LUCAS International Children’s Film Festival
Little Hollywood am Main

The LUCAS International Children’s Film Festival was estabilished in 1974.
Photo (detail): Anna Leimbrinck © Lucas Filmfestival

LUCAS is Germany’s oldest children’s film festival. Its doors opened for the first time in 1974. Children are actively involved here. They are members of the jury and can have a go at film-making.

There is a lot of rustling in the rows, with the children fidgeting excitedly in their seats and becoming almost unconstrainable. The huge cinema is packed. When the excitement becomes unbearable, they jump up, shouting “Careful, watch out!” Joe the Indian has just crept into Aunt Polly’s house and he is up to no good. Nearly 600 children, and adults, of course, are watching the world premiere of a new film version of Mark Twain’s children’s classic Tom Sawyer directed by Hermine Huntgeburth. And Huck Finn, the second part, is already being made and will run at next year’s festival.

Kids have a right to have their say

The LUCAS Children’s Film Festival in Germany is organised by the German Film Institute (DIF) in Frankfurt am Main. A total of 46 films from 22 different countries, selected from more than 360 entries, were on the festival programme in autumn 2011. The films in the competition are shown with the original soundtrack and English subtitles and are dubbed by professional speakers in German at the time of screening. And of course, young film fans also have a say in awarding the prizes – the jury consists of four children and four adult film experts. The venue is the German Film Museum, which reopened recently after lengthy and extensive restoration. It is now a highly modern and technically outstanding Centre for Film Culture and Media Competence where there are workshops and a multifunctional film studio on the fourth floor where children can even make their own cartoon film. In the activities area, you can construct a rolling cinema or make images move using a zoetrope. Discussions with directors, filmmakers, scriptwriters and actors also enable the young visitors to take a look behind the scenes. There is instruction in media competence all the year around. Major emphasis is placed on links with the two institutions’ film education programme. The German Film Institute (DIF) also organises the SchulKinoWochen Hessen (Hesse School Cinema Weeks, from 5 to 16 March 2012). In 2012, the Lucas Film Festival will be taking place from 2 to 9 September.

We put four questions to Petra Kappler, Head of the LUCAS International Children’s Film Festival in Frankfurt am Main

Ms. Kappler, how much can children take in films?

More than most parents or other adults think. Our competition entry Ways to Live Forever, for example, was about two boys who are suffering from leukaemia and are coming to terms with their illness and death. In Bon Voyage, the grandfather dies, and only the youngest child in the family seems to be upset. But I would not say that you have to show a film so that children learn to deal with death. Every child has the right to say that it’s too much for them or that they don’t want to see it. It also depends a bit on their age. Of course, we don’t just have happy stories about how wonderful it is to be alive. But the themes are always ones that are important for children. The films have to be really well made and of high quality – that is not something that can be done by means of dramaturgical tricks of one kind or another.

What is there for the youngest children and what age are the youngest children who come to the festival?

Our Shorts for Minis are for children from the age of three. They are a number of cartoon films lasting a maximum of 40 minutes in total. But also many short animation films are also screened at the festival, such as Spot and Splodge at the Dentist from Sweden, for example, or the German production Day – Flower, in which a mouse is waiting for a flower to start blooming and misses the moment because it falls asleep. That is a good illustration of how film actually works – namely through the images, visual language, the structure and dramatic space. When a film has to explain itself and the figures have to explain their characters too, something is not quite right.

Which countries currently top the ratings in children’s film productions?

Scandinavia is making a lot of good films. There was a strong focus on the Netherlands this year. It entered so many films that were brilliant both content-wise and technically that we could not pack them all into the competition, so we arranged a special section for them. Overall, Iran is quite a strong film-making country, also in children’s film. Unfortunately, Italy is hardly represented at all. It does not have such a big culture of children’s films and also takes a different narrative approach.

What is the status of German films for children? Do they need more funding?

We had a symposium on that very subject just last September. Why is so much more being produced in other countries? It is a well-known problem. Making children’s films does no harm to the image of serious filmmakers elsewhere. It sometimes makes one wonder. German children’s film needs a real shot in the arm. I wish that more professional filmmakers would engage with the medium of children’s film, that more famous directors would do something of this kind. Hermine Huntgeburth is a very well-known director in the film scene, but ordinary people may not know her. Yet her current new film version of Tom Sawyer is really great cinema. It gives even adult cinemagoers the creeps!