30 Years of the Berlinale – Children's Film Festival Generation
"Sometimes the rush on this new kids' festival is so great that two children have to squash themselves onto one cinema seat, while others even have to leave disappointed because there's no more room." That's what the Berlin Daily Spandauer Volksblatt wrote about the first children's film festival in March 1978 which took place within the framework of the Berlinale. A year earlier, in an interview with the radio station Freies Berlin, four children accompanied by the journalist Gabriele Auensen-Borgelt had made the newly-baked director of the Berlinale, Wolf Donner, promise to take their age group into consideration as well during the film festival in the future. He kept his word. And even on the first occasion, 12,000 of the new generation of cinema fans streamed into the showings of international films which promised them insights into foreign worlds of children.
At first, Wolf Donner was very sceptical. How could it be done? An international film festival for children with unsynchronised films? Even subtitles could only be used in a limited way for the really young audiences. The solution was to have the texts spoken during the performances, a method that has stood the test up till now, according to the present head of the section, Thomas Hailer, and "has been taken over by other film festivals in the meantime". What was tricky at first was perfectionised over the decades. Gabriele Auensen-Borgelt remembers: "In the early days the text often used to be spoken over the dialogue. Now we try to put the translation into the pauses between the dialogue. It then fits in well to the film and the audience experiences something unique: they hear the original language and the original atmosphere and understand all that is being said there at the one time".
Told in a way suited to children and artistically well-presentedTen films were shown in the first year. They came from India, the CSSR, Poland or Australia. With fairytales, detective stories, musicals, comedies or drama the whole broad spectrum of the genre was already covered. Above all, the criteria for selection adhered to artistic-aesthetic aspects. The films "had to captivate the children and tell them a story that had a relevance for them; and the films had to be well made," Barbara Krämer, who belonged to the selection committee at the time, said. "We didn't include films in the programme that had a didactic approach but hadn't been realised in an artistic way."
Nothing has changed since, as far as these criteria are concerned. The question is still: "What is the perspective of the narrative? Are children and the world they live in still in the centre of the story?", according to Thomas Hailer. Along with that, it just has to be "a great film". At the same time, hard subjects have never been avoided at the children's film festival. "The section has proven that children have a right to hear about the bad side of life, about the sad moments," Hailer says. "It covers the whole spectrum of childhood." Be it coming to terms with the problems of religion, of the family or of violence, over the years the film festival has been dealing with themes that are – according to Hailer – "in the air worldwide". While the breaking up of family structures often played a major role over the last years, there are a striking number of stories at the 30th film festival in which the young protagonists take their life into their own hands. Like the 12-year-old Martin in the German contribution Silly`s Sweet Summer (Blöde Mütze) who ignores his parents and offers his friend some comfort and security, or the Korean high-school boy OH Dong-gu who in Like a Virgin confronts his parents, despite the consequences, with the fact that he would rather be a girl.
The notion of participation is closely intermeshed with the festivalSince 1986 it has been an eleven-member children's jury that has decided which entry was best and who was to receive the Crystal Bear (Gläserner Bär). And because the notion of participation has always been closely intermeshed with the festival, the children also have their own homepage on which young reporters can post their reports each day during the festival. In addition to this, a project has become established in which media trainers advise teachers so that they know which films are suitable to choose for their class and how to go through them again thematically in class.
It was only four years ago that the festival, which was intended for children from 4 to 14 years of age, was extended by the series of films 14 Plus for young people. Now, in the 30th year of the festival, the films for both children and young people have been combined under the label Generation.
Even if the festival is still drawing in crowds today, children's films still have a hard position in the business internationally, Thomas Hailer notes. Exceptions are Scandinavia or Asia – countries that want to catch the future film fans "as early as possible" and introduce them to home-grown productions. Here, in this country, films based on well-known models ensure that cinemas are well packed, but original subjects still have a hard time of it. "Even a children's film will be measured against the box-office success of other productions," Thomas Hailer says. Many children's films provide "respectable results economically" – but only in the long run. "What is missing is a distribution and rental structure that makes it possible to wait for a while."
is a freelance journalist and writer. She writes for daily newspapers and city magazines, among other things.
Translation: Moira Davidson-Seeger
Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Online-Redaktion
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