Attending a program of animated shorts with a room full of small children



The puppet animation of Janis Cimermanis
  • The puppet animation of Janis Cimermanis
I sat in the back row of the Facets Cinematheque for Saturday morning's program of animated shorts, the first in a monthly series aimed at families with small children. As one of only two childless adults in the room, I thought the smartest choice would be to keep out of sight. In retrospect I should have chosen the second-to-last row; about halfway through the program a one-year-old, taking what appeared to be some of her first steps, set her sights on my aisle seat as the finish line for her wobbly trek from the front of the house. I was in the bathroom when she set out; she was in my chair when I returned, her mother sitting on the floor next to her and giving her a valedictory patting. I didn't ask for my seat back.

According to a show of hands conducted before the program, most of the audience had never gone to a movie before. I wondered throughout the show how it all registered to those first-time attendees: sitting in the dark (which might conjure memories of getting tucked in at night), learning that an invisible man in an adjacent room made the movies appear on the screen (sounds like a character in a storybook!), orienting oneself in such a large room, with other people sitting around you in every direction. How impractical it must seem, when compared to seeing movies in a smaller, familiar space with people you know, yet how exhilarating to find yourself in such a mysterious, expansive place to do something as pleasurable as watch cartoons.

With all that to take in, does it even matter what's on the screen (or who's in the chair you most desire to sit in)? Predictably the younger spectators seemed to lose interest in the program after half an hour, but it's worth noting that none of them seemed to want to leave. They talked and fidgeted, but there was a contented air about the room, and no one shouted or cried. (If only I could report the same thing about the audience with whom I saw A Haunted House the night before.) The morning ended on a positive note, as a renewed surge of interest greeted the final selection on the program, a puppet animation from Latvia called The Bear Is Coming. It was created by an animator named Janis Cimermanis; I'd been unfamiliar with his work, but I'm curious to investigate it now. Cimermanis creates simple, big-eyed creatures who suggest rubber toys brought to life, and he displays a silent comedian's intuition for setting up sight gags. The fact that his storytelling engages even first-time moviegoers hints at a rare aptitude for communication.

Ben Sachs writes about moviegoing every Monday.

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