Tel Aviv International Children’s Film Festival

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The 5th Tel Aviv International Children’s Film Festival closed this evening after four days of fun at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, but an important part of the fun is the message of hope and empowerment it conveys by focusing on children in different situations, facing challenges with intelligence and courage, and joy. Joy and spirit in abundance could be found in the movie “Ready? OK!” written and directed by James Vasquez, which centers on Josh, an eleven year old boy who wants to join his school’s cheerleading squad.
Played by Lurie Poston, the appealing protagonist of this movie is unfailingly cheerful despite all setbacks – and there are many. Josh is raised by a single mother who struggles to keep it all together and bring him up “properly” despite her own dysfunctional family background, sending Josh to a Catholic school and making sure he follows through with his commitment to the wrestling team. Teetering on the edge of puberty, Josh pursues his goals with a sweet naiveté and indefatigable determination.

Seemingly unaware of how different he is from his classmates and the implications of that difference, he wears a pin with the photo of his favorite member of the wrestling team – Mike, happily on his shirt for all to see. Saying, “I’m not trying to break the rules, I’m just trying to change them,” Josh never gives up. Ultimately, even his mother, who can’t quite bring herself to even say the word “gay” (the gay next door neighbor helpfully suggests the term ‘artistic’), realizes that the best thing she can do for her son is to accept him as he is.

Curious to hear reactions from the audience, I spoke to two girls as they walked out of the movie. Both agreed that it was funny that he wanted to be a cheerleader, but said that “it’s ok if that is what he wants to do.” Despite the late hour (midnight) they offered insights from the perspective of Josh’s contemporaries (they were aged 11 & 12) in Israel.

One said that she enjoyed the funny parts of the movie and the cheerleading segments (I agree – they were cool) but thought that the conversations between adults were boring and could have been shorter. I tend to concur. I felt that the movie tried to work with too many themes at once – homosexuality, single parenthood and dysfunctional individuals (Josh’s uncle) and families – and would have benefited from a tighter focus on one theme. The girls both commented that it is somehow more accepted for girls to do things that are traditionally considered “boy’s” activities but harder for boys who want to participate in activities associated with girls. One said, “Boys have to be macho, otherwise they’re called queer.” The other girl said, perhaps in jest, perhaps seriously, “I think it would be good if boys took an example from girls.”

The festival, directed by Michal Matus, is certainly setting a good example by offering such a wide selection of movies on topics timely, heartwarming and even controversial.

First prize in the International Competition was awarded to the movie “It’s Not Me, I Swear!” written and directed by Phillippe Falardeau (Canada 2008). The decision was reached by jury members  Jerzy Moszkowicz (Poland), Cristiano Bortone (Italy), Tamara Bos (The Netherlands), Mia Pecina (Croatia) and Yehuda Atlas (Israel), saying: “It is a brave and exceptional movie that dares deal with a problem that affects not only a particular country, but today is more and more a world problem: the difficult, sometimes nightmarish world of children from broken homes. The movie is a mirror that reflects our lives: the lives of other people and teaches about the less pleasant aspects of life. Perhaps if we understand and feel these aspects of life, we will become better people. This movie is a must, not only for children, but for their parents.”

Children were the focus of the festival in all areas – with a children’s jury selecting their own first place in the festival: “The Crocodiles” (Germany 2009) written and directed by Christian Ditter. The 9 young jury members explained their decision, “The movie raises the painful subject of children whom society denies their right to equality and equal participation because of their disabilities. The special thing about the movie is it’s inclusion of a disabled boy who feels lonely and alienated until he meets a group of children and finally comes to feel that he belongs.

In addition to the movies, which included programs of movies created by children, workshops were offered on topics from “Opera in the Movies” to “Special Effects.”

Image: from the movie “It’s Not Me, I Swear”