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Are These Children’s Films or Films about Children?
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

Every children’s film festival I attend seems to share this conflict: are the films for the kids to see or are they films made about kids?  In my opinion, while many of these films are super, it is not necessary that children watch them.  Life’s daily pressures are harsh enough; is it necessary for kids to be shown even harsher realities?  It is important for children to learn about other cultures and the differences between these cultures but it should stop there.

Two films, one from Central and the other from South America are especially harsh.  Both were filmed in a semi-documentary, up-close naturalistic style, and showed the hard conditions in these countries.  Not only did children in the audience have a hard time with the various themes, even adults could hardly accept the lifestyles.  In Planet Carlos director Andreas Kannengiesser, a German film school graduate, and his script writer became very close to the people of Nicaragua after spending a year there. Several people in the audience struggled with the subject matter and the poverty; Kannengiesser, on the other hand, accepted the living conditions and focused only on the story line.  Especially amazing was that the camera seemed so close to the people which apparently did not disturb them at all.  Only one character had acting training. The story is about Carlos (Mario J. Chavez-Chavez) who wants to be creative and work in his own street theater puppet show for an income, instead of hauling heavy bananas in the market place. The harsh reality is that every family member must to work in order to eat that night.  This film is rated for nine years and older which seems totally out of whack since there are elusions to sex, prostitution, drugs and alcohol use.  I would give this film a rating of three stars but is it a film for children?

Mutum, directed by Sandra Kogul, reveals a family’s hardships in the backcountry of Brazil. Ten years old Thiago (Thiago da Silva Mariz) and his siblings lived without any of the modern luxuries of today’s world; instead they created toys from anything lying around. Thiago enjoys the friendly attention of his uncle instead of his father and, as it turns out, so does his mother. But when he and his mother are brutally attacked by his father, the grandmother forces the uncle to leave. The uncle, who still admires the mother, puts Thiago in the uncomfortable situation of having to deliver a message to his mother but can’t. The film is beautifully made and we feel his rough life in this film.  It is clear that lack of money and isolation from civilization cause many of these terrible circumstances. The film deals with violence and death and is also rated for nine years and older. 

Although both are excellent, I feel these films are for 14 and older.  So word of warning: when you take your kids to the film festival, check out the subject matter thoroughly and don’t believe the ratings.