Sundance Film Festival introduces children to world of independent and foreign cinema
"We don’t want to make films that operate on one level for kids and then have all these insider jokes for adults, like you are watching two separate movies," said Dave Jesteadt, director of distribution at GKids, which produced the English version of and is the distributor for "Ernest and Celestine."
He explained the hallmark of a good children's film is when all ages are drawn in by the same story.
Independent and foreign films introduce new and creative ways of storytelling to an American audience whose exposure to children's programming is largely either cartoons on TV or Disney.
Hubley, Jesteadt and Groth praise the work of Disney and Dreamworks. But they note the formulaic storytelling of Hollywood's big studios gives audiences only one dimension of how a story can be told.
For instance, the soft watercolor animation of "Ernest and Celestine" is a stark contrast to the brightly colored, almost lifelike animation produced in Hollywood studios.
"It’s like studio films verses independent films," Groth said. "There are a lot of terrific studio films, but it’s nice to have the choice of independent work as well. I think the same is true in films for youth. The more diversity and choice, the better."
Hubley added that foreign children's films are also effective at exposing younger American audiences to different cultures, experiences and languages.
With 14 years in the film festival business, a good portion of it in children's cinema, Hubley doesn't share the concerns that kids can't appreciate those cultural nuances or have the patience to read subtitles.
"Good stories transcend cultural and language boundaries," he said. "Children are sophisticated in how they understand stories and appreciate films."
The long view
Although children's film festivals have existed around the country for as long as Sundance, being part of a festival such as Sundance could help elevate the profile of independent and foreign language children's film, said Hubley, who with a colleague from Toronto selected the two films premiering at Sundance.
"Sundance helped establish the documentary and nonfiction genre as more popular, and you could see the same with these types of children’s films," he said.
Groth anticipates a similar trajectory for children's films, not just in terms of expanding a viewing audience but also for fostering new ideas among filmmakers.
"In doing it this year, we are very happy with the films we found," he said. "But I think there is a lot of room to expand the notion of what an all-ages film can look and feel like. We are sort of just scratching the surface now."
Jestaedt said it's not unrealistic to envision a child seeing the films this year debuting his or her own film at Sundance 20 years from now.
"Everyone has to start somewhere," he said. "Some of the things we remember most fondly are our earliest film memories."
If you go
What: “Ernest and Celestine”
Screenings: Jan. 18 and 25, 12:30 p.m., Redstone at Kimball Junction, 6030 N. Market St., Park City; Jan. 19, 2 p.m., Salt Lake City Library, 210 E. 400 South
What: “Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang”
Screenings: Jan. 18, 3:30 p.m., and Jan. 25, 1 p.m., Redstone at Kimball Junction, 6030 N. Market St., Park City; Jan. 19, 11 a.m., Salt Lake City Library, 210 E. 400 South
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