Children of all ages swarmed in and out of planetarium theaters at the Chabot Space and Science Center this weekend for the 7th annual Bay Area International Children’s Film Festival.
With two full days of short films from all over the world geared for different age groups, co-founder Jim Capobianco said the festival was meant to inspire kids and their families to be creative, and to expose them to other cultures and filmmaking. “I wanted to find films that were hopeful for people,” he said.
Capobianco, an animator who works at Pixar and who was nominated for an Academy Award for the screenplay Ratatouille, said the festival received over 1,000 film submissions to choose from. After each filmmaker submitted his or her film via the festival website or through Film Freeway, a free program the festival organizers and filmmakers can sign up for, Capobianco and his team winnowed down the submissions based on their origins, production values, and whether they were interesting to children and adults.
One of the popular films, Song of the Sea, directed by Tommy Moore from Ireland, was screened Saturday evening at the festival before its wider theatrical release scheduled for next month. This Academy Award-nominated animated film is based on the Irish legend of the Selkies, and features two siblings who go on a quest to save the world of magic and discover past secrets. On Sunday, the filmThe Landing, a story about two frogs and a bird by Marjolaine Perreten from Switzerland, made its world premiere.
This year, festival organizers tried out a few new things, including announcing the “Great Green Innovation/Green Imagination Challenge.” Capobianco said they want youth filmmaking groups and schools in the Bay Area and internationally to create short films to help fight climate change and to inspire people to take action, and submit them for next year’s festival. Some films featured at the festival were from people focusing on green innovation, like Inertia by Becho Lo Bianco and Mariano Bergara from Argentina, which describes the resistance people can have to going green, or Zero Emission is Not Just a Fairy Tale by Tea Lukač from Serbia, that promotes ecological awareness.
Along with film screenings, the festival offered hands-on workshops where children had the chance to create their own stop-motion films using either clay or their bodies and props. Rosa Gutierrez-McCauley, 11, a two-time attendee, took part in the Clay Puppet Animation Workshop for the first time. As Rosa twiddled around her purple alien claymation character she said, “The workshop was really cool” because they learned how claymation works.
After the kids created their stop-motion video, media students from Berkeley City College edited the films, adding music and sound. At the end of the day, the films were shown on the big screens to the children and their parents. “It’s one of the best parts of the festival,” Capobianco said. “It’s really exciting.”
In between films and workshops, Michael Chiaravelotti, a musician from Lafayette, played his Sonarimba. The huge, circular instrument is played from the inside and is made out recycled building materials, like pipes and wood, from his remodeling business. Chiaravelotti invited the little ones to climb inside and try the percussion instrument, which creates a combination of sounds similar to a xylophone and the drums.
Children also engaged in science education as they learned to build things with everyday objects during free workshops by Howtoons creators’ Nick Dragotta, Ingrid Dragotta and Saul Griffith. Howtoons is a comic book series teaching kids how to do DIY projects with household objects.
The festival started back in 2008 as a community event for The Renaissance School in Oakland, then, grew into a festival sponsored by East Bay Community Foundation and others. This was the second year the festival was held at the science center. Liz Austerman, senior manager for visitor engagement for the center, said the festival brought it a new audience. “People usually know us for astronomy,” she said. “To have a children’s film fest really highlights that we are about families and children.”