Hong Kong’s Kids International Film Festival is an Antidote to Corporate Blockbusters

The dog days of summer are here and there are still weeks to go before school starts again. Frozen II doesn’t open until November. You’ve seen Toy Story 4 and The Lion King – twice. But don’t panic. If you’re a parent who would like your kids to know there’s more to movies than merchandising—or even if you’re a grown-up with a soft spot for a good tune and an inspiring message—you may want to investigate the global programme screening at the third Hong Kong Kids International Film Festival (KIFF).

Seu Jorge’s Chico tries to help Noah Schnapp’s budding chef’s family find common ground in Abe by Brazilian director Fernando Grostein Andrade. Photo image Golden Scene.

Co-organised by producer-distributor Golden Scene and non-profit media literacy organisation 3Space, KIFF’s raison d’être was simple. “KIFF is about nurturing free and creative minds for our future generations, and enhancing parent-child relationships through a shared vocabulary of films,” says 3Space founder Edmon Chung, who reached out to Golden Scene in 2016 about teaching children about global film culture and culture in general. On top of that, he says, “The trigger point three years ago was more personal. The nervousness and delight of bringing my kids to the cinema inspired the idea.” The desire to figure out what children can and cannot handle in a safe zone surrounded by other parents navigating the same waters added fuel to the fire.

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Isabel Moner (far right) stars as the adventuring teen in James Bobin’s KIFF closer, Dora and the Lost City of Gold. Image credit Golden Scene.

KIFF includes Carnival, a series of creative workshops and a short film contest for teenage filmmakers to provide a more complete experience. “By allowing the children to have access to these different workshops, we hope they can understand all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into filmmaking, and possibly nurture potential filmmakers,” says Winnie Tsang, managing director of Golden Scene. But KIFF is about movies, and though Pixar’s Wall-E is undeniably fabulous, “[we] try to find meaningful movies about kids, for kids and by kids from around the world that stimulate young minds beyond the more formulaic major studio features,” notes Chung. KIFF isn’t anti-blockbuster: the festival closes with an early peek at Dora and the Lost City of Gold, which could be seen as Indiana Jones with a teenage girl.

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To Yuen and Matthew Chow’s adaptation of the popular Hong Kong children’s book series, The Great Detective Sherlock Holmes – The Greatest Jail Breaker, opens the 3rd KIFF. Image credit Golden Scene.

Tsang and Chung both point to opening film The Great Detective Sherlock Holmes: The Greatest Jail-breaker as the festival’s must-see. “It is a 100 percent locally-made animation, based on a best-selling book series in Hong Kong,” says Tsang. Based on a story by Lai Ho and co-directed by Toe Yuen (My Life as McDull) and Matthew Chow (Temple Rider), the film is set in the 19th century and sees Holmes—who in this version is a hound—in pursuit of his nemesis, master thief Mack and the escaped prisoner Scarface.

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Victor Fleming’s 1939 classic musical The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland, gets a rare big-screen showing. Photo credit Golden Scene.

Chung also singles out Abe, Fernando Grostein Andrade’s saga about a 12-year-old budding Brooklyn cook with an Israeli mother and a Palestinian father who enlists a Brazilian chef to help him with Thanksgiving dinner. Abe is about the kind of respect and tolerance the world could use more of right now. Additionally, he says, “I think it’s a good way to let children in Hong Kong know about different culture and religions, and the history that’s led to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, Jewish and Muslim.”

Also notable is Serbia’s The Witch Hunters (Raško Miljković), about a bullied, withdrawn boy suffering from cerebral palsy whose new classmate shakes up his life; and Moominvalley (Steve Box) from Finland, an adaptation of writer-illustrator Tove Jansson’s classic series about the beloved trolls’ encounters with humanity and growing friendships.

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Mihajlo Milavic and Silma Mahmuti in Raško Miljković’s The Witch Hunters from Serbia. Image credit Golden Scene.

Finally, there will be a rare big-screen presentation of Victor Fleming’s 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz. Tsang has a fondness for old-school musicals and Chung thinks many parents will share a memory that will send them into theatres. “I grew up watching The Wizard of Oz reruns on TV, both in English and in Cantonese – I don’t know how many times,” he says. “This time I can’t wait to share it with my kids in the cinema.”

KIFF runs from 28 July to 5 August 2019, and the Carnival runs through September 1. For details, please refer to kiff.asia.

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