Louth Film Club's Childrens Festival
By Alex McMullen, Chairman, Louth Film Club
A national plan to promote film literacy in schools was launched in summer 2008, but Louth Film Club had already been encouraging a serious interest in cinema amongst schoolchildren in around the Lincolnshire market town of Louth.
In July 2007 we ran the first ever Louth Children’s Film Festival, our main aim being to show young people in the area some great films outside the usual Hollywood fare and in the best environment: on a big screen, in a cinema, as part of an audience.
We originally intended, if the festival was a success, to make it a biennial or triennial event, but it was so popular with local schools that we succumbed to their pressure to run another one in 2008.
The festivals were run with the keen support of the Playhouse Cinema, where we showed the films, with morning and afternoon performances for children, mostly aged 7-11 from local primary schools, and also public evening shows, for adults and children.
For the first festival, not knowing how children would react to different films, we chose a range of titles that included a couple of ‘safe’ films, The Borrowers and the Railway Children, and three that might prove more challenging: the 1947, black & white Ealing comedy Hue & Cry; Michel Ocelot’s West African set animation Kirikou Et La Sorcière; and Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Junior, along with a couple of his short films.
We need not have worried. Hue & Cry had children breaking into applause at the end. Kirikou was a big hit too, especially with the younger children who were its main audience. Keaton was so well received that the schools who sent children to it insisted that if we hold a second festival it must include another of his films.
For the 2008 festival we selected four films: Alfonso Cuarón’s A Little Princess; Ocelot’s beautiful new animation, Azur & Asmar - The Princes’ Quest; Brian Cosgrove’s adaptation of The BFG; and sure enough - another Keaton, his masterpiece The General.
Once again, we were delighted by children’s reactions to the films. All four of them proved popular, Azur & Asmar and The General the most so, with spontaneous applause at the end of their several screenings and a comment from one 10-year-old that The General — 80 years old, silent, black & white — was “well cool”.
At last year’s festival we had 1230 children attend our daytime shows, over five days. This year we had 1410, in four days; on a couple of mornings we had films showing on all the Playhouse’s three screens. Last year six schools, all in Louth, took part, including a special school who sent a party of children with moderate to severe learning difficulties and disabilities. This year, seven town schools sent children, including the special school again (with a larger party) and four schools from outlying villages bussed children in to the festival.
The schools’ enthusiasm for the festivals stemmed at least in part from their need now to include the teaching of ‘visual literacy’. Also they were keen for us to show some screen versions of children’s novels so they could get pupils to compare book and film. Last year’s and this year’s festivals each included a couple of literary adaptations.
One of the lessons learnt from the first festival was that children whose teachers had done some preparatory work on the films they were going to see got a lot more out of them. This year a teacher resource pack, with information about all the films, appropriate references and suggestions for classroom projects, was sent to all participating schools.
The resource pack was put together by club member Yvonne Finnie, who teaches at Louth’s largest primary school, Lacey Gardens Junior. Before both of the festivals many of Lacey Gardens’ pupils produced their own posters for them and these were displayed in Louth Library and the Playhouse Cinema foyer.
The public shows were not so successful. In 2007 we showed the five films at 5.30pm on consecutive nights and attendance averaged a little over 20, despite having large posters displayed around the town and plenty of publicity in the local media. We thought this was largely because of the 5.30 start time and in 2008 showed three of the four films (the license for public performances of The BFG was prohibitively expensive) at 7.30. The average audience was a little larger, but not much. We concluded that adults were put off by the idea of watching what were labelled as children’s films (although the publicity stressed their all-ages appeal), also that we suffered by not planning the events far enough in advance for the public screenings to be specified in our year-long programme.
The Playhouse Cinema can only screen films in 35mm prints and the main difficulty we encountered in organising children’s film festivals was finding appropriate films in this format. There’s a disappointing lack of new children’s films from beyond Hollywood and a limited number of classic films available in good quality 35mm prints. Still, we plan now to stick to our original idea of a biennial festival and are already thinking about what to show in 2010.