For the Kid in All of Us

The New York International Children’s Film Festival Returns This March


Published: March 2, 2011

On March 4, the doors of the DGA Theater will open and the New York International Children’s Film Festival (NYICFF) will officially begin. As the nation’s largest festival for kids and teens, the NYICFF will present four weeks of intelligent, creative and thought-provoking new cinema for ages 3-18, premiering 100 new films, and giving audiences a truly interactive festival experience.

Founded by Eric Beckman and Emily Shapiro in 1997, the festival had humble beginnings—a one- weekend event, in which a program of six short films was shown to an audience of 600 people. However, things have changed for the NYICFF, and this year, Beckman and Shapiro are expecting a paid audience of nearly 20,000 people during the festival’s run.

The premise for the festival is simple; there is a huge range of cinema out there for young people, but many of these films will never be distributed in the United States, as they are produced outside of the traditional Hollywood system. About 90 percent of the films this year come from overseas, and without the help of the NYICFF, many of these films would remain largely anonymous to American audiences.

“In New York, adults can see a million different types of films—art-house movies, small, independent films, you name it,” Beckman said. “For kids, the options are limited. The only films that get distributed for kids are the huge blockbusters and the big commercial pictures.”

This year’s festival, as in years past, will be premiering a wide variety of features and short films. “Aurelie Laflamme’s Diary,” a Canadian film by relative newcomer Christian Laurence, tells the story of Aurelie, an endearing but clumsy ’tween, attempting to make sense of the world around her.

“Mars Needs Moms,” the festival’s opening night film, is Disney’s new 3D, computer-animated sci-fi tale about a young boy’s attempt to save his mom from Martians. “A Cat in Paris,” a hand-drawn, animated caper film from France, is about a pet cat that leads a double life in the shadow-drenched alleyways of Paris.

As for the short films—well that is where Beckman takes the most pride. “I try to act humble, but in reality, our short film selection is second-to-none,” he said. This year, there are six short-film programs, featuring the best shorts from around the world, selected from over 3,000 entries.

“For the first time, the 2011 festival is an Oscar-qualifying festival for short films, which is very exciting,” Beckman said. Jury-selected winners from the six programs will be eligible for Oscar consideration in animated and live action short categories. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will also be sponsoring several of the festival’s programs, such as the Girls Point-of-View Series.

The 2011 NYICFF also boasts an impressive list of jurors, from prominent actors such as Uma Thurman (“Pulp Fiction,” “Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2”) and Matthew Modine (“Full Metal Jacket”) to Academy Award-nominated director Gus Van Sant (“Milk,” “Good Will Hunting,” “Elephant”).

The festival will also be an interactive experience for attendees, offering various panels, Q&As, hands-on production workshops and red carpet premieres. “Breaking Into the Boys Club: Girls Behind the Camera” is a panel event that will explore the experiences of prominent women filmmakers in Hollywood. “Green Screen,” one of many workshops, will teach participants the secrets of green screen special effects.

The NYICFF, from day one, has been redefining what children’s entertainment should be, offering slightly more daring and subtle films, and helping non-Hollywood productions make their way to the mainstream. The festival has grown nearly every year, and there is no reason to suspect that this trend will stop any time soon. As for this year, Beckman and Shapiro are confident that it will be their biggest success yet.