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SLIFF's Children's Film Fest sends in the clowns, the cartoons and some international finds

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 22, 2013 - Every year, the St. Louis International Film Festivaloffers one free weekend with family films. This year, that weekend extends into 10 days and a festival all its own, with live performances, workshops and screenings of national and international films that children and families may not have found on their mainstream screens.

The SLIFF/Kids Children’s Film Festivalbegins Friday, July 26, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 4, with a total of 14 free films screened over both weekends at a number of local institutions, including Webster University, the St. Louis Public Library, the Missouri History Museum, Washington University, the Wildey Theatre and Lindenwood University. All events except for a full-day animation workshop on Aug. 3, are free.

Cliff Froehlich, executive director of Cinema St. Louis, says one goal of the fest is to expose kids and families to great films that they haven’t already found. There are a lot of great films out there for kids, he says.

“That’s easily found, and it doesn’t need our help,” he says. 

What’s not so easily found is the work of great animators and high-quality international children’s programming.

At 7 p.m. Friday, July 26, the festival kicks off with “Send in the Clowns: A Celebration of Slapstick and Silent Comedians,” at Webster University. The evening features a film by Charlie Chaplin, one with Buster Keaton and one with Laurel and Hardy. The last two also feature live music. Before, between and after the three films, live clowns will entertain the audience.

International films featured throughout the weekend include “Alfie, the Little Werewolf,” from the Netherlands, “Tom Sawyer and his Friends,” from Germany, and “A Letter to Momo,” from Japan. While some movies are in their original languages and include subtitles, others are in English.

Froehlich recommends those films with subtitles for kids 9 and older, and encourages parents to experiment with them.

“As longs as parents are willing to take a little chance and introduce them early on to their kids, they’re probably capable,” he says of young audiences.

During the festival, Michael Sporn will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award in Animation. Sporn has worked for decades adapting classic children’s books into film, including “The Red Shoes.” He will speak about his work on Aug. 2 and Aug. 4 and will hold an animation workshop Aug. 3.

Joey Dedio, co-writer and producer of “Tio Papi” will introduce his film and take part in a question and answer session on July 27, and St. Louis native Jere Hausfater will introduce his film, “Standing Up,” to close the festival.

The fest also includes filmmaking camps, presented by Cinema St. Louis and St. Louis Public Library, that are aimed at middle and high school students. Those interested should call Cinema St. Louis to see if spots are still available. And Michael Sporn will offer a workshop for teens on animation drawing from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3, for $75. Applications are available through the St. Louis Art Museum.

Even though the festival is devoted to harder-to- find films, Froehlich is excited to be able to offer a preview of Disney’s "Planes” in 3D at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 3 at Ronnies 20 Cine. 

For films, times and venues, check out Cinema St. Louis’ website. Froehlich says organizers used festivals such as the New York International Children’s Film Festival, Chicago International Children’s Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival’s children’s event as models. This year marks the first for St. Louis’ kids fest, and he expects it to continue.

“We want to provide very good movies that kids wouldn’t see if we weren’t around,” he says. “But we also hope to be growing an audience.”

And you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy the 14 films presented, he adds.

“As long as you’re somebody who’s been a child, and I think that’s just about everybody, I think that you’ll enjoy just about every film that we’re presenting.”