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Singaporean filmmaker Mabel Gan brings her talents to St. Louis with children’s film festival

Singaporean filmmaker Mabel Gan has brought a version of the International Children's Film Festival she started in Singapore to St. Louis.
Alex Heuer | St. Louis Public Radio
Singaporean filmmaker Mabel Gan has brought a version of the International Children's Film Festival she started in Singapore to St. Louis.

There’s a new film festival in town, this time focused on films made by and for children. It is called the Big Eyes, Big Minds St. Louis International Children’s Film Festival and it is spearheaded by Singaporean filmmaker and festival director Mabel Gan.

“When I think of kids, I think of big eyes, big minds because they have bigger eyes and there is so much potential for their minds to grow,” Gan told St. Louis on the Air contributor Steve Potter on Monday’s program.

The festival, featuring short animated and live action films from all over the world, started late January and will run through the rest of the month on Saturday mornings at the St. Louis Zoo. 

Gan hopes that the festival will encourage kids to become critical consumers of media and that storytelling in film form will affirm positive values in kids.

“It is increasingly important to show films from all over the world,” Gan said. “The kids themselves may be from different backgrounds but they all laugh at the same things: there’s a shared humanity that transcends cultural boundaries or language.”

Gan, who moved to St. Louis for her husband’s job at Lindenwood University, first got her start in the world of cinema as a film distributor in Singapore. After years of watching movies and attending film festivals, she finally got the itch to make movies of her own.

"It is increasingly important to show films from all over the world." — Mabel Gan

She came to the U.S. for graduate school to become a filmmaker, eventually returning to Singapore to work in television and produce her own feature-length drama. But it wasn’t until she took her 5-year-old son on vacation to Australia that she discovered her true calling.

The two stumbled on a children’s film festival while in Melbourne and immediately fell in love with the brevity and purity of the medium.

“What was so positive was that we were both so into the same thing and we could connect through the films,” Gan said. “Here I was, a jaded filmmaker, and these films blew me away because they were short, so simple, and yet the storytelling was so powerful, so pure.”

Upon returning to Singapore, she founded the first iteration of the Big Eyes, Big Minds International Children’s Film Festival, which continues to this day — about 3,000 children participate each year.

When she moved to St. Louis, Gan knew she wanted to continue to bring to light children’s films. She decided to partner with the St. Louis Zoo in order to put on the festival here because she felt zoos are a place where children develop a sense of caring, empathy and responsibility.

“It is an amazing experience to share a film with a young kid and see the joy that they have,” Gan said.

More than 20 countries are represented in the local festival’s lineup and many of the films are non-verbal. For firms that feature a foreign language, Gan said interpreters are available to read subtitles to the children watching.

There are four different categories of films. In each category, there are 8-11 films that will be screened together at once. The screenings cost $10, but children under age 2 are free.

A description of the films can be found here. Each screening of the films is followed by an activity for the children who attend.

Disney animator Jacob Frey makes a guest appearance at 7:30 p.m., on Feb. 24. Frey has worked on films such as “Moana” and “Zootopia” and will share the story of how he grew up dreaming of being an animator and how he made that dream a reality.  

Related Event

What: Big Eyes, Big Minds International Children's Film Festival

When: Feb. 18 and 25, 2017 starting at 9:30 a.m.

Where: The St. Louis Zoo, One Government Drive, St. Louis 

More information.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.