56th Zlín Film Festival highlights the best in film for children and youth

Zlín Film Festival, photo: CTK

The Zlín Film Festival, an international festival for Children and Youth gets underway this Friday. Over the next eight days, festival-goers will be able to choose from hundreds of screenings of some of the very best films for children and teens.

Zlín Film Festival,  photo: CTK
I discussed some of the titles this year with the festival’s senior programmer Jaroslava Hynštová, who also described the decision-making process.

“We are trying to pick and choose as many quality films for children as we can but it isn’t always easy especially when considering films for competition because of the things they have to meet: a mix of fun, entertainment, adventure, morality, education. We want to bring new films as well, so maybe on balance there are fewer films for children than youths, for example.”

Are the films in official competition more entertainment-oriented?

“It’s the opposite: the heavier ones are the ones in competition and some of the more funny or purely entertaining films are out of competition. At the same time, in competition are not only films with serious topics. The competition for youth mostly has those.”

We will talk about some of the more serious films in a bit… but for the moment what are some of the funnier ones?

“The opening film is a wonderful Danish movie called Villads fra Valby. It is a very funny and exceptional movie about a boy, a little boy and his turning point when he begins going to school. What is wonderful about this movie is that it celebrated childhood itself and the motif of playing a role, to be a knight that slays the dragon to save the princess, which is something we see less and less of.

“Another film in the Panorama section really worth mentioning is a Dutch production called The Little Gangster. It is about a boy who is bullied and his father who is bullied too, at his job. So he invents new identities for them as part of a mob family. This film had me laughing right from the very start to the end and I saw it twice. So these are really great comedies and I am very happy we were able to get them.”

'Villads fra Valby',  photo: archive of Zlín Film Festival
It really is a genre into itself: I guess as a writer or director you have to really get into and work with the mindset or view of a child…

“We all remember experiences from childhood and I think that directors (who often also write the story) put a lot of their own emotions and topics from their own lives into these films. I think it is very difficult to make a good and true story you really have to be true to the emotions. Today, the line between childhood and growing up is also very complicated, which is one reason I think coming-of-age stories are so popular for example with Indie films at the Sundance Film Festival.”

When I was kid, films which I had access to were classics, different versions of Treasure Island or Huckleberry Finn – already long in reruns then on TV – but that was my first experience with stories where young protagonists had to shoulder the burden of difficult decisions, morally-speaking… Do you think it is tougher for kids growing up now, simply because there are so many added layers of communication or new social pressures?

“It definitely is and that is something reflected in the films. I think that boys and girls today feel that growing up is really difficult. Of course, every period has its own aspects. Our point is to show young people that they have the similar dilemmas, issues, and the same emotions no matter where they live, whether it is in a hut or cottage in Africa or a slum in India. We are all the same wherever we live.”

A big part of the festival across the sections is animated film: are there techniques today which dominate, for example computer animation, or do we still see more old-fashioned approaches?

Photo: CTK
“Animation in short film is an aspect that I oversee and I am very happy to say that animation is on the rise. At the university in Zlín and it is not just computer animation either. We have some great computer animation, of course, but there is also a lot of 2-D and also some classical approaches. For example, in the student competition there is one film using puppetry which is almost like Hermína Týrlová in style. So there is a different balance.”

If we look at some of the live-action features for older kids, what sections would those be? Are those the sections European First Films or Night Horizons?

“Beyond the main section, the youth competition for kids between the ages of 12 – 16, you have these two which have their own specificities. European First Films has a long tradition at the festival and these are movies about young people but for an adult audience. Night Horizons are what we call our midnight movies which take on tougher, more serious issues, such as sex, drugs, violence and how they affect young people. The aim is to choose original films and not go too commercial. We can be bolder there and it is a bit about the dark side of life.

“It is interesting because we have two films which were inspired by Romeo and Juliet, set in the present, which I can recommend. One, Social Suicide is a film which is very topical about a boy capable of doing anything for internet fame: he says if you are not online, you don’t exist. The other is the controversial Belgian film, set in Molenbeek in Brussels, about two rival gangs and it is really quite an experience for audiences.”

I also wanted to ask about My Name is Emily.

'My Name is Emily',  photo: archive of Zlín Film Festival
“That is an exceptional film starring Evanna Lynch, who fans will recognize from the Harry Potter films. Then there is the very moving story of how the film was made: it is a debut by director Simon Fitzmaurice who suffers from ALS who used special software reacts to eye movement and the iris which allowed him to write and direct. He could not come to the festival but he sent us a video message and we were really happy because he has a wonderful sense of humor. That story is very moving but the film on its own is a very complex existential drama and we would love to see more films like this in distribution.”