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30th Cinekid: Versatile youth film festival must look for new director

With the screening of Owl Ball by Simone van Dusseldorp was kicked off yesterday at Amsterdam's Westergastheater for the Cinekid Festival. This year, the film, television and new media event for children celebrates its 30th edition. It is also the edition with which director Sannette Naeyé bids farewell.

In her 20 years at the helm, she built a small-scale event into a festival that is one of the most important of its kind worldwide. Besides the latest films and television programmes, there is an extensive section for professionals, from makers to buyers, with conferences and workshops plus a co-production market. Another addition with which Naeyé made her mark was the new media section. The 1,200-square-metre Medialab full of installations and interactive productions is a playground for children and a testing ground for makers.


Even apart from Cinekid, a lot has changed in this sector. Besides the better children's films in the movie theatres, the competition from regular cinema has become much greater. There, the offer of great family and animation films has increased considerably. Often of excellent quality too. Inside Out by Disney-Pixar would not have been out of place at Cinekid. In the same period, Dutch children's film has also risen sharply, and not only in terms of number of productions. Gone are the days when Scandinavia set the quality standard.

See for example Owl Ball, after Letter secrecy and Life according to Nino already the third film by Van Dusseldorp to open Cinekid. She is one of the Dutch filmmakers with a perfect feeling for the children and youth genre. This year, she is chief guest at Cinekid.

Owl Ball

In terms of atmosphere and approach, the upbeat Owl Ball a kind of sequel to Van Dusseldorp's engaging Frogspawn. This time it revolves around the adventures of 8-year-old Meral, who is struggling to settle in at her new school. In itself a familiar children's film theme, but charmingly elaborated with an optimistic and playful open-mindedness that suits the child's perspective. The exciting expedition in the forest, when Meral tries with three other children to rescue her runaway favourite mouse, also evokes pleasant memories of predecessor Frogspawn on.

What Owl Ball above all, what makes it so engaging is the suppleness with which recognisability, unexpected finds, musical scenes and quirky touches interlock. That four completely different children (no worries about lack of diversity here) still become friends is of course predictable, but it doesn't feel that way. Remarkably unsentimental are also the down-to-earth lessons about nature. Some animals eat others, it's not nice but that's how it works. The children are not put off by it.

More serious themes

Owl Ball is part of the international competition, for which some 15 films have been selected. If you wanted to see a trend at all, you could say that exciting and imaginative adventure is totally allowed again, although of course that is also often a capstone for more serious themes. The British Swallows and Amazons is a nice combination of coming-of-age with a spy story. In the Spanish Zip & Zap involves a time machine to help children and parents understand each other better.

Heartbreaking and hilariously lifelike, French Jamais content (Not to be done!) by Emilie Deleuze, about 13-year-old Aurore who does not make things easy for herself. A girl who hides her insecurity behind impossible behaviour, until suddenly something completely different comes into her life. She gets to sing in a band! A beautiful portrait that shows en passant that the dividing line between films for children and adults is less sharp in France than elsewhere.

I was also very impressed by the Swiss Oscar entry, the stop-motion animation Ma vie de courgette by Claude Barras. A shy nine-year-old boy accidentally causes the death of his alcoholic mother. At the shelter, he meets a pair of equally severely traumatised peers. Seeing it summed up like that, one fears the worst. However, the fact that he managed to draw an optimistic and moving story from all this gloom, without any false notes, shows courage and empathy. Moreover, it is another fine example of the power of stop-motion animation, which on the one hand creates a picture-book-like distance that makes it possible to put things into perspective, while at the same time being very realistic in terms of character and emotion.

30 years

Among other things, Cinekid is celebrating the 30th anniversary by screening some wonderful classics that are also 30 years old. Such as Rob Reiner's unsurpassed coming-of-age story Stand By Me and the Roald Dahl film adaptation James and the Giant Peach.

Good to know

Following two days of school screenings, Cinekid's public programme runs from 15 to 21 October. In addition, in 38 locations across the country during the autumn holidays the programme Cinekid on Location. The winners of the various competitions will be announced at the awards ceremony on 22 October.

Owl Ball and Ma vie de courgette will be released in Dutch cinemas this week following its screening at Cinekid.

Leo Bankersen

Leo Bankersen has been writing about film since Chinatown and Night of the Living Dead. Reviewed as a freelance film journalist for the GPD for a long time. Is now, among other things, one of the regular contributors to De Filmkrant. Likes to break a lance for children's films, documentaries and films from non-Western countries. Other specialities: digital issues and film education.View Author posts

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