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Michel Kinder Fest’s Opening Film Snatches up Prize Money for 2014
by the KinoCritics

Every year we see Albert Wiederspiel introducing children’s film from all around the world and this year started off no differently. As he stepped forward to introduce the Danish Film The Secret Mission/ Die Geheime Mission, he paused and then suddenly revealed a bit of his own past by saying that he too had grown up in Copenhagen as a foreigner and could relate to this film. Many of the mixed emotions that the kids were going through, such as moving to a new place, making new friends and trying to fit in were all experiences he had gone through while living there. Director Martin Miehe-Renard came up on stage with a big smile on his face and it was clear that this film would be packed with a lot of humor and courage as he encouraged us to enjoy ourselves. Well, The Secret Mission certainly made a huge impression on us the moment it hit the screen. We all laughed and screamed with excitement and a part of each of us could also relate to these kids since every single one of us has been put in uncomfortable new situations where we hope to meet a new friend.

It is clear from the beginning that Karl (Sylvester Byder) sees life in Jutland as complete. He has love from both his mother and his grandparents. He knows the sea and knows there is plenty of fish to eat. But in a moment’s notice his life turns around 180 degrees when his mother makes a bold decision to move right smack in the middle of Copenhagen. Karl is in a state of shock. He goes from country bumkin to city slicker in a day’s time. He will no longer be eating fish from the sea but Danish hotdogs with French fries from the store. Not only that but he has to move from a spacious house to a tiny apartment but soon he has to face a new school where he has to mingle with kids from other nationalities and religions and hope that they will like him. He even asks God for help, to take him back to his home where he can deal with everything. That was until he meets Swasan, a Turkish girl who has a knock-out voice and a dream to go with it. The two make plans to get her into the Danish version of “The Voice of Germany,” a reality show where Swasan has  secretly entered her song against her father’s wishes.

Meihe-Renard intertwines the reality show with real life situations where kids are challenged to find ways to communicate and make friends.  He also had personal challenges in making this film and it started with the actress Malika Sia Graff who played Swansea. She didn’t want to do it even though she auditioned for it. He couldn’t believe it since she was the first one to audition and he was sure she was the right one for the part. Miehe-Renard’s wife told him that he needed to look at some of the others just in case but he was convinced that she was the perfect choice. Graff now agrees with him that it was the right choice to make.  It is exciting that this film won the 5000-euro first prize, money which will be well spent since Miehe-Renard is already planning a sequel to The Secret Mission where Karl will go to the US and meet his father for the first time and discover a different kind of music through that relationship.

Heart of Stone / Das Kalte Herz directed by Marc-Andrea Bochert received honorable mention. Bochert is a relatively young director but has already built a name for himself with his final project from film school in Berlin. Kleingeld won the German short film prize which was then nominated for an Oscar in the same category.  He also completed Beauty and the Beast in 2012 which is currently being shown on ZDF as a classic.  Das Kalte Herz stays within his preferred framework of fairytales. Heart of Stone is based on the fairytale by Wilhelm Hauff (1827).  Peter (Rafael Gareisen) who lives in the woods with his mother is obsessed with money and wants to win the heart of the beautiful Lisbeth.  When he has the chance to get three wishes from a glass fairy deep in the woods, he does it without thought but only realizes later where those decisions have taken him.(SRS)

Giraffada by director Rani Massalha led us to the Palestine streets of Israel. Based on a true story in 2000 where, during an air raid, a giraffe was killed in a zoo. The crux of the problem is the fact that giraffes cannot live alone. In captivity, they will stop eating and die. Rani Massalha witnessed this and was working with a team of people who were trying to solve the problem. He didn’t say how the true story finished but in this version the zoo keeper Yacine (Saleh Bakri) and his son Ziad (Ahmed Bayatra) with the help of a French photographer (Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre) risk everything in order to kidnap a giraffe from the Israeli side where the zoo had plenty of giraffes and literally try to walk across the border with the giraffe in tow. The scene where they walk across the gap in the wall was done with a green line. This story gives children living a privileged life, a chance to see how hard the everyday existence of children living in war-torn zones is. By the end of the movie, the children were bubbling with questions and that is when the most interesting part about going to this film was about to happen. They attempted to connect to the director in France via Skype. It was amazing to see how the group tried to communicate with him while this computer monitor sat in front of the audience. Each time the computer locked up and his face was stuck in a frozen expression which sometimes looked completely ridiculous, it would send the entire audience into hysterical laughing. It is hard to know if he felt satisfied with the way it went but one thing for sure; the kids truly enjoyed themselves up until the last moment of being in the theater.

I am thankful for film festivals like the Michel Filmfest since it conveys a strong message of tolerance in matters of political, religion, cultural and sexual differences. I hope that the children who see these films will put these messages into practice so we will have a better future as we watch our world grow smaller and our resources become more strained.

Havana Curveball
Directors: Marcia Jarmal and Ken Schneider, USA
Young Mica Jarmel-Schneider comments in this documentary, “My family is strange.” Perhaps there is nothing strange about living in north-western USA, nor liking baseball, nor celebrating a bar mitzvah at age 13. Things get unusual when Mica decides to collect baseball equipment and send it to disadvantaged kids in Cuba. Why Cuba? His grandfather fled Europe in World War II and landed in Cuba, which took him in and  “saved his life” for more than two years before he could enter the U.S. Accumulating baseball bats, gloves, etc., is not a problem. Mica faces the first big obstacle when trying to ship the goods to a country with which the U.S. has no trade sanctions, where no Americans are allowed legally to travel. In the end, he and his family drive to Vancouver and mail huge packages to Cuba. The project, and therefore the pile of baseball equipment, grows as others become interested and finally, Mica and his father make plans to fly to the “forbidden” country to deliver more sports equipment personally.

Director Marcia Jarmel is Mica’s mother, who answered questions at the children’s Michel festival showing. In our audience were several school classes, kids about 16 years old. Strangely, they seemed to have no questions, so that discussion occurred between Jarmel and the few journalists present. Ms. Jarmel said that Mica occasionally resented having his camera-bearing mother breathing down his back 24/7. She was able to film in Cuba due to personal connections with a former photographer of Fidel Castro. Mica’s grandfather had no desire to return to Cuba after no many years; he thought they would have much more fun on a family ski vacation in the mountains. It helps to understand the film – especially the title – if you know something about the game of baseball. Ms. Jarmel’s overall intention is not necessarily to highlight her son (although she is obviously proud of him) but to show that it is “not so simple to be on the other side, that there are haves and have-nots, that it is better to help Cubans help themselves, after all, they have reached the position where their population is literate, and everyone has a home and health care, even if markets are basically empty of products.”

This crowd-funded film was interesting, but totally amazing were the two, 14-year-old German kids, Fabian and Gloria who expertly maneuvered the Q and A between German and English. Fabian said he “learned English in an international school in Asia.” What a joy to experience first-hand the talent of the next generation.(BT)