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Chicago International Children's Film Festival

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Chicago International Children's Film Festival

The Chicago International Children's Film Festival, now in its 17th year, runs Friday through Sunday, October 20 through 22, at City North 14 and Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton. Tickets are $6 for children and adults, $4.50 for Facets members; various discounts are available for four or more tickets. For more information call 773-281-2166 or 773-281-9075. Programs marked with a 4 are highly recommended.

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 20

Arts Alive

The best shorts on this international animation program are the ones that don't spell everything out, leaving a little room for our imagination. In Susan Kim's Australian Shadowplay objects come to life through their shadows, which seem more powerful than the objects that cast them. Sungyeon Joh's puppet animation Grandma alludes to her Korean grandmother's mistreatment by the Japanese in World War II; one memorable image conveys the grandmother's isolation by placing her between cutout waves that bob back and forth. The computer-animated kitchen fixtures that come to life in Marc Stanyk's Fixture Fixation suggest that everyday things have spirits too, and Christopher Brady-Slue's A Day in the Life of a Student reminds us that simple line drawings, used here to convey a boy's discomfort, can be highly suggestive. Myra Margolin's adaptation of an E.E. Cummings poem, Maggie and Millie and Molly and May, may be overly literal, with drawings illustrating each line, but the allusive poem generates a sense of mystery anyway. The 20-minute Falldown Brown in Smokey Lies, directed by Monica Wilkins, is irritating, high-volume antismoking propaganda, with a moose using deceit and lies to make Moose Tobacco "the most powerful corporation in . . . the world"; unfortunately, the true story is way more chilling. 83 min. (FC) (Facets Multimedia Center, 9:45 am)

Ra-Tim-Bum Castle

Nino, a 300-year-old wizard who looks like a boy, lives in an old castle with his witch aunt Morgana and warlock uncle Victor, but he longs to be like other children. Meanwhile, the villainous real estate magnate Mr. Pompous and his slimy assistant Rat, in league with Nino's other aunt, an evil outcast from the witch community, plot to steal Morgana's enchanted book so they can claim the castle. Director Cao Hamburger and art directors Clovis Bueno and Vera Hamburger have created opulent, labyrinthine interiors for the castle, where much of the action takes place; it becomes the most fully conceived character in this Brazilian film. 108 min. (Joshua Katzman) (City North 14, 9:45 am)

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Short films from Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the U.S. 86 min. (Facets Multimedia Center, 9:45 am)

Finding Buck McHenry

The much praised African-American director Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep, The Glass Shield, To Sleep With Anger) directed this drama about three students befriending a school janitor (Ossie Davis) who was once a star pitcher in the Negro leagues. With Ruby Dee and Ernie Banks. 94 min. (City North 14, 10:15 am)

I'll Remember April

In a California coastal town during World War II, four boys find and hide a Japanese sailor who's been washed ashore from his submarine; one of the boys is of Japanese descent, and his family is ordered to a relocation camp. The story unfolds through the eyes of the boy's best friend, whose parents (Pam Dawber and Mark Harmon) staunchly defend the boy's grandfather (Pat Morita) against the FBI and a greedy real estate agent. Mark Sanderson's semiautobiographical script has a nice feel for sleepy small-town life in the early 40s and the boys' delight in their clandestine adventure, but it's overly schematic, the crises serving as tidy lessons in moral choice. Bob Clark (Porky's, A Christmas Story) directs as if thinking of The Goonies; he pushes a lot of emotional buttons, getting rambunctious performances from his kid actors but sanctimonious ones from the adults. With Trevor Morgan and Haley Joel Osment. 90 min. (TS) (City North 14, 10:45 am)

The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun

Senegalese master Djibril Diop Mambety, one of the greatest of all African filmmakers, made this 45-minute film as part of a triptych called "Tales of Little People" but died of cancer before he could complete it. Described by Mambety as "a hymn to the courage of street children," it's a fable about a crippled 12-year-old who sells newspapers in Dakar despite her male competitors' cruel efforts to discourage her. (The title is a pun on the newspaper she sells, Le soleil.) This 1999 release is closer to neorealism and less intellectually complex and ambitious than Mambety's remarkable features Touki Bouki and Hyenas, but it's still pungent, buoyant, and funny, with wonderful performances by nonprofessionals. If you're unfamiliar with his work, this may whet your appetite for his stunning features. (JR) On the same program, My African Diary, a 41-minute film from Denmark. (City North 14, 11:15 am)

Color Me Different

Short films from Egypt, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the U.S. 87 min. (Facets Multimedia Center, 11:45 am)

Quangle Wangles & a Hard Boiled Egg

Short animations from Iran, Norway, Germany, Denmark, Australia, China, the U.S., and the Czech Republic. 83 min. (Facets Multimedia Center, 4:00)

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 21

Green Screen

Two animations distinguish this international program of videos about the earth and its resources. In "Burgerskip," directed by Sara and Simon Bor and Jamie Rix for the UK series Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids, a ruthless burger tycoon cuts down Amazonian rain forest to graze his cattle, then tiny trees mysteriously sprout from his Wild West Whoppers, ruining his business. John Serpentelli's Why the Sky Is Far Away is based on a Nigerian folk story: the sky used to be very close to the ground and was edible, but because humans overused and abused it, it has receded. There's a playful mix of styles (some of the animation is by kids) together with skylike fields of color. In The Land of Khuzamah, a Saudi Arabian short by Gerry Woolery, the animation is more pedestrian, but its story of a bustard (a type of game bird) struggling to find its mate, which has been moved to a Saudi preserve, is both ecocentric and full of asides on preserving and restoring the environment. A Crack in the Pavement: Growing Dreams, a Canadian short by Jane Churchill and Gwynne Basen, shows kids developing gardens in urban lots, harvesting food, and studying a creek, but the animated creatures superimposed over this live-action tape are irritating, and the video makers have little to say about Canada's continuing large-scale destruction of its own wilderness. On the same program: Miss Twiggley's Tree, the Croatian short Eco-kids, and Shea Salyer's documentary Rocky Mountain Ark. 94 min. (FC) (Facets Multimedia Center, 11:00 am)

Scrambled States & Sausages to Go

The front bookend of this international shorts program is Mark Henn's John Henry, an animated musical about the mythic railroad laborer; produced by Disney but drawn in Grandma Moses style, it celebrates black heroism and worker solidarity, though unfortunately the songs are forgettable. The back bookend is The Scrambled States of America, Dan Ivanick's whimsical, Saul Steinberg-like geography lesson in which Kansas demands to be next to an ocean and Minnesota, sunburned after exchanging places with Hawaii, wants to restore the status quo. A fable about the importance of love, Ivar Rodningen's Norwegian clay animation Sausage tells of a dirt-poor farmer and his wife who squander the three wishes granted them by a stranger. Hard-boiled Egg, by Czech animator Alena Vankova, builds on the macabre joke of a man condemned to repeat the same routine every morning, a la Groundhog Day. And Seamus Walsh and Mark Caballero's animated Graveyard Jamboree looks like The Nightmare Before Christmas, though it's more playful than scary. On the same program, shorts from the UK, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Australia, and the Czech Republic. 95 min. (TS) (Facets Multimedia Center, 11:00 am)

Spooky House

A travesty. Director William Sachs and his wife, Margaret, scripted this hackneyed, touchy-feely fantasy about a magician (Ben Kingsley) who loathes children but is enticed from his secluded haunt back into society by an orphan. The formulaic material might have clicked in the practiced hand of Robert Zemeckis, but Sachs turns most scenes into pumped-up antics, some of them accompanied by pointless, treacly songs. The endless transition shots of the magician's mansion against a threatening sky further betray the director's lack of imagination. In keeping with the times, the five kids who befriend the magician are ethnically diverse and Net-savvy, while the trio of teenagers who torment them are out-of-control punks. Kingsley elevates a caricatured part with a degree of dignity and sadness; far less attentive to her work is Mercedes Ruehl, who plays the villainess as Cruella De Vil on a bad acid trip. 106 min. (TS) Sachs will attend the screening. (City North 14, noon)

Finding Buck McHenry

See listing for Friday, October 20. (City North 14, 12:15)

Everybody's Special

This program's familiar theme of diversity is best served by a few of its inventively styled short animations. In Kelly Peterson's The Three Billy Goats Gruff the title brothers want to cross a bridge guarded by a supposedly nasty troll so they can get "where it's at"--a greener field. The drawings are just whimsical enough to make the story appealing. In Fat Cat on a Diet an overweight cat is fed "zero percent fat" cat food; animator Raman Hui exaggerates distances to show the difficulty the cat has reaching a pizza slice on a shelf. Among the live-action films, Shea Salyer's Rocky Mountain Ark provides hands-on education as it documents the Telluride nonprofit institution rehabilitating injured and orphaned animals, including cruelly discarded pets. In Essi Haukkamaa's Cello Boy the ten-year-old son of a Finnish cellist seems committed to becoming a professional cellist himself, but he's ambivalent enough to dream of becoming a soccer player. And in Dirk Campbell's annoyingly didactic One Perfect Day, young Hannah learns that one shouldn't want perfection because "who wants to eat turkey for every meal?" Four more shorts from the U.S. round out the program. 96 min. (FC) (Facets Multimedia Center, 1:00)

Watch Out World, Here We Come!

The subject matter for this international shorts program ranges from third-world poverty to Scandinavian royal history. In the heartwarming Dutch entry Vola's Ticket, by Kay Mastenbroek and Jacqueline de Bruijn, two street urchins in Calcutta outsmart a cruel gang boss; the overtones of Oliver Twist in this verite tale of child labor are probably intentional, but the unaffected delivery of the nonprofessional child actors and the overcrowded, impoverished quarters of Calcutta make it seem vividly real. In Torill Kove's animated My Grandmother Ironed the King's Shirts a woman's voice-over gives a fanciful personal history of Norway in the first half of the 20th century, from the crowning of its foreign-born royals to the outbreak of World War II. The narrator and the animation are so disarming that one doesn't mind the history lesson emphasizing the importance of the grandmother's duties. Two shorts from Scandinavia deal with the crises of adolescence: from Norway, Eva F. Dahr's Tactics uses computer-enhanced visuals to recount a boy's efforts to impress a girl he has a crush on, but Michael W. Horsten's plainer Going Back Home is more effective in showing that a person can make new friends after moving to a new town. Also from Norway, Pjotr Sapegin's 3-D animation One Day a Man Bought a House looks like an Edward Koren cartoon, heavy on the jagged lines, its humor singularly weird--the new owner of a house tries to exterminate its resident rat but ends up loving it, and presumably they live happily ever after. 98 min. (TS) (Facets Multimedia Center, 1:00)

Katja's Adventure

Katja feels lonely and alienated in her modern Swedish home, but through a remarkable series of accidents she's carried on the back of a truck to sunny Italy, where she finds warmth, friendship, and confidence with a group of urchins in the streets of an unnamed city. Lars Hesselholdt's picaresque Danish film is one of those rare children's movies that will appeal to both grown-ups and kids, with interesting multilayered characters--even the secondary characters are warm and compelling. Hesselholdt and cowriters Pascal Lonhay and Tina Rud Mogensen have a light touch, allowing events to arise out of their characters rather than imposing a plot, which makes Katja's improbable adventures seem almost natural. Marco Pontecorvo's relaxed cinematography makes scenes that must have been carefully planned and executed (like the children's complicated adventures among the medieval lanes and squares) look highly spontaneous. 85 min. (Jack Helbig) (City North 14, 2:00)

Believe

Ben, expelled from a private school for tricking two younger boys with a fake ghost, helps his new girlfriend by intimidating two local bullies with an even more elaborately rigged "haunted house." But there's also a real ghost in the neighborhood that leads the teenagers to the troubled history of their respective families; no one will tell them anything, so they investigate together. The film suffers from Robert Tinnell's often manipulative direction, his needlessly busy camera, and the teens' sometimes wooden acting, but some scenes are engaging, and the denouement, which suggests that love can heal a divided family, is quite affecting. 96 min. (FC) Tinnell will attend the screening. (City North 14, 2:15)

Catch of the Day

Of the shorts on this program available for preview, the most impressive is the spare animation The Indescribable Nth by Oscar Moore. The lonely owner of a paperweight store adopts a boy and gives him a glass paperweight with a red heart sealed inside. When the boy becomes a teenager, he falls in love, but the girl spurns him and smashes his paperweight. Moore gently reminds us how to cope with rejection and why one should wait for the right person; when the kid finally meets someone special, the glass paperweight is magically restored. In John R. Dilworth's Catch of the Day a sportsman is smitten with a fish, to the dismay of his mate, who wants to eat it. The Danish animation Homme Qui Marche follows a Giacometti statue of a male figure that leaves its perch in a museum to search for its female counterpart; the film is a one-trick pony, built on the device of a computerized character walking through live scenes. Felix Gonnert's demented German short Bsss tells the tale of a curious bee that gets its comeuppance. On the same program, shorts from Poland, Norway, Australia, and the Czech Republic. 78 min. (TS) (Facets Multimedia Center, 3:00)

Kids Flix II

These international videos by children, most of them animations, are rough around the edges but show how an active imagination can top most slick Hollywood product. The amoebas that have taken over Chicago in Forsaken City 2020 are the first I've seen with teeth, but such fancies charm, and the video's ending echoes one of the earliest films, Georges Melies' A Trip to the Moon (1902). Jairo Chavez's My Life With the Wave telescopes an Octavio Paz story to two minutes: a boy brings home a wave in his wagon, and in a frightening development the water fills his home. Aron Evans's UK short Earth shows the planet as a cabbage, its green surface quickly covered with roads and buildings as a voice-over expresses concern about overpopulation. The sincere, silly Lil' Pig was animated by children and directed by John Serpentelli; a pig farmer tricks the title character into boarding a truck to the slaughterhouse, and both of them have striking nightmares (the pig's ends in a cafe featuring BLTs). Serpentelli's Why the Sky Is Far Away is based on a Nigerian folk story in which the sky, which used to be very close to the ground and was itself edible food, receded due to human overuse and abuse; there's a playful mix of styles (some of the animation is by kids) together with a use of fuzzy, skylike color fields. In Transylvanian Pastorale, a Croatian short by Kristinka Lazar Jasenka Jezovita, lines and flowers appear on-screen as if hand drawn, the space and colors seductively soft. In Velvy Appleton's winningly ridiculous live-action video See More Spaghetti a boy has the power to turn anyone he doesn't like (a teacher who reads the dictionary aloud will do) into a plateful of spaghetti. On the same program, the Croatian short Eco-kids and more entries from the U.S. and the UK. 85 min. (FC) (Facets Multimedia Center, 3:00)

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 22

Quangle Wangles & a Hard Boiled Egg

See listing for Friday, October 20. 83 min. (Facets Multimedia Center, 11:00 am)

Real to Reel

Short films from Canada, Norway, Russia, Finland, and the U.S. 87 min. (Facets Multimedia Center, 11:00 am)

Circleen--City Mice

Danish animator Jannik Hastrup directed this 1998 musical that revives three characters he introduced in the late 60s: Circleen, an adorable elf who sleeps in a matchbox, and her two mice sidekicks, Fredrik and Ingolf. The trio leave the countryside and take on the city like kids in a candy store, traveling in a roller skate, flying and sailing ingeniously rigged vehicles. They befriend a punk city mouse, learn about feta cheese and belly dancing from another mouse, Hassan (an Arab stereotype), and find themselves stalked by a big, lonely rat. Now and then, when the mood strikes, they break into jazzy sing-alongs. This innocuous tale, illustrated in pastel colors by Hastrup and collaborator Hanne Hastrup, coasts along in the same way, serving up discreet lessons in resourcefulness and group solidarity. 73 min. (TS) On the same program, Cuckoo, Mr. Edgar!, a 13-minute Canadian short. (City North 14, noon)

Ra-Tim-Bum Castle

See listing for Friday, October 20. (City North 14, 12:15)

Home-grown Heroes

Films from France, Norway, and the U.S., plus Djibril Diop Mambety's The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun (see listing for Friday, October 20). 89 min. (Facets Multimedia Center, 1:00)

I'll Go Nuts, Amelia

Few coming-of-age films have captured the messy, quicksilver emotions of puberty as well as this 61-minute video from Slovakia. A young woman suddenly marries, leaving the room she's shared with her 12-year-old brother, and the boy, feeling betrayed, lists his grievances against her ("she laughs when I feel sad") like a multicount indictment in the diary they've also shared. After they reconcile, their playful intimacy is renewed: the boy "sees" the baby she's expecting by looking down her throat. The story is character driven, never subjugating the boy's mood swings to plot contrivance; director Eva Borusovicova has an eye for the subtlest nuance and elicits an engaging portrayal from Jakub Kroner as the boy. On the same program, two short videos: In Pal Toth's Another Day (8 min.) an empty shirt comes to life, adding legs, a torso, and a head in an amusing play on the old saw that "clothes make the man." Clayton's Choice (15 min.), an inventive animation by Ryan and Bill McCulloch, presents antidrug propaganda, but its hard-line antimarijuana cant is as likely to damage its credibility as win converts. (FC) (Facets Multimedia Center, 1:00)

I'll Remember April

See listing for Friday, October 20. (City North 14, 2:00)

Help, I'm a Fish!

Danish animator Stefan Fjeldmark draws on The Island of Dr. Moreau for this charming if silly feature. A girl, her older brother, and their cousin happen upon the lab of a mad but lovable scientist (the voice of Terry Jones), whose new serum allows humans to turn into fish and vice versa. Transported to the fish world, the three battle a conspiracy led by a power-mad fish (Alan Rickman) bent on taking over the world. To his credit, Fjeldmark honors the rules of his fantasy world, resolving the complicated plot in a way that should satisfy children and adults, and while the animation can't compete with Disney or Japanese anime, it outclasses most TV schlock. More impressive is how well Fjeldmark balances his love of outrageous physical humor against the need to tell a coherent story with moments of high drama. 65 min. (Jack Helbig) On the same program, the 18-minute short Jane Bond. (City North 14, 2:15)

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