The Berlin International Children’s Film Festival has been running with great success since 1978. Every film seemed to be jam-packed with highly exuberant audiences. This was exciting to witness since the film festival in Hamburg is quietly struggling for attention and support in order to survive. So what is Berlin’s secret? According to Tom Hailer, director of the 14/plus category, “The secret of our full cinemas is that many Berlin schools eagerly await our program. It’s now normal for them to plan a visit to the cinema in their school calendar.” The film festival has put enormous effort into convincing the schools to support the festival and this seems logical since children film festivals offer something very unique .They show wonderful films from around the world that do not have the commercial marketing support. These films are often made on a very low budget and are often paid by the film makers themselves who believe that this story needs to be told. It also shows children a different way of life seen through the perspective of other children from another country or with a different life style or with a set of problems that differ from their own. In the past, the main problem for teachers attending these films was that the teacher was unable to prepare ahead of time for the class. “Many teachers would like to be able to prepare better for films. This is a valid concern," says Thomas Hailer. "The pilot project which was launched at the last Berlinale and will be expanded in 2006 is addressing this issue." The idea is that teachers will have a chance to view the films ahead of time and pick out films which are suitable for the student at their particular stage of development and will fill the appropriate curriculum of that school. This could be a great idea for the Hamburg film festival to help boost attendance. Approaching the schools and using these films as subject matter for their lessons could open up a whole new world for this generation since the world seems only to become smaller due to globalization.
Berlin’s program consists of feature films and shorts/animations and is divided into two age groups. For films that are suitable for ages under 14 there is an 11-member children’s jury responsible for awarding the Crystal Bear Award for Best Feature Film and the Best Short Film. The 14/plus category has a seven-member jury who give out the Crystal Bear Award for best film. The jury of children is picked from a group of 1200 children who answer questionnaires. They also have an international five-member jury of film-related professionals that awards money from the Deutsche Kinderhilfswerk for Best Feature Film and Best Short Film categories. Hamburg’s festival is similar but certainly not as big nor as involved as Berlin’s. Also the short films are in a completely different film festival altogether namely the Hamburg Short Film Festival. That naturally divides the audience’s focus into two events per year instead of concentrating on one big event.
The opening film was the Australian Opal Dream by Peter Cattaneo. Taking place in a mining district in Coober Pedy, Australia, the everyday life of being a part of an opal miners family is revealed through the Williamson children Ashmol (Christian Byers) and Kelly Anne (Sapphire Boyce). Asmol seems to be able to recognize and cope with the hardships that face the family while Kelly Anne is planted in her own fantasy world which consists of two imaginary friends. Her imaginary friends accompany the father to his mine one day and don’t come back. While searching for them the father is accused of stealing opals from another miner. Kellie Anne also becomes ill due to the loss of her friends. Her illness only improves when her brother convinces the whole community to believe in these imaginary friends. Christian Byers was amazingly articulated for being so young. He said to the audience that searching for opals and having imaginary friends are similar. It is having something to dream about and when you believe in a dream, it is real. The opal stone in the film was real and it was so beautiful that it put Christian in a trance. It is an extraordinary chance for children to meet these actors and see that they are also ordinary kids like themselves. The kids see that they, too, can dream of actually having a chance to become an actor, writer or film maker.
Behind the scenes Mariam Redpath said that over 450 films were viewed in order to come to this final selection. Surviving this process alone must make the film directors proud to be a part of this festival and know that there is something special in their film. This year the theme focused on family and migration. Subject matter and the focus and interest are important choices at the film festival. These choices determine the interest of the audience and will draw crowds. Hopefully the 2006 Hamburg Children’s Film Festival will learn from the Berlin Festival and have a successful as these Children Film festivals are important for the children of today since tolerance and acceptance will play an important role in this ever increasing globalized world.