A cornucopia of films and workshops for children ages 2 through 13, the 21st Chicago International Children's Film Festival continues Friday, October 22, through Sunday, October 31, at Facets Cinematheque, Burnham Plaza, and the Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble. Subtitled films programmed for children under age 11 will feature an actor reading the subtitles live. For more information call 773-281-9075 or visit www.cicff.org, which features a full festival schedule.
As parents can attest, children don't always share adults' opinions about what constitutes a good movie. I can't promise that your kids will love all the films recommended here, but each of them offers something unique or charming.
Of the first weekend's seven features, two are especially noteworthy. Francis Nielsen's French film The Dog, the General, and the Birds (2003, 75 min., in French with subtitles) is the beautifully animated story of a retired Russian general who faces retaliation from Saint Petersburg's birds for having misused them decades earlier while securing a victory against Napoleon's army. The old man faces a daily bombardment of bird droppings during his morning walks until he finds protection and redemption in the form of a persistent stray dog. Nielsen's Chagall-inspired backgrounds are the perfect complement to a magical and poignant tale. (Facets, Sat 10/23, 3 PM)
Taina: A New Amazon Adventure (76 min., in Portuguese with subtitles) is a sequel to the 2001 festival's audience-prize winner, with Eunice Baia reprising her role as the resourceful title character. Taina teams up with the son of a local biologist to outwit the villainous hunters who are depleting her rain-forest village of its baby animals. The human characters may be one-dimensional, yet the real stars of this lively Brazilian feature are found among its dazzling array of exotic animals. (Facets, Sun 10/24, 1 PM)
Also very enjoyable is the Swedish entry Immediate Boarding (2003, 89 min., in Swedish with subtitles), about a boy and a girl (both wonderfully played by Amanda Davis) who swap clothes and identities at an airport while each is traveling to visit divorced parents. The tomboyish girl winds up on a remote livestock farm, while the shy boy, an aspiring concert pianist, finds himself serving as bridesmaid at his new mother's wedding. The story is only a slight variation on The Parent Trap, but its goofy charm and refreshing emotional honesty raise it several notches above similar fare. (Facets, Sat 10/23, 5 PM)
Smaller kids will probably like Varis Brasla's Latvian-Estonian coproduction Waterbomb for the Fat Tomcat (78 min., in Latvian with subtitles), a cute tale of two sisters' well-meaning but occasionally ruinous attempts to straighten out the life of their ill-tempered aunt. It's pretty funny and entertaining despite an abrupt and confusing ending. (Facets, Sun 10/24, 11 AM)
Two of the more overtly commercial features screening this weekend are holiday stories, but the Canadian Blizzard (2003, 99 min.) is the more successful and satisfying, thanks to LeVar Burton's fine direction and winning performances from a cast that includes Brenda Blethyn and Christopher Plummer, the latter playing a regal but slightly dotty Santa Claus. Burton will attend the screening. (Burnham Plaza, Sat 10/23, 1 PM) The festival's weakest feature may be Enzo d'Alo's Opopomoz (2003, 77 min., dubbed in English), a Disney-influenced animation from Italy in which a selfish young boy is forced to save Christmas from the machinations of three little demons. It's supposed to be charming and edifying but often seems crass. (Facets, Sun 10/24, 3 PM)
Some of the festival's finest treasures can be found among the many short-film programs, which are grouped according to theme. It's hard to go wrong with any of these, since each program invariably includes a few delightful entries; for details, check out the festival Web site.