As the holiday season approaches, it can be helpful to have a few new go-to movies that will engage a wide range of ages. Between the hybrid Boston International Kids Film Festival (BIKFF) and the virtual Boston Jewish Film Festival (BJFF), both running through Nov. 21, families have a lot of independent options. The BIKFF has 60 titles this year, including an in-person showcase of short films made by Massachusetts kids who participated in Filmmaker Collaborative Academy workshops over the last year. In addition to the short documentary “Bounty,” which can introduce young people to how colonial settlers used bounties against Native American people (and streams free online), below are four family moviegoing recommendations for November.
Back when middle schoolers could jam themselves into a tiny basement and scream in each other’s faces (one of those pre-pandemic joys), the Marlborough punk band started making a name for themselves. More than just cute, the four mop-topped members (Lincoln Zinzola, Matt Hiltz, Nate Dalbec and Dylan Huther, ages 8-11 when the film takes place in 2018) wrote and performed edgy songs about their own lives like “Go to Bed,” “Strangers” and the cheeky “Michael Doesn’t Like Me.” Adults started noticing, including record producers, the Ironbound Films documentary crew, and reporters like me (by way of the crew). The resulting lighthearted film captures the band’s lead up to their biggest gig to that point, the 2018 Warped Tour. It takes some time, film-wise, to get there, but the payoff of the joy it brings the kids, and their devoted parents, is well worth the trip. So are the brief forays into the four bandmates’ lives, particularly Matt’s, who gets teased then turns that trouble onto another kid. He writes an apology song that hovers between sweet, silly and sorrowful. Just like adolescence. Told with a great sense of humor and hung on a fictional frame of the parents sitting in therapy with comedic actor Chris Parnell, “Yung Punx” will make every young viewer want to pick up a guitar or wish they knew how to play. And it won’t scare parents off, either. [Screens in-person at Boston International Kids Film Festival on Friday, Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. at Arlington’s Regent Theatre, followed by a live performance and Q&A with band members.]
The main idea behind the landmark 2015 climate lawsuit (Juliana v. United States) filed by 21 young people against the U.S. government, the focus of this documentary, amounts to “taxation without representation” and is as revolutionary. The plaintiffs argue they will suffer the consequences of the climate crisis without having had a say in the government’s decision to subsidize the fossil fuel industry over the last five decades. “Youth v Gov” lays out the history of collusion alongside the painstaking legal dodgeball of the case. What could be a dry dosing of documentary medicine pulses with a collective urgency. A few of the charming and inspiring plaintiffs get a vignette, like the named plaintiff Kelsey Juliana whose parents guarded Oregon’s old growth forests in the 1990s, but more often they appear together at meetings, rallies or in court. In that way, the telling of “Youth v Gov” reflects the high-level policy imperative that climate activists have been calling for better than any documentary in recent years. Ongoing work by the lawsuit’s sponsoring organization includes a short film based in Massachusetts. It can be hard to find hope in the sea of climate anxiety. “Youth v Gov” offers a lifeboat. [Streaming at Boston International Kids Film Festival Nov. 21-25.]
In one of Jeff Hoffman’s proudest moments as an astronaut, he helped rescue and repair the Hubble Telescope. That 1993 mission also coincided with Hanukkah. With extreme limitations on what he could bring, he chose a dreidel that he unknowingly spun on live television. Letters of appreciation poured in from around the globe. With help from the rabbi of his Houston congregation, Hoffman began looking for a Torah he could carry and read from on a future mission. The documentary “Space Torah” packs all of this and more into 24 minutes, from a brief history of human space exploration to how Hoffman turned his intergalactic childhood wonder into a remarkable career (currently on faculty at MIT). The movie lands gracefully and poignantly on the common ground between science and faith. Especially compelling for middle and high school students concerned with this overlap, “Space Torah” brings an added dimension to the concept of “mission accomplished.” The official Space Torah returned home safely and young people preparing for adulthood read from it to this day. [Streaming at Boston Jewish Film Festival through Nov. 21.]
One drizzly gray Monday in Edmonton, the captain of the Oilers and former Boston Bruin Andrew Ference went missing. Kidnapped, in fact, by one Mysterio, only to be saved by… SpiderMable, a superhero persona created by 6-year-old Mable to fight cancer. In this touching documentary, adults stage an elaborate series of events to grant Mable’s wish to “save someone from crime, like Spider-Man.” As Mable’s adventure unfolds thousands of people rally her on in person, and tens of thousands more join in on social media, in one its best uses on record. (Kevin Smith tweeted about Mable that day and mysteriously shows up in this film, presumably as a liaison between comic book and Oiler fandom.) The documentary could’ve ended with the uplift of Mable’s heroic day but continues into a third act about how Mable uses her superpower to help others. Pinpointing the audience age range poses some challenges. Kids Mable’s age or younger may tune in and out and have a few questions about serious illness. The film points out that kids in her situation often become wise beyond their years. When asked about her costume’s special powers, she says, “The clothing doesn’t make the superhero, the things they do makes a superhero.” [Streaming at Boston International Kids Film Festival Nov. 19-23.]