The Power of a Child's Imagination
How important are film festivals for children and youth? How much do films intended for the young(est) people influence their worldview? Can they face the challenges of real life mirrored on the big screen while learning from it? These are some questions to which the best answer was given by the 28th edition of the International Film Festival “Schlingel” between 23-30th September. Impeccably organized, with many guests representing almost all of the films and a dozen jury members, this festival in the charming town of Chemnitz in Saxony, eastern Germany, met all the challenges set before each edition, offering a wonderful energy that could be felt before and after each screening. Movies, their authors, and protagonists “gave” us stories in which they face fear, uncertainty, love, growing up, maturing. They came from different paths of social life and various parts of the world, facing us with it in the best possible way, with the eternal question: What kind of world do we, the adults, leave for them? Because, no matter how cliché it sounds, the world belongs to the young people. In this way, once again the power of the seventh art was shown in action, which, despite the popularity of social networks, still remains inviolable, at the very top.
In the selection made up of 15 films from different world cinematogrpahies, we witnessed the fight against climate change in Brazil, the desire to be a successful football or hockey player, the first love at school, the history of nations and civilizations, the urban way of practicing subcultures, family ties that determine the further development of young people… From this multitude of wonderful achievements, I decided to write about two exceptional films, my favorites in the selection, which left a strong impression on me. They are like yin and yang because they come from different cinemas, and are excellent representatives of the film language and way of thinking from this and the other side of the ocean. They have, however, common points where they touch, and one of which is facing the fear and the unknown that are intertwined with the inexhaustible power of children’s imagination.
Kannawoniwasein – Manchmal muss man einfach verduften! (What the Finn?! – A Summer of surprises) by German director Stefan Westerwelle is everything that I, as a viewer and film critic, wish to see on the big screen. The story completely corresponds to the modern trends of living and through excellent editing, brilliant camerawork, and impeccable casting, it takes us on a journey to the other side of the story, where the real and the possible are intertwined with the once so desired surreal and fantastic. Because without those elements of initiation to the desired, what would this gray and harsh world look like?
Set in rural (Eastern) Germany, the film tries to “expose” through various layers the antagonism between the village and the city, between the perfectly cultivated fields between which you can see wacky nudists, and the psychology of the urban jungle, which leaves indelible traces on the children’s world. Through subtle humor, this story confronts us with both worlds at the same time—the children’s world, but also with the world of adults— whose caricature at times seems crazy and at the same time sad and overwhelming. Therefore, it was a pleasure to attend a screening in which the “modern toys” with which children usually waste their precious time are almost absent. Instead, they are faced with nature and the open road in front of them, as well as the sea as an accessible dream and final destination for purification and change; this is the literary moment that gives the whole film additional weight. Of course, the lone wolf metaphor is the icing on the cake.
One of the greatest successes of this film is the phenomenal casting. Miran Selcuk as Finn, with his curious character, his eyes reflecting everything that happens in his surroundings, manages in an original way to cope with the role of a child who faces his fear of the open road after being disappointed that things between his parents won’t work very well. As his opposite, there’s Lotte Engels as Jola, his eventual and perhaps desirable older sister, whose certainty in her own actions complemented by an inexhaustible dose of adventurism keeps the film moving forward, thereby showing that if you have a dream, you should dream it – you achieve it, without any prejudices. Even with a tractor if you have to, even though we live in the 21st century!
In the best tradition not only of German, but also of European cinema as a general benchmark, Westerwelle’s film is a contemporary quote and response to Bonnie and Clyde (1967) in the best manner of cinematic love for moving images, in which the American dream and European phantasmagorical pragmatism were intertwined.
Different in its structure and approach to telling a story in which fantasy meets reality (and vice versa), the film Echo à Delta by the Canadian director Patrick Boavin, through the characters in the film, also confronts us as viewers with the loss and the pangs of conscience, those “beasts” that lurk within each of us. Starting the film poetically, with a paper butterfly flying over the house of a happy family of four, complemented by authentic music played on a saw, the director seems to want to show us how wonderful this world can be. It is beautiful, until the moment when we experience the loss of one of our loved ones.
Perfectly portraying children’s psychology where belief in things is much stronger than the things themselves in everyday life, screenwriter Jean-Daniel Desroches manages to capture that thread that is often missing in films for children and young people – and that is believability. You simply trust the characters who, through the guilt they carry after the unfortunate event, have to face themselves, what they were until then and what they will be in the future. In this setting, the cinematic references that permeate the film, from carefree suburban cycling to an allusion to the famous E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), through the danger of Men in Black (1997) who can completely erase your memory with one flash-light, all the way to the unforgettable Back to the future (1985).
At the same time, this film speaks between the lines about how strong a child’s imagination is and how much it can flare up in an unwanted direction, if it is allowed to. Because we live in an age of virtual reality where the influence of modern technology shapes the world view of our children, as much as we don’t want it. Or maybe we unconsciously cause it, torn between one aimless surfing on the phone screen and another, looking for at least a moment of excitement to make our day, while the children are waiting for us to give them the attention they need?
However, Boavin’s film is a layered achievement impeccably realized, which attempts to answer the question “Are we alone in the universe”, and if we are, then, as sad as it sounds, we still have the togetherness, which is everything ‘ what we need. So let’s work together for a better tomorrow for all of us. With such a humanistic message, we felt that Echo à Delta deservedly received the prize of the three-member jury of the International Organization of Film Critics at the 28th edition of the Schlingel Film Festival in Chemnitz.
Edited by Savina Petkova
© FIPRESCI 2023