PVD Children’s Film Festival: No Happy Meals or Plush Toys

In its eighth consecutive year, the Providence Children’s Film Festival will run a series of feature films and short film packages February 17-26. The festival uses a number of venues throughout the city, including AS220, the Avon Cinema, the Gilder Center for the Arts, the Metcalf Auditorium, the Providence Athenæum and the RISD Auditorium, as well as some satellite programs at libraries including Knight Memorial, Washington Park, Wanskuk and Warwick Public.

Programming Director Eric Bilodeau said, “Our mission statement is one sentence, basically: We are looking for films that inform, connect, educate and delight. We’re trying to hit those four, and the more we get for each one, the better the film is.” The festival was started in 2010, he said, by parents who wanted their own children to see more than the usual offerings. “We want more choice. We don’t want to just leave it to Pixar and Disney. Those are fine, nothing against Pixar and Disney, we just feel that’s a very limiting choice for kids and families … so we want to offer other films that don’t necessarily come with a happy meal or don’t have a plush toy that is designed for it. Plush toys are fine, too, nothing personal about plush toys, but we want a good story and a well-made film.”

Technology of film distribution has changed over the life of the festival with mobile devices now easily available to children for watching movies, but Bilodeau said the festival tries to differentiate itself. “We are definitely trying to maintain that watching films together is a better thing as a community; we’re encouraging better stories and seeing more types of films, but also together in a community experience and not on a cell phone in your room or in the back seat of a car.” Executive Director Anisa Raoof agreed, “Kids, even though they have something on their tablets, can watch in a shared viewing experience with other people, and still love to come out and see it in this big, darkened theater with great sound.”

The festival provides suggested age ranges for films in four categories: “all ages” (for age 6 or “mature kindergartner” and up, according to Bilodeau), 8-plus, 10-plus, and 13-plus. Some of the films appropriate for older children deal with sensitive topics such as homelessness, abandonment, bereavement and domestic violence, but the festival website provides clear guidance about such matters along with age ranges.

Older children are not put off by non-English films subtitled in English, Bilodeau emphasized. “I’ve heard more stories of people saying, because I tell people, ‘Take your kids to a subtitled film’ and they do, and nine out of 10 times people come out and say ‘I can’t even believe they sat through it, but they loved it.’”

The most notable film at the festival is My Life as a Zucchini (13-plus), nominated for both the Oscar and the Golden Globe as Best Animated Film. Swiss-made in French with English subtitles, the film is about a 9-year-old boy who is placed in a foster home due to tragic circumstances and connects with the other children there, all of whom have difficult stories in their backgrounds. “Even though it’s animation, it’s a serious film, it’s a funny film, it’s a very touching film. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen since I’ve programmed for this festival,” Bilodeau said.

Gus Outdoors (all ages) is “two 20-minute films both dealing with living on or near the water in southern Rhode Island,” Bilodeau said. Shown as a double-feature, the films are made by the father-and-son team of Sean and Gus Nightingale, the first from 2010 when Gus was 6 and the second from 2016 when Gus was 12. Both will be in attendance for the sole showing at 12:30pm on Sunday, Feb. 26, at RISD Auditorium.

Brothers of the Wind (10-plus) is an Austrian film in English about a 13-year-old boy who has a difficult relationship with his father after the loss of his mother, and he becomes the “brother” of golden eagles in the Alps. Breathtaking cinematography of the stark mountainous terrain includes cameras shooting from the perspective of eagles in flight. According to Bilodeau, one screening will be paired with a presentation from the Rhode Island Raptor Rescue League featuring an owl and a hawk, and another screening will be paired with a presentation by a Rhode Island-based wildlife photographer who concentrates on the raptors of Providence.

From Iran in various languages including Farsi and French with English subtitles is Sonita (13-plus), an award-winning documentary about a teenage girl from Afghanistan who is a refugee in Iran. In her culture young women are literally sold as brides by their families, but she wants to escape such a fate. Breaking an even more stringent taboo against women speaking out in public, she becomes a rap music artist posting her performances on YouTube, attracting notice from the wider world. Although arrangements were not yet finalized, Bilodeau said that the festival is working on pairing a screening with a live presentation by local musicians showing “rap music as a way of protesting or changing their world.”

Le Voyage de Fanny (10-plus), a Belgian-French production in French with English subtitles, is a drama based on a true story about Jewish children in 1943 escaping Nazi-occupied France to neutral Switzerland.

From Norway is a film with English subtitles shot in Ghana, Kayayo (10-plus), about an 8-year-old girl, one of many forced to work as a virtual slave in the Accra marketplace carrying heavy loads greater than their body weight like “human shopping carts.”

In Tagalog with English subtitles is an award-winning drama from the Philippines, Blanka (10-plus), about an abandoned 11-year-old girl living on the streets whose dream is to find a real family.

Molly Monster (all ages), a German film in English, and Louis and Luca: The Big Cheese Race (all ages), a Norwegian film in English, are recommended choices for children as young as 5 years old.

Web site with searchable list of films: providencechildrensfilmfestival.org/films; Tickets: app.arts-people.com/index.php?ticketing=pcff Online tickets may be purchased until 12:01am on the show date; remaining tickets will be available at the door (cash/credit accepted). Box office telephone answered day of show: 401-209-7585; Printable schedule: providencechildrensfilmfestival.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/2017-PCFF_8.5X11_Festival-Schedule_A.pdf

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