The old nickname for the venue, the Schwangere Auster (the pregnant oyster), seemed like a self-fulfilling prophecy in reverse as hundreds of young children swarmed into the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) early on a Tuesday morning. Some were as young as four and proudly raised their hands when asked if it was the first time they had been to the movies. There was an excited buzz of expectation floating in the air in this massive theater. HKW was built by the Americans during the Cold War and presented to Berlin in 1957. John F. Kennedy not only spoke at The Wall in 1963, he also gave a speech here though it never appears in old newsreels. This impressive history was the farthest thing from the children’s minds as they settled in to watch seven short films.
It took the Berlinale quite a long time to single out children’s films as a special category. The Berlinale was founded in 1951, and it wasn’t until 1978 it devoted a section of films for the young: Generation. In 2018 more than 2,000 children’s films were submitted from 39 production and co-production countries resulting in a total of 65 full-length and short films being invited to compete.
Being a retired elementary school teacher myself and being accompanied by two close friends, also teachers, we all felt quite at home surrounded by masses of children (mostly) enjoying themselves. Young children don’t have the filters adults have acquired, and it became quite clear which films they found boring and which they enjoyed. To my delight many seemed concentrated and some even enraptured while watching the last film NEKO NO HI | CAT DAYS an eleven minute animated film in Japanese with English subtitles and German voice over. It must be said that I have always wanted to attend the Berlinale, but finally found an excuse this year as Neko No Hi | Cat Days is my son Jon’s film. Though I had already seen it on his home computer I was more than pleased to watch it on a huge screen viewed by hundreds of young children in a place where my childhood hero John F Kennedy had once held a speech.