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Chicago International Children's Film Festival

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The Chicago International Children's Film Festival, now in its 19th year, runs Friday, October 25, through Sunday, November 3, at City North 14; Facets Cinematheque, 1517 W. Fullerton; and the Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble. Tickets are $6 for children and adults, $4.50 for Facets members; various discounts are available for ten or more tickets. Professional actors will be on hand to read subtitled films. For more information call 773-281-9075 or 773-281-2166. Programs marked with a 4 are highly recommended. The full festival schedule for October 25 through 31 follows; a complete schedule through November 3 is available on-line at


Little Ones Solving Big Problems

Short videos, including Kristina Krumb and the Scary Hair Monster. 70 min. (Facets Cinematheque, 9:45 am)

True Colors--Seeing the Person Within

Short films about overcoming bigotry, from France, Spain, Canada, and the U.S. 74 min. (City North 14, 9:45 am)

Wake-up Call: When Others Need You

Short videos about teamwork, from Germany, Australia, the UK, and the U.S. 91 min. (Facets Cinematheque, 9:45 am)

Race to Space

A pivotal episode in the U.S. space program is recast as a high school adventure in this 2001 family drama, set at Cape Canaveral during the early 1960s. Billy (Alex D. Linz) is harassed at school and neglected by his father (James Woods), a German rocket scientist loosely based on Wernher von Braun who's preoccupied with sending an American into space. After stumbling onto a training laboratory, Billy bonds with a chimpanzee who's been recruited as a pilot. The script, by Eric Gardner and Steven H. Wilson, uneasily mixes fiction with historical incidents, inventing a friendship between Billy and astronaut Alan Shepard and a subplot about a greedy industrialist trying to sabotage the chimp's flight. Director Sean McNamara, who specializes in kids' stories, gives this quintessential Spielberg material (crises fortifying a suburban nuclear family) the quintessential Spielberg treatment (bright cinematography, soaring music), yet the film is too formulaic to provide any emotional uplift. With Annabeth Gish and William Atherton. 104 min. (TS) (City North 14, 10:15 am)

Little Big Girl

A cowherd happens upon a young girl in a forest and brings her to live with a farmer and his wife in this Danish feature by Morten Kohlert. 90 min. (City North 14, 10:45 am)

Jumping for Joy

Set in a small Idaho town, this drama by writer-director Timothy J. Nelson revisits the conformity and gender prejudices of the early 60s, as a tomboyish farm girl with a mean slam dunk (Lindsay Pulsipher) is mistaken for a boy and invited to join a second-rate high school basketball team. Of course, after she steers the team toward a championship her secret tumbles out, shocking her coach, her teammates, and school officials. Nelson doesn't push the feminist rhetoric too hard, stressing the importance of solidarity (a natural leader, the girl inspires her team), though the heroine's appealing androgyny is a quiet argument for gender fluidity. The film's ending is abrupt and predictable (followed by a coda decades later, in which the woman is honored for her pioneering role in women's sports), but these drawbacks fail to diminish Pulsipher's feisty, winsome performance. With Joe Estevez and Victoria Jackson. 90 min. (TS) (City North 14, 11:15 am)

Believe It or Not--When Reality and Fantasy Collide

Ryan Landel's visually witty black-and-white short The Midnight Express (2001) tells the tale of a boy who's awakened every night by a Chicago-to-New York passenger train roaring through his bedroom. Gil Alkabetz's German short Trim Time (2001) is a lively color animation about an industrious barber who takes it upon himself to trim a tree's wild foliage. Eight more shorts fill out this 74-minute program. (JJ) (Facets Cinematheque, 11:45 am)

Play Ball!

Ron Myrick's Slammin' Sammy: The Sammy Sosa Story (57 min.) anchors this trio of video animations about sports. 72 min. (Facets Cinematheque, 11:45 am)


Cartoon Capers

The best of these nine cartoons from five different countries celebrate the sometimes dangerous power of the imagination. The inventor in Craig Handley's Tracey McBean (2001) uses "think globally, act locally" to justify building a backyard biosphere to prevent her school holiday from being ruined by the rain, but her cat and dog are driven insane when they peek out and see that it's raining. In Francis Vose's Quick on the Draw (2001) a kid sketches an impression of a moose on his blackboard, then dreams the moose to life, only to have it criticize his drawing skills; soon the dream goes out of control, with a line of moose doing a conga. Nikhil Adnani's Field Guide to Snapping (2001) succeeds with much simpler sketches: first a girl seems to create the forest background that appears behind her as she walks across the frame, then she plays music on a turntable from her backpack, conjuring up a whole panoply of forest creatures doing bouncy dances. 79 min. (FC) (Facets Cinematheque, 11:00 am)

Goblins and Good Luck 2

A king, a queen, and their child descend into the underworld to foil a plot against their lives in this 2001 feature by Zdenek Troska, which was the box-office champ last year in the Czech Republic. The original title for the film and its 1994 predecessor was Princezna ze Mlejna ("The Princess From the Mill"). 102 min. (City North 14, 11:00 am)

Magical Journeys of Discovery

Short films and videos, many of them about accepting or overcoming obstacles. In Nils Skapans's Latvian Spring (2001) several angry and confused snowmen witness their own demise as winter winds down, while a bemused rabbit swipes their carrot noses for a quick snack. From Canada, Magic in the Air is the latest installment of Co Hoedeman's "Ludovic" series, inspired by his childhood teddy bear. While playing at a park, the fuzzy fellow is harassed by a bully and then becomes smitten with a female teddy bear; Hoedeman's puppet animation sometimes threatens to become cloying, but he has some notion when to pull back on the more maudlin aspects of his story. Dace Riduze's Latvian Up and Down (2001) is a hilarious bit about a tiger desperately trying to tend its carrot garden while an irascible mole wreaks havoc from below ground. When the garden finally collapses from the mole's furtive tunnel digging, a posse of rabbits makes off with the carrots. And Johnnie Semerad's quirky Josh W. (2001), about a bicycle-riding boy who accidentally swallows a bug and then develops a voracious appetite for insects, uses swatches of shadow and light to portend a bit of bad luck for the hero. Five shorts from Sweden, Canada, and Germany complete the program. 69 min. (Joshua Katzman) (Facets Cinematheque, 11:00 am)

Great Ways to Play

Tim Harper, whose puppet animation has the same odd mix of precocity and innocence that marked the Rankin-Bass specials of the 60s, recently revived the British cartoon character Andy Pandy for the BBC; in The Andy Pandy Band, the title character and his friends transform household items into musical instruments. Jan Balej and Jan Kutalek's delightful The Doings of the Hippopotamus Family (2000) shows a hippo father and son cavorting about their house, shooting suction cup darts at the wall for picture hangers and executing other creative home improvements. Maciek Albrecht's Majik Studio lends its fluid and polished animation style to a Caldecott-honored book by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin in Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type (2001). Narrated by Randy Travis, it's the nonsensical story of a herd that loves to type; when the cows ask their owner for some electric blankets to keep warm at night and are turned down, they decide to go on strike. Eight more shorts complete the program, from Canada, Latvia, the Czech Republic, and the U.S. 71 min. (Joshua Katzman) (Facets Multimedia Center, 1:00)

Little Kids--Big Ideas

Two wild animations elevate this shorts program: In Nina Paley's minimally drawn but frantically imaginative Fetch! (2001, 5 min.) a white background bisected by a horizontal black line serves as the backdrop for a yellow, bananalike character hurling a red ball for his blue dog to chase. After the ball goes astray, the dog and its owner are led through a series of point-of-view gags that build into crazy, Escher-like mazes. And in The Big Cheese (2001, 16 min.), by Norwegian director Rasmus A. Sivertsen, an ill-tempered rat sends its lazy son and shiftless husband out to steal some cheese for a big party, a heist that brings them into conflict with a cat, a spider, and finally an alligator. The big-budget animation pays overt homage to the old Warner Brothers cartoons, and in contrast to the emasculated Bugs and Daffy of Space Jam, the characters are refreshingly loud, cruel, and craven. Among the other seven entries are The Midnight Express and Trim Time (see "Believe It or Not" listing for Friday, October 25). 88 min. (JJ) (Facets Cinematheque, 1:00)

Race to Space

See listing for Friday, October 25. (City North 14, 1:00)

I Was a Rat

Adapted from a best-selling children's book by Philip Pullman, this BBC film starts with a clever premise, leaving Cinderella behind to follow the story of her coach boy, who was conjured up from a rat. Of course, the coach boy should have changed back into a rat at midnight, but if one can get past this apparent oversight, the film offers some modest pleasures, due largely to a cast that includes Tom Conti, Brenda Fricker, Edward Fox, Ned Beatty, and Don McKellar. Showing up one rainy evening on the doorstep of a childless couple (Conti and Fricker), the boy can't remember who he is or where he came from; the only thing he knows for sure is that he used to be a rat. The kindly couple adopt him, but in true Dickensian fashion he's soon separated from them and forced to endure a series of nightmarish episodes at the hands of cruel and insensitive adults. Laurie Lynd's direction is completely by the numbers, although production designer Venita Gribble does a credible job evoking Victorian England. 105 min. (Joshua Katzman) (Facets Cinematheque, 3:00)

In Desert and Wilderness

In this old-fashioned adventure from Poland (2001), based on a 1911 novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz (Quo Vadis?), an adolescent boy and a plucky young girl are kidnapped by an Arab tribe as part of an ill-fated uprising against British colonists. But they escape and make their way across the deserts and jungles of Africa, encountering hungry lions, an injured elephant, a pair of slaves, and a badly wounded explorer waiting to die. Jacek Januszyk's cinematography emphasizes the harsh beauty of the landscape without overwhelming the story, and given the film's premise, writer-director Gavin Hood generally avoids the Kiplingesque cliches: black Africans, typically maligned as savages, are treated with unusual equanimity, though the Arab characters are either bloodthirsty killers or cowardly double-dealers. In Polish with subtitles. 115 min. (Jack Helbig) (Facets Cinematheque, 3:00)

4 Fables, Fun & Fantasy

Three of these ten videos address the common kids' fantasy of seizing power from the adults who run their lives: In Wonchan Song's Masterpieces a little bust of Beethoven watches over a boy's piano practice, first raising an eyebrow and then trying to instruct him, but the kid rebels with a rocking riff that literally shatters the master. In Desconcierto, directed by four teens, a young violinist runs a scam in which she sits next to people on outdoor benches and plays so badly that they pay her to go away. The kids get even nastier in Pierre Monnard's comedy Swapped, in which a boy trades his boring father for two goldfish and dad winds up getting traded away again and again; the complaint "All he ever did was read newspapers" is illustrated with a shot in which a paper seems to have replaced his head. A fourth video, Richard Antonius's animated Piano Concerto (2000), is exceptionally beautiful: its blurred-photograph look, which resembles TV images breaking up, adds poignancy to its story of failed romance. 85 min. (FC) (Facets Cinematheque, 5:00)


4 The Living Forest

In the forests of Galicia, a region in northwest Spain celebrated for its striking landscape, the tall pines and oaks live in fear of encroaching woodsmen, especially when a telephone pole erected in their midst boasts of its usefulness, and the adorable animals flee at the sight of hunters. Much of this 2001 computer-animation feature focuses on a timid mole trying to free its beloved and the rest of the mole population from the mansion of a wicked landowner with a yen for fur, though there are some exciting sequences that involve marauding dung flies and the revenge of a tree that's been bent out of shape. Adapting a novel by Wenceslao Fernandez Florez, directors Manolo Gomez and Angel de la Cruz soft-pedal the story's clear ecological message, and they've closely studied the Galician flora and fauna; their craftsmanship is so beguiling that I didn't even mind the sentimental pop ballads. In Spanish with subtitles. 80 min. (TS) (Facets Cinematheque, 11:00 am)

Reel Animals

In Yu-chen Hsieh's computer-animated Taiwanese short Inspiration a grumpy still-life painter is pestered by a grasshopper that's determined to munch on one of his apples; after he throws the insect out of his studio several times, his anger prompts a transcendental change in his art. In Stokebird (2000), from the Netherlands, the eponymous bird and its dog buddy set out to invent something simple and useful, with near-calamitous results; Wouter Van Reek's clean line-drawn animation confirms that memorable cartoons often result from the most basic of styles paired with clever ideas. In the Danish Oswald the Monkey (2001) the title simian and its mates have been enslaved by a tyrannical orangutan that forces them to procure its food and pick the bugs out of its fur; Peter Hausner's depiction of Oswald's revolt is colorful enough, but the resolution is rather run-of-the-mill. From Germany, Christina Schindler's touching Different tells of a chameleon that has trouble changing color like its increasingly angry siblings, and Max and Bill Glader's hilarious live-action Paws (2000), about a precocious dog, made me laugh in spite of (or perhaps partly because of) its shoddy production values. With seven more shorts, from France, Slovakia, Germany, Australia, the U.S., and the Czech Republic. 82 min. (Joshua Katzman) (Vittum Theater, 11:00 am)

Tom & Thomas

For the first 30 minutes this British adventure is a real brainteaser: a motherless nine-year-old Londoner (Aaron Johnson) has dreams and waking visions about an imaginary friend, identical to himself, who lives at a Dickensian boys' home, and the narrative cuts back and forth between them so frequently one can't be sure which scenario is real. Gradually one realizes that both are: the boys are twins, separated as infants, who still share a psychic bond. After they hook up, the movie becomes much more familiar, with cases of confused identity and some after-hours skulduggery at the boys' school (students are being kidnapped and sold on the international adoption market). Esme Lammers wrote and directed this feature from the Netherlands, and though it runs 110 minutes, it's so neatly scripted and efficiently paced that your kids probably won't start squirming until the very end. (JJ) (City North 14, 11:00 am)

Catch That Girl

Danish director Hans Fabian Wullenweber, making his feature debut, delivers the sort of hysterically improbable stuff Hollywood churns out by the truckload. A 12-year-old girl (Julie Zangenberg) takes an interest in mountain climbing, though she's discouraged by her father, who once climbed Mount Everest but now scoffs at his past exploits. As the result of a fall many years earlier, he suffers a terrible seizure, and his daughter, hoping to send him to the States for a lifesaving experimental operation, hatches a daring plan to rob a bank with two of her pals. Not just any bank either, but the brand-new high-tech bank where her mother happens to be chief security technician. With a premise like this, one can imagine all the other fantastic coincidences necessary to connect the dots, though there's a certain giddy pleasure in watching the film try to top itself. Flamboyantly bad is always preferable to just plain bad. In Dutch with subtitles. 90 min. (Joshua Katzman) (City North 14, 1:00)

Way Sketchy

These short animated films, many of them six minutes or less, run the gamut from lyrical flights of fancy (Daedelus' Daughter) to antiwar statements (Francois le vaillant) to noisy, colorful superhero parodies (Thunder Pig). Taking after Aardman Animations (Chicken Run), a great many of them are clay animation, but there's a surprising variety of styles: Emily Skinner's British The Lucky Dip, about a little girl at an amusement park, is a lighthearted romp; Matthew J. Dean's British Baby on Boards, about a runaway baby carriage, is a nightmarish tale reminiscent of Tim Burton; and Michael Zabka's Czech Premammals is a cruel and shockingly violent comedy about life among prehistoric mammals. None of them, however, holds a candle to Chris de Deugd's elegant Daedelus' Daughter, from the Netherlands, whose simple chalk and charcoal sketches convey the excitement of flight, or Matthias Daenschel's graceful and intelligent German Tauro, a whimsical meditation on bulls in Western art, from cave drawings to Greek pottery to Picasso. 89 min. (Jack Helbig) (Facets Cinematheque, 1:00)

4 Weston Woods Studio 50th Anniversary Celebration

For half a century the Weston Woods Studio, located in Weston, Connecticut, has faithfully adapted preschool and elementary school books to the screen, helping teachers and librarians battle the tube (or surrender to it, depending on your point of view). These ten shorts are consistently charming and imaginative, though the credit belongs mostly to the original authors and illustrators; because the characters have already been visualized and the text is supplied in voice-over, the director's creative input is confined mostly to movement, which tends more toward iconography (panning and scanning the illustrator's original work) than full animation. The program is heavy with classics--Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings, Ezra Jack Keats's The Snowy Day, Syd Hoff's Danny and the Dinosaur, and Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are (the favorite of young pagans everywhere). But the most imaginative film is Virginia Wilkos's fully animated 1993 adapation of Robert Krause's Musical Max, about a multi-instrumental hippo whose constant jamming drives its neighbors crazy; it's also a showcase for composer Ernest V. Troost, whose lively scores bolster five of these films. 91 min. (JJ) (Vittum Theater, 1:00)

Kids With Movie Cameras 1

These 22 videos by kids fall into two groups: those that aspire, often unsuccessfully, to the slickness of professionally made children's fare, and those that reveal the goofy humor of children themselves. Among the latter are Joel Mason-Gaines's Eat Toast!, in which a crudely animated face on a slice of toast protests against its being eaten, and 3 Steps in Farting (2000), which uses simple line drawings and crude sounds to demonstrate the difference between "polite" and "unpolite" farting. In the lovely The Way I See It: Grandma, a mix of live action and fairly sophisticated clay animation tells the story of a grandmother who drops her lipstick down the sink as she's preparing for church, and there are some wonderful moments in the collaborative Seasons of Change (2001), such as a colorful burst of plants and fruits that illustrates how some monks once started a farm. My favorite is the collaborative Consequences (2001), a faux film noir with all the touches (intense close-ups, high-contrast lighting); the child actors' wooden delivery fits almost seamlessly into this self-conscious, even postmodern artifact. 79 min. (FC) (Vittum Theater, 3:00)

Mio in the Land of Faraway

Screening as a memorial to Swedish author Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002), who created Pippi Longstocking and other paragons of courage, this 1987 feature is closely adapted from the classic adventure Mio, My Son. An orphan, frustrated with his strict aunt, is transported from modern-day Stockholm to a medieval realm where his father (Timothy Bottoms) is the king, and with his best buddy at his side he journeys to a distant island to rescue children abducted by an evil knight (Christopher Lee). Lindgren's book, noted for its pageantry and rhythmic language, drew from Nordic mythology, Arthurian legend, and the Bible; this unimaginative Russian-Scandinavian production, directed by Vladimir Grammatikov, succumbs to lethargy, its wooden acting alleviated only by Lee's usual malevolence. With Christian Bale and Susannah York. 100 min. (TS) (Facets Cinematheque, 3:00)


Go Figure!

Nine shorts about solving problems, from the U.S., Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, and the Czech Republic. 83 min. (Facets Cinematheque, 9:45 am)

Into the Arts: Monet + Mozart = Magic

Nine shorts about the arts, from Sweden, Canada, Taiwan, and the U.S. 81 min. (Vittum Theater, 9:45 am)

True Colors--Seeing the Person Within

See listing for Friday, October 25. (City North 14, 9:45 am)


Like Jafar Panahi's The White Balloon (1996), this Iranian feature by Java Aradakani turns the story of a child trying to navigate the adult world into a compelling microcosm of life in contemporary Iran, as a sweet, willful five-year-old tries to get someone to mend her baby chick's broken leg. Through her eyes Aradakani presents the uneasy coexistence of Islamic fundamentalism and the Western lifestyle of phones, automobiles, and nine-to-five jobs. That perspective also heightens the modern tension between self-serving individualism and compassion: again and again the girl confronts adults who are too busy to be bothered with anyone's needs but their own. Aradakani adheres closely to the Iranian aesthetic of framing fictional stories as if they were documentaries, a choice that gives this film its charming lightness and grace. In Farsi with subtitles. 84 min. (Jack Helbig) (City North 14, 10:15 am)

In Desert and Wilderness

See listing for Saturday, October 26. (City North 14, 10:45 am)

4 The Living Forest

See listing for Sunday, October 27. (City North 14, 11:15 am)

Mighty Times--Beating Racial Bias

Robert Hudson and Bobby Houston's 40-minute docudrama Mighty Times: The Legacy of Rosa Parks is the centerpiece of this program about discrimination, which is filled out by shorts from Finland, Germany, and Australia. 73 min. (Facets Cinematheque, 11:45 am)

The Ring

Not to be confused with the horror movie just released commercially, this is a Czech made-for-TV drama about a promising young gymnast who becomes a paraplegic, though it's something of a horror in its own right. Fanny (Pavlina Hermannova) is the star of her school's team and the envy of her classmates, but during a big meet she takes a spill from the uneven parallel bars and winds up in a wheelchair. In Lajana Uldrichova's script this tragic accident and its aftermath transpire with all the gravity of a rained-out birthday party, and the acting is so loud and giddy you'd never guess that a prodigiously gifted child has been crippled for life. The score is especially awful, a handful of button-pushing themes with one strident horn figure that suggests a circus trapeze act; unfortunately directors Vera Simkova-Plivova and Drahomira Kralova have already sent in the clowns. 72 min. (JJ) Also on the program: the two-minute Japanese short Peace and the six-minute Latvian short Provocation. (Vittum Theater, 11:45 am)


Soul Stories: Finding the Answers

In Matthew Pristave's neatly crafted The Teacup (2001, 5 min.) an Asian boy mindlessly throws a rock at a bird, killing it, and gets his karmic comeuppance when he breaks his master's teacup. Seven more shorts complete this 78-minute program. (JJ) (Vittum Theater, 9:45 am)

Two Tall Tales

Great Britain's Aardman Animations (Chicken Run) produced Hamilton Mattress (30 min.), about an aardvark plucked from obscurity to star in a film about its life. Dennis Jackson's Canadian animation Christmas at Wapos Bay (48 min.) is set among a Native American tribe of northern Canada. (City North 14, 9:45 am)

The Way I See It

Eight shorts about clashing perspectives. Aimee Barth's Beyond Therapy (2001) is a mushy story about a boy whose father, a social psychologist, can't be bothered with him. The only other entry I've seen, the hilarious Norwegian cartoon The Big Cheese, is reviewed in the Saturday, October 26, listing for "Little Kids--Big Ideas." 88 min. (JJ) (Facets Cinematheque, 9:45 am)

Send More Candy

Two young sisters are dispatched to the country by their busy parents for a summer with elderly relatives; at first they resent the farm chores and bland food, but they come to appreciate the old couple (veteran actors Bodil Udsen and Per Oscarsson), who refuse to give up their farm for a nursing home. Cecilia Holbek Trier, who wrote and directed this eager-to-please Danish feature (2001), lets the girls mug shamelessly, throwing small perils in their way (a pig stampede and a thunderstorm) and showing their horror at the emptiness of old age. At times this romp gets too cute, a problem exacerbated by the slapdash rock sound track, and the anticorporate message is simplistic, but directors Udsen and Oscarsson add gravitas to this sugarcoated tale of bonding between generations. In Danish with subtitles. 76 min. (TS) (City North 14, 10:15 am)

A Passage to Ottawa

A Canadian feature (2001) by Gaurav Seth, about an East Indian boy living with his uncle's family who becomes friends with the captain of a tour boat. 90 min. (City North 14, 10:45 am)

Her Majesty

In 1953 a teenage girl dreams of meeting Queen Elizabeth during the monarch's visit to New Zealand, a goal complicated by her growing friendship with a Maori woman disliked by the people of their town. Mark J. Gordon directed. 100 min. (City North 14, 11:15 am)

Go, Kids! Facing Challenges and Coming Out on Top

Eight shorts--including the mind-bending animation Fetch! (see "Little Kids--Big Ideas" listing for Saturday, October 26). 91 min. (JJ) (Facets Cinematheque, 11:45 am)

Operation Rescue: We Love to Help

Short films from France, Canada, Brazil, Australia, the UK, and the U.S. 74 min. (Vittum Theater, 11:45 am)

An Afternoon With the Prix Jeunesse

Award winners from the Prix Jeunesse, an international festival of children's television held biennially in Munich. 84 min. (Facets Cinematheque, 1:45)


4 The Living Forest

See listing for Sunday, October 27. (City North 14, 9:45 am)

Music Rocks

Five shorts with musical themes, including Wonchan Song's Masterpieces (see "Fables, Fun & Fantasy" listing for Saturday, October 26). 81 min. (Vittum Theater, 9:45 am)

The New Kid in Town

Seven shorts, including The Big Cheese (see "Little Kids--Big Ideas" listing for Saturday, October 26). 74 min. (Facets Cinematheque, 9:45 am)

In Desert and Wilderness

See listing for Saturday, October 26. (City North 14, 10:15 am)

An Angel for May

A boy in suburban London (Matthew Beard), unhappy with school and his mother's impending marriage, is magically transported back to the 1940s in this British fantasy, adapted from a novel by Melvyn Burgess. The film contrasts the boy's broken home with the tight-knit farming family that welcomes both him and the haggard orphan he's befriended (Charlotte Wakefield, looking like a Dickensian urchin), and despite the modest production values, director Harley Cokeliss and veteran cinematographer Stephen Smith convey a strong sense of life in the English countryside. The shifts between past and present take a while to figure out, but the ensemble acting is solid, with especially good performances by Beard and Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom). 100 min. (TS) (City North 14, 10:45 am)

True Colors--Seeing the Person Within

See listing for Friday, October 25. (City North 14, 11:15 am)

Be Yourself, Girl!

Six shorts about girls sorting out their identities. 80 min. (Vittum Theater, 11:45 am)

Diving In

In Dive (2001), a Norwegian short competently directed by Sirin Eide, a kid playing at the beach gets bullied by his prospective stepbrothers until he uses his new snorkel to play a prank on them. With six more shorts. 82 min. (JJ) (Facets Cinematheque, 11:45 am)


Hobbies, Pets and Other Pursuits

Nine shorts about leisure pursuits, including Barbara Bowlingball. 70 min. (Vittum Theater, 9:45 am)

Imps, Ghosts and Things That Go Bump in the Night

Nine short films for Halloween. 88 min. (Facets Cinematheque, 9:45 am)

The Web of the Witch

Kids can handle a lot more than we think, but this nightmarish Indian production--complete with claw-fingered abductions, bowls of blood, and a homicidal butcher--might appeal more to the Dario Argento set. A spunky young troublemaker is forced to confront the evil lurking on the outskirts of her village after her sister is turned into a hen and scheduled for slaughter; rational debunkers of superstition make a late-inning comeback, but the damage is long done. Vishal Bhardwaj makes his debut as a writer and director following several years' experience as a film scorer; as in many Bollywood features, there are a few song-and-dance numbers, with lyrics that wouldn't be out of place in Sweeney Todd ("The night sniffs fresh blood as it wanders like a jackal"). With veteran actress Shabana Azmi (also a member of the Indian parliament) as the witch. In Hindi with subtitles. 90 min. (Joshua Rothkopf) (City North 14, 9:45 am)

4 The Red Sneakers

A clumsy young math whiz at an east Brooklyn high school (Dempsey Pappion) suddenly finds himself on the cusp of college basketball stardom, thanks to a magical pair of canvas high-tops that turn him into an air walker. For a teen transformation fantasy, this video feature takes some surprisingly sharp jabs at the packaging of black athletes and sports footwear alike; at one point the conflicted hero declines a new pair of aerodynamic sneakers on the grounds that they're too expensive, making kids who can't afford them feel like "nobodies." (I wanted to stand up and cheer.) Other revelations arrive with the genial modesty one might expect from director Gregory Hines, who can be forgiven his own twinkly-eyed cameo. Screenwriter Mark Saltzman adapted a story by Jeffrey Rubin; with Vanessa Bell Calloway, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, and a wonderfully wicked Vincent D'Onofrio as a sneaker magnate working on his pronunciation of the word "homey." 108 min. (Joshua Rothkopf) City North 14, 10:15 am)

Oil Children

Iranian director Ebrahim Forouzesh (The Key, The Jar) reveals the dark side of the world's addiction to oil with this 2001 drama about an impoverished family living at the edge of the Iranian oil fields. Abandoned by the father, who'd left to work in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia but never returned, the family members work every angle to get by--scrimping, taking odd jobs, stealing flowers to sell at a cemetery--while the oil company employees, living in gated compounds far from the village, enjoy comfortable homes on beautiful irrigated plots of land. The companies intrude on every aspect of the peasants' lives: pipelines crisscross the land, gullies are filled with pools of oily wastewater, and huge plumes of flame leap up from the parched ground. Yet the only time they come close to sharing in the natural riches is when they splash through the wastewater and skim off excess oil to sell. Forouzesh finds plenty of inequity but never preaches or shows his anger; like the Italian neorealists he just confronts us with the world in all its squalor and leaves us to our own consciences. In Farsi with subtitles. 84 min. (Jack Helbig) (City North 14, 10:45 am)

Tsatsiki--Friends Forever

A warm and fuzzy Swedish feature about a Stockholm boy from a hip bohemian family who's perturbed by misunderstandings with his best buddy and a girlfriend from a troubled family. The boy's mother, a rock singer, and grandfather, a jazz musician, are both tolerant of eccentricities, and the boy gets along equally well with stepdad and his biological father, who takes care of him during the summer in his Greek village by the sea. Director Eddie Thomas Petersen gently presents the impressionable youngster's worries and disappointments, which he easily overcomes with the encouragement of his blissful extended family; the film's portrayal of enlightened Swedes borders on stereotype. In Swedish with subtitles. 84 min. (TS) (City North 14, 11:15 am)

En Francais

Six French-language shorts, from France, Belgium, and Switzerland. 88 min. (Facets Cinematheque, 11:45 am)

Whattaya Know?

Twelve shorts, from France, Germany, Japan, Canada, the UK, and the U.S. 80 min. (Vittum Theater, 11:45 am)

Help, I'm a Boy!

Oliver Dommenget directed this German fantasy about a boy and a girl who trade bodies. In German with subtitles. 95 min. (Facets Cinematheque, 4:00)

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