An Instructive Experience

in 20th International Film Festival for Children and Young Audience, Chemnitz

by Madelyn Most

The children’s film festival known as SCHLINGEL is set in the Saxon town of Chemnitz, Germany, formerly known as Karl-Marx-Stadt under the DDR. It is an important cultural event for the region, and the local population participates enthusiastically in the festival’s activities. Alongside the main competition, there is a Short and Animated Film Competition featuring high-quality animated films designed for children aged 4, 7, 11 and 14.

There were seven juries (national, international and children’s), with many members representing Germany’s educational, governmental and cultural foundations. A few jury members came from Europe and a couple more from Russia and Uzbekistan. Most members were involved in educational programs and had backgrounds in psychology, sociology, pedagogy or philology, but there were also film distributors, filmmakers, producers and television programmers.

Our FIPRESCI jury watched a mix of 14 films pulled from different sections: Youth Film Competition, Junior Film Competition, Children’s Film Competition, Focus Germany and Panorama. As many of these films were dramatically different in terms of size, budget and professional execution, it was not easy to compare them. In the end, we discussed the films which were the most memorable and had the most positive impact, but it was hard to choose the “best” since each film had unique qualities which merited recognition.

SCHLINGEL’s purpose is “to complement school education by exchanging the classroom for the cinema for a short time.” Every morning, hundreds of excited children aged between 7 and 15 packed the theaters. It was fun to sit with them and observe their reactions and emotional responses to these films, which reflected their fears and anxieties as well as their dreams and aspirations. There were fairytales and glossy fantasies, but also some socio-political stories which were powerful, dark, tragic and ultimately disturbing. After the screenings, the kids weren’t shy about asking the directors and actors honest questions about the making of the films.

SCHLINGEL’s organizers published the following statement: “What the world looks like in the future depends on the imagination of those now learning to watch films.” The organizers stress how important it is for children to “to look at the world from a completely different perspective, and to encounter and understand stories outside their own reality.” This indicates a recognition of the important role that cinema plays in today’s society, shaping the future by creating strong, informed, educated, curious young audiences who will be prepared for the challenges they must confront. I felt reassured that I would be spending time with like-minded people and seeing intelligent, relevant, meaningful stories.

According to the festival, children are the “best and wisest audience for a storyteller”, so it was interesting to note which films the 16-member European Children’s Jury enjoyed. Funny stories with pranksters and films with animals were favoured by young audiences, who filled the room with laughter and cheers. I also thoroughly enjoyed my full week of screenings at SCHLINGEL.

Edited by Lesley Chow