This article is part of Greenlight — The Latch’s commitment to the Australian film industry. For more content in this series, click here.
The Children’s International Film Festival, or CHIFF, is just around the corner, back for its fourth year since its debut in 2018.
Speaking to The Latch over the phone, Festival Director Thomas Cadwell said that the 2022 festival would “give children and families a unique cinema experience and to do something quite different, which is to really cater specifically to children“.
With the 2020 festival finally taking place “in one of those lulls between lockdowns” after “endless rescheduling”, the 2021 festival proved too difficult to organise “because it was so chaotic and difficult” navigating the uncertainty that came with COVID.
“It’s been interesting getting that momentum up again,” Cadwell said of the 2022 festival.
“The obvious disadvantage is that people have lost that routine of going to the cinema — although I gather that cinemas are one of the safer public spaces to be in,” he said. “But I think people do feel a bit safer now and I think there’s a real hunger to go back to the cinema.”
CHIFF was originally created as a way to “deliver that film festival experience for children and families” and to “show them the types of things that otherwise wouldn’t get released in Australia at all”.
In recent years, Cadwell said, the range of film and television we get in Australia for children from around the globe has “gotten worse”.
Noting that the majority of content we get comes from English speaking countries, Cadwell said that “there’s all these other countries around the world that have these enormous film industries that are really targeted at making film and television for children”, adding that they “wanted to capture some of that magic” in their 2022 line up.
“It’s a real cultural experience as well as being able to have a cinema experience that’s safe,” he said.
So what’s in store for CHIFF attendees? “Really fun films that are aimed at kids!”, Cadwell said.
With films in the line up that are designed for kids as young as three, Cadwell says that an enjoyable viewing experience was top of mind when programming the 2022 line up.
“When I was programming for this, I was thinking ‘is this going to be fun? Are children going to be taken on a really enjoyable journey? Are they going to be traumatised by anything, is there anything inappropriate?'” he said, noting that they had to “weed out” the inappropriate ones.
“It’s an interesting challenge because different countries have different ideas about what is and isn’t acceptable,” he said, “and that’s why in the program we have age recommendations and as much as possible we’ve tried to list content advice for parents.”
With events ranging from themed dress ups, to face painting to a slime workshop, the festival has something for everyone.
Here are the top five picks from the 2022 Children’s International Film Festival:
Synopsis: When everyone in town falls under the spell of charismatic cosmetic surgeon Doctor Coppelius, feisty Swan must act to save her sweetheart Franz before his heart is used to spark life into Coppelia, the ‘perfect’ robot-woman the Doctor has created.
Based on the 1870 comic ballet of the same name, and inspired by a 2016 performance created for the Dutch National Ballet, this contemporary retelling blends live action dance with 2D animation and updates details from the original story to ensure the themes of manufactured beauty and false appearances remain relevant.
Recommended age: 6+
Country: Belgium, Germany, Netherlands
Director: Jeff Tudor, Steven de Beul, Ben Tesseur
Language: No dialogue
Cadwell says: Kids are encouraged to dress up as dancers for this one, and I’m sure that’s a really good age group for appreciating ballet, which is what makes that film so special, actually. It’s a really accessible film that’s all told through dance and animation, it’s dialogue free.
Parental guidance: Some imagery may be upsetting for sensitive viewers
Synopsis: The Mironins are three tiny paint drops — Ro, Low and Blu — who escape from one of Joan Miró’s paintings every evening, when the museum closes, to go exploring. In the process, Ro, Blu and Low embark on a series of fun and exciting adventures. They’ll need to solve unexpected problems and overcome obstacles created by unpredictable external elements (and also, a lot of times, by themselves).
This feature length compilation of episodes from the 2021 television show delivers a madcap multicolour adventure, full of humour and fantasy, that will introduce children into the world of art.
Recommended age: 3+
Country: Belgium, Spain
Director: Mikel Mas Bilbao, Txesco Montalt
Language: No dialogue
Cadwell says: This is another one that’s suitable for kids as young as three. It’s dialogue free, it’s a compilation of TV shorts, and it’s short and sweet, you’re in and out in under an hour. It’s really fun and lovely and charming and introduces the idea of the art world, the expressiveness of art.
They’re doing face painting as one of the activities for that; kids love face painting, I don’t know why! I’d hate to walk around with paint on my face but if my son sees face painting happening, he’s first in line.
Moominvalley: Moominpappa’s Island and Homecoming
Moominvalley: Moominpappa’s Island synopsis: Feeling restless and frustrated with everyday life, Moominpappa has sailed away with his family to a desolate island where he intends to become the new lighthouse keeper. However, starting a whole new life far away from everything that is familiar is not easy, and soon the Moomins begin to feel homesick, trapped and lonely. Plus, the food is running out. But the island has secrets and there are new friendships to be made and romance to be rediscovered.
A special presentation of three episodes from season 2 of the animated television series based on the beloved series of books.
Moominvalley: Homecoming synopsis: The first three episodes from the brand-new third series of Moominvalley begin with the Moomins looking forward to returning home after having been away on an island adventure. But when they arrive, they discover no welcoming party: their house has been overrun by electrified Hattifatteners, and Moominvalley has descended into disorder due to the anarchic rule of a mysterious figure known as The Wise One. Soon, the valley is divided between those who enjoy the chaos and those who want a return to order, with everybody being pressured to take a side.
Recommended age: 5+
Country: Finland, United Kiingdom
Director: Jay Grace, Sara Barbas, Nigel Davis, Steve Box
Cadwell says: I’m so thrilled that we got a package of episodes from season two of Moominvalley, and season three. When I first did the festival a couple of years ago, Moominvalley was just being launched, and I got a package of episodes from that first season that were quite a nice, self-contained package, and that was just so successful and embraced by audiences here.
I honestly thought ‘well there’s no way I can repeat that, because this show is going to get picked up by Australian TV and it’s going to be everywhere’, and I’m utterly bewildered that it hasn’t.
It’s an English language show, people like Matt Berry and Rosamund Pike are the lead voices. I’m astonished it hasn’t been picked up locally, but it’s sort of worked to our advantage, because we’ve been able to get a package of episodes from season two and season three, which is rolling out on European TV as we speak. It’s just as charming and delightful and fun as ever.
Stinky Dog, Happy Life in Paris!
Synopsis: A special compilation of five episodes from the Stinky Dog series about the hilarious and fun adventures of a maverick mutt Stinky Dog and his faithful gutter companion Flatty Cat. Stinky Dog feels no hatred towards those who reject him. He likes living in his trash can, surrounded by his friends. He also wants to find love and tries to go on vacation, like everyone else. But because he acts a little too fast and isn’t the world’s greatest thinker, his quests are always complicated. But no matter what disasters he causes, Stinky Dog always lands on his feet!
Recommended age: 5+
Country: Belgium, Finland, France, Iceland
Director: Davy Durand
Cadwell says: I really enjoyed Stinky Dog, Happy Life in Paris! A few of these films are actually a compilation of short TV episodes. You know those really charming five-to-seven minute little animated shows you used to see on ABC between the main shows, a lot of countries make these and they package them into feature presentations and we’ve got a few of those. This one we’ve got dubbed in English.
It’s a really funny, charming story about an absolutely clueless but warmhearted street dog who despite all the abuse and insults hurled at him, always thinks the best of everybody and looks on the bright side of every situation, he’s very charming and sweet misadventures in Paris. We’re also screening an Australian short film before that called Bellysaurus, which is lovely, that we can put some Australian film in the mix with that. So that’s going to be really lovely pair of films to see.
I’m a bit sad we didn’t get more Australian stuff but I’m really thrilled we got this short film Bellysaurus. It’s local, from Melbourne, and I think a lot of children were involved in the audio for that film and I’m hoping that a lot of them will come along for the session
The Secret of NIMH
Synopsis: Mrs Brisby is a mild-mannered mother mouse with a plan to move heaven and earth (or at least her house and home) to save her family from Farmer Fitzgibbons’ plough. On her way to find help, she discovers NIMH: a secret society of highly intelligent rats who have escaped from a nearby science lab and whose know-how might be the key to completing her quest.
Parental guidance: Contains scenes that sensitive children may find too scary or intense.
Recommended age: 8+
Country: United States
Director: Don Bluth
Cadwell says: I’m so excited that we’re screening The Secret of NIMH. This is the 40th anniversary of a film — and I’m showing my age, here — I saw when I was in primary school.
It really blew my mind, so I’m really excited to be screening it again. It was the feature film debut by a guy called Don Bluth, who basically worked for Disney, didn’t like the direction they were moving in, split away and formed his own independent animation studio, and later did things like The Land Before Time, All Dogs Go to Heaven, and Anastasia.
The Secret of Nim was his first film and it’s this really kind of lush and dark and mysterious film about a field mouse trying to move her family, and they discover this secret world of highly intelligent rats who’ve escaped from a science lab, and it’s really intoxicating, dark, beautiful film. Like I said, when I was a kid it blew my mind, so I’m really hoping some people of my generation will come in order to see it again for that nostalgia.
CHIFF runs in Sydney and Melbourne from 28 May – 13 June 2022, with tickets on sale now.