Groundbreaking Children’s Films

in 27th Schlingel – International Film Festival for Children and Young Audience, Chemnitz

by Sebastiaan Khouw

The SCHLiNGEL International Film Festival has been one of the most important film festivals for children and young people for 27 editions. With their 27th edition, the SCHLiNGEL International Film Festival has once again proven that it is the film festival that pushes the boundaries of children’s films. But more importantly, this film festival also knows how to push these boundaries by telling necessary and important unheard stories.

This year, the SCHLiNGEL International Film Festival took place from October 8 to 15. Together with Hamed Soleimanzadeh and Marc Hairapetian, I watched 15 films from the international selection. This year the SCHLiNGEL International Film Festival again had an exceptional selection. The quality between the films could sometimes still vary considerably, but almost all children’s films tried to break new ground with their stories and themes. A good example of this, for example, is the first film we saw this year: Mini-Zlatan and Uncle Darling (Lill-Zlatan och morbror Raring, 2022).

Mini-Zlatan and Uncle Darling is a progressive feel-good film. Thus, the film is full of representation of the LGBT+ community. In this way, director Christian Lo manages to give a good representation of real life in a family film for children as young as six. It is nice to see how Lo presents the LGBT+ community without at any time making it seem different. Lo manages to make this aspect of the story come across as the most normal thing in the world – as it should be!

This makes Mini-Zlatan and Uncle Darling a great example of a children’s film that pushes the boundaries of the film genre by adding a progressive and representative aspect to its story. Another example of a children’s film that pushes boundaries by discussing or adding important themes is the South Korean Good Morning (안녕하세요, 2022). Director Bong-ju Cha knows how to create empathy with his feature debut. The filmmaker succeeds in doing this by discussing themes such as suicidal thoughts and mental issues.

Cha manages to impressively illuminate how we, as human beings, can be each other’s pillars of support. In his – sometimes episodic film – the director shows what a meaningful life can look like, in a world where wonderful and terrible events can follow each other in quick succession. Cha pushes the limit of this genre by making children aware that mental wellbeing is not always a guaranteed positive aspect in life. A similar film is Sweet Potato Flavored Ice Cream (地瓜味的冰激凌, 2022) from director Wang Chong.

Besides advocating important themes such as forest conservation, friendship and family, Chong also manages to portray a story of grief in a poetic way. In his film, we never see how the main character – a young child – reacts to the death of his mother. This part of the story continues after the film is over, which may be symbolic of the fact that life goes on, even when something ends. The French film Belle and Sébastien: Next Generation (Belle et Sébastien: Nouvelle génération, 2022) also classically discusses the importance of forest preservation, family, and friendship.

In this, director Pierre Coré focuses on the friendship between a boy and his dog. Coré never shows animal cruelty directly on screen, but in his film he does push the boundaries of what is possible to make children realise how bad animal cruelty really is. The Spanish film Oliver’s Universe (El universo de Óliver, 2022) also tells a story about friendship, the importance of family, but additionally highlights issues such as discrimination and racism. Director Alexis Morante’s film shows precisely that, in the end, we are all human beings living together on this crazy and small planet.

Friendship is a common subject in children’s films. For example, this topic also plays an important role in the film The Sleeping Beast (Tagurpidi torn, 2022). However, director Jaak Kilmi chooses to show how far you would go as a child to preserve your friendship. In addition, Kilmi also shows how friendship can quickly turn to feelings of betrayal, loneliness and hatred. The Dutch film Bigman (Strijder, 2022) by director Camiel Schouwenaar shows a similar dilemma. However, Schouwenaar goes a step further by showing the impact that an accident can have on a young child.

In doing so, the director plays with the theme that you should never give up on your dreams, even if unexpected circumstances prevent you from literally realising your dream. Schouwenaar plays with the creativity of children and shows how they can find detours to still follow their dreams athletically. Here themes such as loneliness, betrayal, (self-)hatred, misunderstanding and jealousy, play an equally important role as friendship, family, love and following your dreams.

However, there is one film that can be considered the most groundbreaking in its context, style and content. That is the film Rhino (Rinoceronte) by director Arturo Castro Godoy. The filmmaker manages to use his cinematic style in a unique way. Godoy does this by framing the image tightly and oppressively. In doing so, the director manages to create a sense of imprisonment which cannot be escaped. Godoy manages to put us in the shoes of the young main character who has been abused by his father.

We never get to see his abuse on screen, but we do get to see his neglect and the consequences of his abuse. These two aspects are enough to shock the audience into realising how important it is for every child to have a familiar and safe home. In a short playtime of 85 minutes, Godoy, along with lead actor Vito Contini Brea, manages to portray a realistic portrait of a boy who has experienced so much abuse and neglect that he no longer trusts himself or the world.

With a top performance by Diego Cremonesi, the director manages to show the main character in the story that these angry feelings of (self) hatred are allowed to be there, but that we must also use the same source of strength to get back up after falling. Godoy has managed to push the limit of how a children’s film can be depicted, what a children’s film can be about and how a children’s film can be told. Therefore, the jury decided to award the prize to Rinoceronte by director Arturo Castro Godoy.

Sebastiaan Khouw
Edited by Amber Wilkinson