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Pete Alton, Provided by Sundance Institute
A film still from "Science Fair" directed by Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster, an official selection of the Kids program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

PARK CITY — The 2018 Sundance Film Festival Kids Program may be small in numbers, but it is rich in storytelling, throwing viewers into the world of an international teenage science competition, a classic American tale and the story of an enchanted mermaid.

After considering 50-60 films for the program, Patrick Hubley, director of programming at the Utah Film Center, told the Deseret News that he hand-picked three.

Pete Alton, Provided by Sundance Institute
A film still from "Science Fair" directed by Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster, an official selection of the kids program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

“My goal is to look at interesting and engaging films that tell good stories,” he said. “Especially in ways that will challenge kids and help them think in a new way.”

The documentary “Science Fair” follows students competing in the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). For co-director Cristina Costantini, it was familiar territory.

“I was a science nerd in a sports-obsessed high school,” Costantini said, “but when I started competing in ISEF, I found my tribe.”

She placed fourth internationally and knew even then that she one day wanted to make a movie about the experience of competing at the fair.

Provided by Sundance Institute
A film still from "Science Fair" directed by Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster, an official selection of the Kids program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

“It totally shaped and changed the trajectory of my life,” she said. “Competing validated my love for science when I was trying to figure out why I didn’t fit in.”

Co-director Darren Foster said 7 million kids participate in the science fair world-wide.

“A big challenge,” he said, “was to decide which ones to follow.”

Among the subjects they chose are a Muslim girl from South Dakota with an unlikely mentor — the high school football coach — and a girl from a poor Brazilian town who hopes ISEF can help her parents escape poverty.

“The film follows a wonderful cross-section of students from a variety of backgrounds,” Hubley said. “It’s a wonderful journey to go on with these kids.”

Pete Alton, Provided by Sundance Institute
A film still from "Science Fair" directed by Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster, an official selection of the kids program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

Costantini said they received a standing ovation at the first Sundance screening this past Saturday. “The audience was roaring with laughter and we were so overwhelmed,” she said. “We’re still pinching ourselves over the reception.”

Both directors say their goal with the film is to get people excited about science.

“We want a bunch of science fair groupies walking around,” Foster said. “We want to make science a little bit cool for kids.”

While the directors of "Science Fair" hope their film will inspire, or at least show kids other students like themselves, the director of the animated film "White Fang" took on weighty moral issues.

Adapted from American writer Jack London’s 1906 novel about a half-wolf half-dog, "White Fang" shows the best and the worst of humanity.

Provided by Sundance Institute
A film still from "White Fang" directed by Alexandre Espigares, an official selection of the kids program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

“This is an example of how good stories are timeless,” Hubler said. “Stories that have been around for a while can be told in new ways.”

In a recent interview, Oscar-winning director Alexandre Espigares (“Mr. Hublot”) said that while London's book is considered a kids' story, it isn't exactly family friendly.

“There are a lot of really hard moments in there for White Fang,” he said. “The challenge was to still keep these moments in the film but make them accessible for a family audience.”

One way the film does this is by only alluding to the violence of the dog fights.

Provided by Sundance Institute
A film still from "White Fang" directed by Alexandre Espigares, an official selection of the kids program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

“(This film is) closer to what animation was doing in the 80’s,” Espigares said. “Like (the 1981 Disney film) ‘The Fox and the Hound’ had a certain grittiness and I wanted to bring some of that back.”

Espigares is hoping his film, which is set in the 1890s, triggers family discussion.

“Even some of the good guys do things that go against what today’s morals would dictate,” he said. “Kids will have questions, and I’m hoping they will ask those questions and parents will give them the information they need.”

Also addressing moral issues — but in an unusual way — is the Japanese anime fantasy “Lu Over the Wall,” which showcases a mermaid who reveals herself to a quiet boy who composes music on his laptop.

Provided by Sundance Institute
A film still from "Lu Over the Wall" directed by Masaaki Yuasa, an official selection of the kids program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

“It is visually stunning with a great soundtrack,” Hubley said. “It’s told in a very different animation style than kids may see here in the U.S.”

According to Sundance’s description of the film, the story has the people in the boy’s Japanese village believing merfolk are evil, thus exploring how misunderstandings can lead to conflict and prejudice.

“The theme to this film is very timely,” Hubley said.

With “Lu Over the Wall” from Japan, “White Fang” made by a Luxembourg director and “Science Fair” coming from the U.S., the films in this year’s Sundance Kids Program represent a wide swath of the world — which is exactly what Sundance, and Hubler, wanted.

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“Kids can have a variety of tastes,” Hubler said. “I like giving them an option to see independent and foreign films and expose them to new ideas.”

If you go …

What: "Science Fair"

When: Saturday, Jan. 27, 12:30 p.m.

Where: Redstone 1, 6030 Market Street, Park City

How much: $20 eWaitlist

Web: www.sundance.org

Also …

What: "White Fang"

When: Saturday, Jan. 27, 3:30 p.m

Where: Redstone 1, 6030 Market Street, Park City

How much: $20 eWaitlist

Web: www.sundance.org

Also …

What: "Lulu Over the Wall"

When: Saturday, Jan. 27, 1 p.m.

Where: Redstone 2, 6030 Market Street, Park City

How much: $20 eWaitlist

Web: www.sundance.org