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Providence Children’s Film Festival is an Outing for the Whole Family

Providence Children’s Film Festival is an Outing for the Whole Family
By Michelle Perras-Charron

Showcasing the best of independent and international children’s cinema, the 8th annual Providence Children’s Film Festival (PCFF) will take place Feb. 11-26 at locations in and around downtown Providence.

Over the course of the festival, participants can view films from Austria, France, the Philippines, and the Netherlands — just to name just a few. With 14 feature-length films and numerous short films in the queue, PCFF promises something for everyone; it’s like having a Cannes Film Festival in your own backyard.

Founded in 2009, PCFF is a non-profit that strives to inspire, delight, educate, and connect a diverse community of children and families from Rhode Island and throughout New England. According to Eric Bilodeau, PCFF’s director of programming, achieving this goal is a year-long labor of love.

Over the course of the year leading up to the festival, Bilodeau gathers children and parents to view hundreds of films that are submitted to the festival for consideration. In September, he begins holding film juries to whittle down the potential selections. Together, children and parents watch, score, and comment on the films, which he says gives kids a voice during the entire festival selection process.

“It’s more of a ‘family’ film festival,” he notes. “Films are best shared. Together we really feel the power of the stories told.”

While there are certainly films to make you think, tackling topics such as homelessness and foster care, there are also documentaries, period pieces, and even animation.

“We offer all forms of animation — and the most cutting edge,” he adds.

Some examples of this year’s animation offerings include Ballad of Holland Island House, a 5-minute film by animator Lynn Tomlinson, who uses oil-based clay paintings to “animate” and bring to life the true story of the last house on a sinking island in Chesapeake Bay. While the topic may seem mundane at first glance, it proves to be a powerful 5 minutes about rising sea levels. Simply put, the 5-minute animation is just mesmerizing.

A second offering comes from Switzerland. Spoken in French, with English subtitles, Ma vie de Courgette, or as translated, “My Life as a Zucchini”, is a stop-motion animation that follows a 9-year-old boy (Courgette) living in an orphanage as a foster child. Bilodeau describes the film as very inspiring, but intended for a more mature audience (13+) due to topics, such as alcoholism, that are addressed in the film.

Though animated, the trailer is cute yet gripping, and sucks you right in. Already nominated for a Golden Globe award, Ma vie de Courgette will be shown twice during PCFF. On Feb. 17, the film will be shown in French during PCFF opening night at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum. It will be shown again in English during the second weekend of PCFF.

“We’re really all about providing a choice for people looking for more beyond what’s offered through major studios,” Bilodeau says.

Indeed, there are many choices available for viewing during PCFF. Brothers of the Wind, a feature-length film from Austria, tells the touching, yet delightful, story of a young boy named Lukas, who saves a golden eagle in the Austrian Alps. Viewers are treated to a literal bird’s eye view (albeit a golden eagle), through the use of small cameras mounted on the backs of these birds as they fly, hunt, and land.

In an effort to connect the film to viewers and their local community, there are often film talks afterwards, as well as “reel connections,” Bilodeau explains. For example, after the Brothers of the Wind screening, viewers will hear from Born to be Wild Nature Center, an organization that rescues raptors in Rhode Island.

Also, for the first time in its eight years, PCFF will present a film from the Philippines as part of its lineup, Bilodeau says. Blanka unravels the story of a pre-teen, orphaned girl living in the slums of Manila, who wants nothing more than to “buy” a mom, and thus goes about trying to create her own family.

Told mostly though the young orphan’s perspective, Blanka is a short work of fiction at just over an hour, but, says Bilodeau, “the actress was so good you almost felt like you watched a documentary instead of a fictional, narrative film.”

Also of notable mention, says Bilodeau is the French feature film, “Fanny’s Journey”, or Le Voyage de Fanny. A period piece inspired by the autobiography of Fanny Ben-Ami, “Fanny’s Journey” depicts the tale of a group of Jewish children trying to escape 1943 Vichy, France, the southern part of France commonly known as the “free zone” during that tumultuous time in history. Fanny is a 13-year-old girl who has been put in charge of a group of eight children, whom she must safely cross into Italy.

Aside from the abundant film screenings, there are also filmmaking workshops and other free activities for children to enjoy. A full schedule of events and ticket information can be found at providencechildrensfilmfestival.org. Because not all films may be appropriate for all ages, PCFF film listings include recommended ages and notes on thematic elements for parents to consider. Trailers for many of the films can be found on YouTube and/or Vimeo.

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