When one thinks of film festivals, Cannes, Toronto and Sundance leap to the fore. More locally we’re blessed with the Independent Film Festival of Boston (creatively expanding and about as close as you can get to the Sundance experience east of the Mississippi), the Boston International Film Festival, the Boston Film Festival, some great niche offerings and those that focus on specific cultural caterings like the long-running Boston Jewish Film Festival and the Boston LGBT Film Festival, let alone those French, Turkish, Iranian and so on.
That covers a lot of diverse cultural territory but what about kids? Boston’s got that covered too.
Well under the radar for last two years and now boldly leaping into its third year is the Boston International Kids Film Festival (BIKFF), which runs for three days from Friday, Nov. 6, to Sunday, Nov. 8. Aptly too (at least in name) this year, after a two year stint in Somerville, the festival lands at the World Trade Center in the Seaport District, something that gives Laura Azevedo, director of the festival and the executive director of the Filmmakers Collaborative which puts on BIKFF, rise.
"There's something exciting about walking through their avenue of the flags on your way to an international film festival. It just seems right," she says fondly of her new location.
Filmmakers Collaborative, based in Melrose, was founded in 1986 to provide fiscal support for independent filmmakers. Recognizing the sway of the digital revolution, Filmmakers Collaborative launched the BIKFF in 2013 to engage the next generation of filmmakers.
This year's festival will feature 86 films from 12 countries — mostly shorts. The programming is twofold: films for children and films by children. Most of the films for kids are for those ages 10 and up, however there is a block of animated films that's accompanied by an animation workshop where the children can learn about what goes into making the films they just saw — art direction dissection for the preschool set. There is even a smattering of PG-rated films that Azevedo says are intended to engage the whole family.
All films for the BIKFF are submitted through the festival's website during the submission period (which started in February) and are selected by a panel. The youngest filmmaker who submitted in the student category is 8 years old.
On the slate's more whimsical side this year, the shorts offer such self-explaining titles as "Play Date" and "COWS (Moosic Video)” and in the feature lineup, there's "Pop Star Puppy" and "On the Wing," where four teens uncover a plot by Texas oilmen to exterminate the bald eagle — you can bet money and oil plays into it.
On the more serious and educational side, there are a series of deep delving documentaries — many with local ties — which include "American Experience: Walt Disney" a never-before-seen 90-minute version of the documentary (an abridged version appeared on PBS earlier this year) about the cherished storyteller behind the animation classics and the family theme parks that draw millions every year, "The Year We Thought About Love," by Ellen Brodsky, about a Boston LGBTQ troupe that writes a play about love, and "Celling Your Soul" by Joni Siani about teens raised on iDevices and Droids.
Most intriguing however is "The Ghost Army" by Rick Beyer, which looks at the U.S. troops during the Second World War who used inflatable rubber tanks, sound trucks and performance art to fool the enemy on perceptions of strength and might on the front lines.
Other more participatory events and offerings include MEDIAGIRLS, which puts the female image in the media under the microscope and with a feminist lens, a GoPro 101 workshop and a Social Media Bootcamp for Parents.
Last year the festival sold over 800 tickets, this year Azevedo hopes to triple that number. The festival's also forged a nascent partnership with the Children's Museum and seeks to expand its programming into schools and other youth institutions over the year.
Beyond that, "Our hope is to bring a 'Best of the BIKFF films', along with a workshop or two to a number of different cities in New England throughout the course of the next year," Azevedo says, "with a long-term goal of moving around the country with it."
Of the festival and the process of bringing the films to the public, Azevedo’s particularly fond of the films made by students. "It’s such a prism into how they see the world," she says. "The films are just so open; sometimes depressing, sometimes hilarious, but always honest."
Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in The Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, The Rumpus, Thieves Jargon, Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere. You can follow Tom on Twitter at @TBMeek3 and read more at TBMeek3.wordpress.com.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified the makers of "The Ghost Army." It was not created in collaboration with the ICA Teens program. We regret the error.