.
Whale Rider: Again, a film with a feisty female protagonist directed by a female director. The film takes place in a Maori tribe in New Zealand where Pai, the young granddaughter of a Maori chief, tries to claim her birthright despite being a girl, thus going against ancient customs. Her ultra-traditional grandfather does everything in his power to try and stop her. A moving and ultimately uplifting film exploring a little-seen cultural perspective.
Saskia van Roomen Follow
Film Club leader at the Bromley Family Film Club. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @BromleyFilmClub