When Stella, a young girl from Italy, is tricked by her mother into visiting the dentist’s — a trip that ends in a tooth extraction — she learns that at times, we need to come down to earth and face reality. Even when deep down inside, we’re sure that we belong with the stars. Stella tells her mother that she wants to be an astronaut when she grows up because, “in the infinite, one does not fall.”
If it seems more like a film than a real-life story, it is perhaps both — unravelling in Italian directors Roberto and Gaia’s short film Stella 1. It was one of the many films taking part in the 11th Lahore International Children’s Film Festival (LICFF) hosted by The Little Art. It concluded on Saturday after screening more than 100 films from 27 countries. A visual treat for children aged three through 18, the festival traditionally challenges its audiences to think out of the box and celebrate difference. “LICFF not only takes children on exciting journeys but also provokes the community of adults to think in different perspectives and to become closer to the lives of our youth,” said Festival Director Shoaib Iqbal in a message on the festival’s website.
Children are by and large visual creatures. Give them a film over a book any day and they’ll happily take it. Most of the times, it doesn’t even have to be a children’s film. But that aside, when it comes to educating young minds, film is one medium that will succeed, over and over again. And what better than equipping them with the complete authority to conceive a film from scratch? Which is exactly what The Little Art’s workshop Equally Loud does. This year, the workshop resulted in over 40 documentaries and short films produced and created by kids in Pakistan, screened at the LICFF.
“This year we basically wanted children to work with gender, and the result was astounding,” said Ramsha Toufique, project coordinator at The Little Art. “The programming is carefully curated but the core ideas come from the children themselves. This results in bringing diverse experiences from the minds of young children to the audience in the shape of films.”
It is heartening to realise that children today think about the problems of the world they live in, and are quite aware of what they are going through. This was quite evident in What Will People Say, a short Pakistani film made by children at Equally Loud. The story revolves around a young girl, Mariam, who challenges the gender norms by nagging her parents to get her a motorcycle, which they think is something girls “don’t need.” She wins, eventually.
“I worked really hard to create innovative and interactive games and activities which played a huge role in gender sensitisation of young girls and boys, leading to some interesting films made by them,” said Sehyr Mirza who was one of the workshop trainers. “Although, when I was writing the gender/ filmmaking manual, I wasn’t expecting the youngsters to be so naïve about the concept of gender. Hence, it was definitely more challenging working with them than I had initially thought. But I loved their transformation through the course of workshops,” said Mirza who is also an activist, writer, and founder of SAMAAJ.
Another notable film produced in the workshop, Thoughts of Aya Jee, shows that children, contrary to what we think, are rather empathetic towards their school staff, showing considerable interest in how they go about their lives.
In other films from Pakistan, Jabbar Zafar’s Kam Di Gal (Something Important) also deserves a mention with its careful portrayal of the concept that appearances do not always matter as much as we think they do. It shows that the quality of advice given by a person does not really depend upon their education, class, age, socioeconomic status, or IQ.
While most of the films were mainly produced by children, adults did help select the international films that were going to be screened at the festival.
This year’s jury of professionals included playwright Asghar Nadeem Syed, documentary director Tazeen Bari, Wajiha Raza Rizvi, and Muhammad Ali Ijaz.
Bullying and gender stereotyping are the two subjects tackled quite methodically by Gaizka Urresti in the Spanish short film My Dear Ball. Set in the 1975 Spain, the film focuses on Juan who is frequently bullied by the son of the notary just because he owns a football. Subsequently, as the boys’ team closes its doors to him, he learns that the girls still want him to play with them, something that he considered beneath him before the incident.
“Our major aim was to include movies that impart a message to the children in a manner easily understood by them,” said Toufique. It seems that they succeeded in doing so, something that was quite evident by the packed cinema halls and the exhilarated faces of both children and those accompanying them.
If there was one outstanding theme of the festival, it was what its organisers described as “celebrating experiment.” The festival encouraged children to see that there are many ways to tackle problems in life and that experimentation is not entirely a scary concept.
Prominent examples were Lazare from France in which Amy, a young orphan living alone in an abandoned cable car, and her friend go to a landfill to scavenge. They wander through piles of scrap when Amy discovers a giant key which changes the course of her life. How to Build a Cloud from Mexico directed by Carlos Baqquin dabbles in themes of nostalgia and escapism.
“Children especially loved Zog,” said Toufique. Directed by Max Lang and Daniel Snaddon from the United Kingdom, Zog is an animated film based on a picture book written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. It is a story of courage and friendship and focuses on the fact that any obstacle in life can be overcome with effort and patience. The power of persistence is also tackled in the animated film from France, titled The Box, in which an old man ends up taming the mouse he always wanted to do away with.
Iranian director Erfan Parsapour’s The Incomplete uses animated characters to illustrate a convoluted reality. It focuses on a hungry otter who is obsessed with perfection, so much so that his desire to have a perfect life may cost him the chance for happiness in real life.
Children film festivals are always a delight to attend. One can’t help end up feeling the paradox that essentially forms a part of such endeavours: sometimes one needs to look at things from a child’s perspective to understand things that are truly grown-up.