National Edition

Sundance Film Festival introduces children to world of independent and foreign cinema

Published: Thursday, Jan. 9 2014 3:35 p.m. MST

Ernest and Celestine" brings a popular Belgian book series to the big screen in English for the first time.

Provided by Sundance Institute

Pat Hubley was sitting in a theater full of 5- to 8-year-olds in Toronto, watching a foreign language film, when he caught the big vision of children's cinema.

The film was in Swedish with English subtitles. Someone reading the lines could be heard over the sound system for those kids who needed help. And they didn't miss a beat.

"They were paying attention, laughing in all the right spots," he recalls. "It was a moviegoing experience for them. It was wonderful."

Hubley, artistic director at the Utah Film Center, is expecting the same during this year's Sundance Film Festival, which has the new category of children's movies for the 2014 event that runs Jan. 16-26. The Sundance Kids section will feature the world premiere of the English-language version of the acclaimed French animation film "Ernest and Celestine" and the U.S. premiere of "Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang," a live-action youth adventure from Spain.

Sundance collaborated with the Utah Film Center, which has put on a local children's film festival for the past four years, to select the films that will debut in what Sundance officials hope will become a mainstay for the festival. In its 30-year history, Sundance has raised the profile of the independent and foreign documentary genres to world prominence and has introduced independent filmmaking to a broader U.S. audience.

"What we love about (Sundance Kids) is it's creating a love for independent film at a young age," said Trevor Groth, the festival's director of programming. "That’s an important component of what the festival does ... nurturing a love for a different kind of storytelling in film. Starting at a young age is important for us and looking at our future."

A missing piece

Sundance has long reached out to a younger audience through its student screening program, which invites Utah schoolteachers to bring their high school students to the festival to view films vetted by festival staff for youths.

But Sundance Kids marks the first time a category at Sundance has been dedicated to children's film.

Groth said the idea has existed for years but the execution was a challenge. "Films produced for youth is a different world," he said. "It would take a lot of resources to extend out (into children's film) and track films the way we do for our other categories."

That's when Hubley and the Utah Film Center came into the picture. Hubley, a veteran of the Toronto and Sundance film festivals, came to the center with the hope of launching a children's film festival. He had experience working for the children's festival in Toronto, called Tiff Kids.

"It’s happening in other larger urban environments, but it wasn’t happening here, which I thought was a little strange because I think we live in a very cinema-friendly, cinema-literate community with lots of children," he said. "But there was something missing here for a younger audience, nothing specific for kids and youth."

So Hubley launched Tumbleweeds, an annual children's film festival now in its fourth year, to bring independent and foreign films to Utah's families and children. The program also holds monthly screenings in communities across the state.

Groth said Sundance liked what Hubley had developed at Tumbleweeds and asked him to help put together a children's film section for Sundance.

More choices

Finding good children's films is not much different from finding good work in other genres, according to Hubley and others. While many films aimed at an adult audience would not be appropriate for children, a successful children's film engages both young and old.

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