Cinema to children is pure magic and they always wonder how many more such tricks are hidden behind the screen. If you happened to spot a colorful life-size elephant shaped balloon in the city, it means that the magician has arrived. His name is ‘The Golden Elephant’ and this year, he has arrived with record 1402 films from 109 countries. So, get ready to jump into the rabbit hole and enter the wonderland. The adventures are about to begin!
The 20th edition of International Children's Film Festival India opened with something very unique to Indian cinema - song and dance. The act named ‘Bharathiyam’, choreographed by Raghav Raj Bhatt, was a beautiful amalgamation of 14 different dance forms of India performed by 214 students. It celebrated the idea of unity in diversity and when all the 214 students gathered on stage for the closing of the song, with the national flag being projected on the screen behind them, it was a perfect representation of what makes India incredible.
Zara Wasim, the ‘Dangal' superstar who is also referred to as the pride of Jammu and Kashmir, aptly described the opening by saying, “It’s just an exchange of films but also an exchange of cultures and lots of love.” When asked about how it feels to be a child artist, she said: “I feel lucky and blessed. When you’re young, you get to experience a lot of things, meet a lot of inspiring people and learn a lot.”
After a breathtaking rap performance, rapper Blaze said: “Education is the key. The world is beautiful if you educate it and tell your stories the best way you know - for me it is rap, for you it is cinema.”
“Golden Elephant is growing more golden every year and shining gloriously”, said Mukesh Khanna, chairman of Children’s Film Society. “When children’s films get released in the theatres alongside other films that is real ‘shakti’ to children” added the Shaktiman.
“When I came out of the Hyderabad airport, I could see the festivity in the air. The work we have been doing in the past six months had reached Hyderabad even before me.” said Shravan Kumar, the dynamic CEO of Children’s Film Society. In 2013, the festival introduced an entry fee on film submissions. Though the decision was met with skepticism that it may lead to decline in the number of entries, he said that: “contrary to expectations, there was a phenomenal rise in the number of entries.” He added that Hyderabad will soon witness a thriving children’s films market. He concluded his speech saying that his mission is to “make the children learn that the medium of moving images is a powerful expression” and that he will be satisfied about learning the art of cinema in the past five years only when he can give it back to the society in the form of good children’s cinema.
The honorable chief guest, T. Srinivas Yadav, Minister of cinematography, Telangana, said that: “Children are the future of New India. Improving their talent will be possible through participation in such film festivals.” He concluded the event saying, “Let the magic begin.” The children await to see what the magician has in store this year. And though the show will conclude on14th Nov, the magic will forever remain in our hearts in the form of stories that will find their way into our hearts.
Svar Kamble, who plays the lead in the film ‘School Chalega?’, considers Heath Ledger as his inspiration and says: “obsession helps you not to give up too easily. It helps you raise the bar.”
When asked about how his journey as a child actor started, he says that he never thought of becoming an actor. The young boy who has also acted in the film ‘Chef’, says that he “is interested in wildlife photography and wants to become a real life chef.” Considering the interest in wildlife photography and his long hair, it is no surprise that he was shortlisted from India to play the character of ‘Mowgli’. “If nothing else works out, I’ll take up acting”, he adds in a tongue-in-cheek tone.
He has also appeared in other films such as L, Maa and The extraordinary journey of the Fakir.
When asked about how the city bred boy transformed himself into the character of a slum dweller (Kaali), he says that “it helped that a lot of other boys who were casted actually lived in slums.” He adds that a friendship naturally developed between them and that they used to play cricket everyday after shoot. It helped him to learn the slang his character was supposed to speak.
‘School chalega?’ is a story of friendship between the street smart Kaali and a dumb and mute boy named Goonj. While trying to explain how they bridge the communication barrier in the film, he tries to remember the right word for “what is that thing you do with paper?” and when he does, he excitedly shouts, ‘Origami’.
The paper craft finds its way into the film’s ending too and here is where we get the answer for why the film is called ‘School Chalega?’ After helping Goonj meet his mother, Kaali returns to the juvenile camp. At the camp, Kaali receives a book with no address of the sender. There is a paper rocket in the book. As he releases the paper rocket into the air, we see a group of boys including Goonj in the back, who with eager faces ask, School chalega?’ Finally, their dreams have taken off!
‘Kaali’, as the name suggests, is a symbol of courage and strength in the film. He fights against a child trafficking gang and helps his friend (Goonj) get home safely. The film serves as an apt opening for the 20th edition of International Children’s Film Festival India. For it is children like Kaali and their stories that will make the ‘New India’ PM Modi envisions come true. School chalega? Yes, it is every child’s dream.
Synopsis: Left alone on the crowed station of Dadar, A 12 year’s old deaf and mute boy Goonj, comes on the radar of a child trafficking gang led by Usmaan. Kaali a street-smart kid who lives in the government's observation home, spots helpless Goonj. Their communication failure becomes the foundation of their true friendship. The chase begins when Usmaan involves Vijju, the boss of all the street-smart kids, in the same, at the end with the help of other kids, Kaali manages to save Goonj's life and helps him to meet his mother the next morning. The child trafficking gang gets busted.
As children, there were moments when we dreamt of seeing something we drew come alive. Animation does just that. It pours life into our imagination.
Ms Dhvani Desai, an international and Indian award winning animation filmmaker, when asked about what excites her the most about conducting an animation workshop for children said that: “animation doesn’t require a language. Irrespective of the age, culture, and education, animation is a storytelling medium through which you can reach out to anyone.”
Animation being a laborious and highly technical process, she said that by the end of the workshop, her objective is to “develop an understanding and appreciation for the art in the children.”
“Life is incomplete without a touch of art. When you learn to appreciate art, you will naturally lead a happy life” added Dhvani.
She calls the workshop an opportunity to “educate children through fun.” Talking about her film ‘Chakravyuh’, which deals with the subject of ‘Right to information (RTI)’, she said that, “animation can be used to simplify complex sublets and take them to children.” Amongst the films shown today, one short film was aimed to educate the children about ‘cholera’. She plans to show folk tales, biopics and educational films from around the world during the course of the workshop.
At the end of the workshop, maybe every child will find the butterfly he has drawn on paper fly in the sky. The power of imagination indeed leads to a happy place.
Dr. Shravan Kumar, CEO and Festival Director, CFSI, did a freewheeling Q&A with media-persons. Director Screenwriter Prashant Pandey (Poorna, Stunt Boy) also expressed candid opinions about state of children cinema in India. Dr. Shravan stressed that CFSI is just not limited to being a typical funder of children films but also encourages talent by reaching out and acknowledging good work by writers and filmmakers. He said that distribution and tie-ups are key to bring audiences for children cinema.
Prashant Pandey said that what ISRO is doing for space, CFSI is doing for children cinema. He lauded initiatives like “Little Directors” which has had an exponential impact in reaching out to children. Like other official languages, Cinema too is a language, which CFSI is enabling young kids to become acquainted with. This will help the overall film ecosystem in years to come.”
Coming back to Poorna he says that it’s a challenging film to create given the fact it’s such an overwhelming biopic of a remarkable tribal girl from Telegana. He now wants to discover and share more inspiring stories like Poorna.
A child learning to make film is like decoding a magic trick. The filmmaking workshop conducted by Mr. Ashok Kaul is full of creative and imaginative energy. The children are enthusiastic and are passionate to learn and create some of their own ‘magic’.
“To see the children come together to write a story itself is an achievement,” said Mr. Ashok Kaul. The children, who are working on their stories today, will start shooting from tomorrow. Showing great excitement about the shoot, he says, “They will ‘create’ something. It will be their own like the rainbow is to the sky.”
Stressing on the need to have more such workshops, he said: “Children go through a lot of stress. Workshops like this are a respite.” Learning about cinema will give “power to their imagination and give them the confidence that they can create anything.”
With cameras as their magic wands, the children eagerly wait to shoot. We hope that the little directors create films that will cast a spell on the magician himself.
When you wander in the hills or sit by a quiet stream and listen, you notice that nature is always waiting to tell stories. It is like the eldest member of our family, which has seen life for hundreds of years and has wise tales to share to whoever visits.
At a workshop by actor Dia Mirza called ‘Gaj Yatra’, a short film was shown to children to empower them with an understanding that they are a part of nature and their true sense of growth, inspiration and creativity can be nurtured by engaging with nature.
“Nature is vital to creativity and growth,” she said. She expressed that it is unfortunate how children of the fast urbanising India have no access or exposure to the simplicity of childhood such as climbing trees, watching squirrels, listening to songs of birds, which they took for granted as children.
Taking about the ‘Gaj Yatra’ initiative, Dia Mirza, who is the ambassador of the campaign said that: “It is a nation wide event to encourage public participation in understating the relevance and importance of elephant conservation by protecting and connecting our natural habitats.”
Dr Shravan Kumar, festival director, CFSI, said that: “The ‘Gaj Yatra’ initiative amalgamates well with the theme of golden elephant.” He added that he plans to introduce ‘the Golden Elephant' awards this year, which children from all over the world will look forward.
Synopsis: Shot in one afternoon, ‘Feeding Diversity’ is about the food culture in the city of Mumbai. It shows how food brings people together despite their contrasting backgrounds.
Feeding Diversity was a part of a workshop conducted by The Pomegranate Workshop, where children researched and learned about the different food inclinations of people in Mumbai.
Director: 21 children
India / 2017 / Hindi, English
The grocery store of dream
Synopsis: An old man in a village is the owner of a grocery store and the guardian of children’s dreams. One night, the children have peculiar dreams - from fearful ones to joyful ones. How will the guardian guide the children when they are in need of help in their dreams?
TICFF (Taiwan International Children’s Film Festival) founded the “Kids as Directors” workshop with the idea of “Fun creating and easy shooting.” This film is completed collectively by students in New Taipei Municipal Chung Cheng Elementary School.
Taiwan / 2017 / Chinese
Synopsis: The story of innocent friendship between two classmates Srilatha and Suvarna in a rural school. The film reaffirms how certain minor caste differences still play a major role in excluding families, attitudes and relationships.
Director: Y. Anusha
India / 2017/ Telugu
Synopsis: ‘Amazing animals’ is a short silhouette animation film that tells a story of animals and their behaviour. Animals come together to help each other at times or at times outsmart each other for food in the wild.
Director: 12 children
India / 2017 / English
Deepa Kiran, storyteller, starts her session with inviting the ‘story spirits’ into the room. She plays a local instrument called ‘Chidathalu’ (the one seen in the hands of Narada Maharshi) and all the children and adults in the room start to sing after her:
“Come, come, listen, listen everybody
Just for you I have a story
Sometimes nice, sometimes gore
Just for you I have a story”
So, when you walk into a workshop conducted by Deepa Kiran, it feels like entering a world of ‘living’ stories that are so warm and palpable.
Inspired by the old oral storytelling traditions of India, she integrates performing arts into her stories. “The purpose of the workshop is to reintroduce oral storytelling to children and its role in daily life” she said.
At the end of every session, the children do an ‘art response’ activity. The are asked to draw a favourite scene from the story narrated that day or an episode (a powerful memory) from their own lives. “This helps them understand narrative fundamentals” she says. She also adds that the children will learn from where to get their stories.
She says that she mostly likes to tell folk tales for their “charm, simplicity and folk wisdom.” She is happy that just after two sessions, when she asked the children if they were all storytellers (which she believes every child naturally is), there was a loud unanimous yes as response.
"Stories are how we make sense of out lives" she says. Talking about the act of sharing a story, she says that it is a "deep and unforgettable experience."
So, all the children who set off with their bags in the morning as if they were out to collect something, by the end of the workshop, find their bags heavy and content. They zip it, carefully protect it. It is their treasure. Though they can't see it or hear it, they know that they are richer with it. They will be out tomorrow again to collect something new and more, for the bag will never completely be full and the magic of stories lies in this secret.
Yanam Anusha is a Little Director to watch out for in the ongoing ICFFI. She along with her school friends made a movie called "Dost" (The friend) which addresses the caste and class divide. The film features her schoolmates Shravani and Pravalika who have interpreted their roles from the experiences of their own life.
CFSI is proud and humbled to bring forth these 1st generation learners who are now expressing themselves with the language of cinema.
Anusha, whose name translates as ‘star’ in Sanskrit, is a little director who made the film named ‘Friend’. Studying at a municipal school in Adilabad district, Telangana, Anusha and her group of friends made ‘Friend’ as a part of the filmmaking workshop conducted by CFSI. Her film has been selected to be screened in the ‘Little Directors’ section at the 20th International Children’s Film Festival, India and she has proved to everyone how she is a star in real life too.
When asked about how the idea of ‘Friend’ came about, she said that it was inspired from observations of daily life. During the discussions with her mentor, she understood that what might be ‘ordinary’ to them, might offer a new perspective to people from other states.
She said the process of filmmaking “involves a lot of hard work” because there were times while shooting when they took fifteen takes to get a shot right. She added that the result is so satisfying that it makes all the hard work and combined efforts worth it. “To watch the film on big screen was like living a dream.” She expressed that her parents are happy and proud of her achievement.
When asked about what kind of films she is interested to make in the future, she said ‘action films’ with an excitement as if she had always dreamt of making one. Every child is a budding dream. When the dreams bloom, the make a beautiful garden. We hope that the little star continues to shine brightly and inspire more children.
Synopsis: The story of innocent friendship between two classmates Srilatha and Suvarna in a rural school. The film reaffirms how certain minor caste differences still play a major role in excluding families, attitudes and relationships.
Synopsis: In New York, a courageous detective named Alex is injured by a gangster who calls himself the Man with a Broken Face. Stuck in a hospital, Alex meets Leo, a bedridden 11yr old who has the ability to leave his body and float around as an apparition. When the disfigured criminal threatens to attack the city’s infrastructure, Leo springs into action to help the lawman foil his evil plan.
Directors: Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol
France / 2015 / French
Chieri to cherry + Zaman
Synopsis: The only friend Chieri has is a stuffed animal Cherry; it talks and plays with Chieri, and helps her go through life in place of her late father. When she visits her grandmother’s house for her father’s memorial, they find a stray dog giving birth to puppies, but a mean crow and strange monster come trying to get the vulnerable puppies. Can Chieri and Cherry save their lives?
Director: Makoto Nakamura
Japan / 2015 / Japanese
Pixi post and the gift bringers
Synopsis: For centuries, the many Christmas genies of the world have worked together to bring magic and happiness to children. This year, however, former genie Monopolish is determined to become The One and Only Christmas Genie and launches a vicious attack on the secret Genies’ Forum. All hope of survival of Christmas rests with Pixi Post, a technologically reclusive elf, who must use all her wits and skills to thwart his evil plan.
Director: Gorka Sesma
Spain and Colombia / 2016 / English
One of the earliest learning children have is to pray. Curious, as any child would be, they wonder, “Why do we have to pray?” They are given a simple answer that if they pray, God will take good care of them. Into their little world of siblings, parents and a few other family members enters a new member “God”. He seems to be most powerful in this universe.
Coming with a message-oriented content, Malayalam film ‘The Little God’ won the applause of both the children and their parents. Directed by Jeo Baby, ‘The Little God’ is a story of young boy whose prayers initially revolve around getting an exam postponed and later helping a girl in getting a kidney transplant. Along the way, he also learns how religion and society work. When asked about why the film is called ‘The Little God’, he said: “There is a God in every human and we can express this through our good deeds.”
“We advice kids to pray a lot but we forget about duties. Duty is important.” Talking about the journey of the protagonist in the film, he said that along the course of his journey, the young boy realises that prayers are not enough; good actions are important.
The film has been inspired from the director’s real life experiences. “In my childhood, I faced a lot of problems from the church. I used to skip Sunday school and attend music classes.”
Jeo Baby, who is two films old, deals with children as protagonists in his first film ‘2 Girls’ too. The lead actors in both the films are National award winners. When asked about how he approaches directing child actors, he said that once children understand their character, it is very easy for them to portray it. “Children are a clean slate”, he added.
“During the making of ‘The Little God’, we only had a shooting script ready. Dialogues were improvised by the child actor, which eventually won him the national award for acting.
He said that making both the films with child protagonists wasn't something he had planned. “When a story comes to you, you just have to tell it.”
Talking about the ‘Little Directors’ initiative started by CFSI, he said that it is a wonderful platform for children. “Filmmaking is very relevant for children and they should be given an opportunity to express themselves.”
At eye level
Synopsis: 11-year-old Michi lives in a children's home fighting everyday to win the respect of the other kids. This goes on till the day he finds his real dad, Tom - who happens to be a dwarf, even shorter than Michi and the opposite of his idea of manliness and strength.
Director: Joachim Dollhopf, Evi Goldbrunner
Germany / 2016 / German, English
Synopsis: When his family goes on vacation, a young dog finds himself at a dog prison where he must escape with the help of his new friends.
Director: Alberto Rodríguez
Spain, Canada / 2016 / Spanish, English
Synopsis: When 10-year-old Oskar's mom leaves him with his grandpa to go to America, he sets up a nutty plan to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a rowboat with his new friend Levi and his short-sighted horse.
Director: Torfinn Iversen
Norway / 2017 / Norwegian
Synopsis: The idealistic teacher Ghani loses his principles during an intense day, when he barricades the students in an attempt in saving his working place. A political drama caging the rise and fall of a dictatorship in a classroom.
Director: Izer Aliu
Norway / 2017 / Albanian
The girl without hands
Synopsis: In hard times, a miller sells his daughter to the Devil. Protected by her purity, she escapes but is deprived of her hands. Walking away from her family, she encounters the goddess of water, a gentle gardener and the prince in his castle. A long journey towards the light.
Director: Sebastien Laudenbach
France / 2016 / French
Bamse and the Witch’s Daughter
Synopsis: Croesus Vole finds gold in the beavers’ dam. To demolish the dam and get the gold, he tricks the witch’s daughter Love to conjure away Bamse. With Bamse gone, it is upto the children to help each other to stop Croesus.
Director: Christian Ryltenius, Maria Blom
Sweden / 2016 / Swedish
A clear sky and an august atmosphere outside the Shilpa Kala Vedika served as a perfect backdrop to the closing ceremony. When thousands of kids started walking the red carpet, it soon became a “mela” with several play areas designated specially for the children who jumped and played while others took the customary selfies at the backdrop of the “Golden Elephant”.
It was hard to miss the excitement and the anticipation as the awards ceremony started in the jam-packed hall.
The children cheered and hollered ‘shaktiman’ as Mukesh Khanna, Chairperson, CFSI as was called upon the stage. “Children love to watch films especially made for them,” he said in his welcome address. He wishes for a time when “children’s day will become children’s week.”
“My children’s day couldn't have been better” said the noted actor Yami Gautam. She recalled a childhood memory of her first recital competition. “I froze when when I got onto the stage and ran away” she said. She lauded the little directors for displaying confidence of great leaders.
Actor-Director Satish Kaushik said that Mr. India is of the best children’s films made and that he is glad to be remembered as ‘Calendar’ even today. He narrated dialogs from some of his famous films and gave the audience a hearty laugh.
“Children are precious. They are our treasure.” said Bollywood actress Shraddha Kapoor. Munni, the child actor in Bajrangi Bhaijan who has won the hearts of audience all over India, performed a song on stage and dedicated it to Shraddha Kapoor. The actress reciprocated the love by performing the same song in her voice.
“Cinema should be used as a tool for education,” said the cinematography Minister T Srinivas Yadav. He said it is an admirable achievement that children from thirty districts of Telangana participated in the workshops conducted by CFSI.
The week long film gala, which invited mind boggling 1,402 film entries this year from 109 countries, presented the Golden Elephant awards to the best films in different categories at the closing ceremony. Iranian film, ‘Houra’, on acute drinking water shortage in Iran, won the Best Feature Film Award in the Asian Panorama category, the Best Short Film Awards in the same category was awarded to ‘Stamp Album’, a story that celebrates friendship.
For the vote of thanks, Dr. Shravan Kumar, CEO, CFSI and Festival Director, ICFFI, recited a poem named ‘Mera Naya Bachpan’ (My new childhood). “I always revisit my childhood through this film festival” he said. He concluded that there is still a long journey ahead and greater heights to achieve. He then declared the week-long festival to be closed, with a promise to return with a bigger festival with more exciting movies.
‘Chalo Chalenge Mele Mein’, a song sung by children was played during the award ceremony. The 20th edition of International Children Film Festival India was indeed like a ‘mela’ and the children had a joyful ride. The children have experienced the magic of cinema and the magic will forever remain with them in the form of stories that will find their way into their hearts.
14 year, Bihar born Poonam Chand is one of the Little Directors feted by the CFSI at the ongoing film festival. Poonam met the CFSI team at Hyderabad’s Park Hotel restaurant, Verandah for a small tete-a-tete.
We ask the Little director Poonam Chand, how she felt the first time she called ‘action’. Poonam tells that though she felt nervous initially, she stepped into the director’s shoes eventually. Poonam then as an afterthought enacts it; how she directs a scene, suddenly her shy demeanour transforms into a powerful director- ROLL SOUND, CAMERA!! ACTION! Her voice booms into the restaurant drawing the attention and admiration of the foreign and Indian delegates and the Jury members and other hotel patrons.
At a filmmaking workshop conducted by CFSI in Navada (Bihar), thirty children came up with five different stories. Elements of each story were taken and integrated together, out of which the story of ‘Swachata ki koj’ was born. As the name suggests, the film is about a young girl’s journey in search of cleanliness.
Talking about the challenges faced during the shoot, she said that actors took some time to understand the concept of “continuity” and learnt from their mistakes. She added that crowd control was also a challenge with passersby on bicycle or motorbikes would just saunter into the “frame”. Another big challenge was that shooting happens non-linear and actors are not used to piecing the story together like that.
After scripting, the film directly went into the shooting stage without any rehearsals. Justifying her directorial instincts, Poonam Chand proudly said: “The actors were so good that whatever brief I would give them, they could easily translate in on screen.” So she felt no need to workshop her actors etc.
Quoting one of the fun moments on the set, she said that the old man, who was cast as a grandfather in film, never waited for his cue and walked very fast. “He walked so fast that the children found it hard to match his pace; they had to run.”
The criterion of selection of ‘The Little Director’ was based on how well the children enacted their stories. Poonam, along with another young boy, qualified into the final round. Their mentor decided to give the opportunity to Poonam in order to send across the message that “not only boys but girls can also direct a film”
She said that she feels blessed to get this opportunity. “I want to pursue my career in filmmaking,” she said with a smile. Prior to this Poonam has been training as an actor under a local theatre actor.
Poonam Chand, who has traveled by air for the first time to attend the film festival, has come from Bihar to Hyderabad all by herself, after having missed her flight. Poonam is delighted to finally make it to the festival. Dr. Shravan Kumar who made sure she reached the festival to get an opportunity to showcase her work, lauded her courage and said “if such power and desire to break through that is inherently present in children, is moulded through creativity, they will emerge out to be stars.”