Children’s Cinema Global Forum by Sharjah International Film Festival for Children & Youth

How top film festivals around the globe brought
the cinema to people’s homes in the year of Covid-19
Children’s Cinema Global Forum by Sharjah International Film Festival for Children & Youth
delves into the minds of those who lead the world’s premier film events, to learn
how each one coped with the pandemic and what their plans for the future are

Sharjah, January 30, 2021

Sharjah International Film Festival for Children and Youth (SIFF), the Arab region’s first film festival that celebrates children’s and youth cinema, commenced its two-day virtual Children’s Cinema Global Forum yesterday (Friday, January 29) with a thought-provoking discussion on ‘Children’s Cinema – Past and Future’ that offered an insight into the potential of cinema as a tool for entertainment, education and learning in the future.
The Forum, jointly organised by SIFF and the Lahore International Children’s Film Festival, witnessed the presence of festival directors, filmmakers, producers, cinema managers and children and youth.
Prof. Dragan M. Fimon, French director and academic, speaking via Zoom platform, said that to empower children, visual medium educators must “tell stories from everyday life that children can relate to and which are rooted in their respective social and cultural backgrounds. Involving children in the filmmaking process and ensuring their active participation is vital to present stories from their point of view.”
Despite the many challenges for those engaged in the children’s film industry, including the lack of online access to all children during the current circumstances, “the future for children’s cinema remains very bright,” said Firdoze Bulbulia of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Film Festival in South Africa. “The effort that we put in, the time we give, and the possibilities and partnerships we have with like-minded entities across the globe promoting quality children’s cinema, gives me hope.”
Meenakshi Vinay Rai, Director, Chinh India Film Festival, India, said: “The future of cinema is not what adults can create for children – they need a different kind of energy that can be realised only through their creativity; we can only provide a guiding framework to build on.”
Describing her experience of working with children who have created “bold and brutally honest cinema” that reflect their realities and are often beyond the comprehension of adults, she added: “What is required from our generation is a great level of tolerance to accept what we do not understand.”

Film festivals post covid-19 is a fascinating question because no one has an answer yet…
In the second session titled ‘Festivals in 2020 and Post Covid-19’ audiences heard about the challenges that were faced by organisers of the most prestigious film festivals, globally, faced in the aftermath of the worst health crisis in over a century.
Guest speakers, Dan Bennett, Director, Los Angeles International Children’s Film Festival, USA; Claudio Gubitosi, Director, Giffoni Film Festival, Italy; and Keith Bennie, Director, Audience & Community, Toronto International Film Festival, Canada, opened up to the session moderator, Shoaib Iqbal, about how, they faced an unprecedented challenge head on and innovated every day to keep their audiences engaged and their businesses afloat.
Recounting how the Los Angeles International Children’s Film Festival was ready to go for their 2020 edition by December 2019, Bennett noted, “It suddenly it became apparent that it wasn’t going to go. The lock down was immediate and drastic, and left us with no time to react.”
Eventually, Bennett and his team at the LA International Children’s Film Festival wrapped their head around the situation and pivoted to leverage all available digital bridges – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – to connect with audiences of all age groups. Their digital platforms allow organisers as well as viewers the opportunity to offer inputs about film selections, and connect filmmakers to their audiences.
“We’re going to do an in-person festival in December if health and safety guidelines permit,” noted a positive and hopeful Dan.
Claudio Gubitosi, who has been the director of Giffoni Film Festival since its inception, said the pandemic struck during the year the organisers were planning the event’s 50th edition. “Last March, I realised I quickly needed a Plan B. It was important to not lose touch with my community. We have millions of Giffoners around the world, and I had to find a way to reassure them that Giffoni is here, and it is here to stay.”
During the first lockdown in Italy, from March – May, the festival set up Zoom discussions with actors, politicians, doctors, filmmakers because he felt a need to keep the community together, and engaged.
“I sensed a frailty in both industry and in community,” he noted that he had several apprehensions about how he would present an in-person event in a way that ensures everybody’s safety and wellbeing. Finally, they designed a hybrid event, with 3,000 children in Italy coming in to the region where Giffoni takes place and attended in person, while millions of people joined the festival online from different parts of the world.
“What the Covid-19 crisis allowed me to do was to react, to innovate, to split the festival’s activities across different times of the year instead of going by its usual format of hosting it once a year,” Gubitosi noted.
Joining the discussions from Toronto, Keith Bennie, was quick to acknowledge that while 2020 was a challenging year, “Today, we are more thoughtful about the way we present and share film with our audiences and our community.”
Narrating the impact of the pandemic on TIFF – one the most prestigious film festivals worldwide – he said that they had to close their building in March, which meant that their six cinemas could no longer serve their audiences. “Back then we had very little digital infrastructure to reach people at home,” he added.
The Canada-based festival was quick to embrace technology and launched their first national streaming service called ‘Stay-At-Home’ cinema, which operates like Netflix.
Proudly sharing that the 2020 edition of TIFF was successful with its adoption of a digital and outdoor cinema approach, Keith continued: “Our biggest question was, how do we create a sense of community? We hosted a DJ party in our lightbox, which our audiences could connect to their speakers at home. A children’s film was streamed, which my nephews watched from a very different part of Canada. So, the silver lining was wider audience outreach. We had the ability to reach audiences across Canada for the very first time.”
The Children’s Cinema Global Forum will conclude today (Saturday) with a 6pm session on ‘Future of Festivals, on nurturing children talent and its social impact’, and a discussion on ‘Collaborations – Areas of Opportunities’ at 7.30pm.


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