Sundance Kids films shine at this year’s festival |

Sundance Kids films shine at this year’s festival

"Snowtime," a beautifully animated feature-length film by directors Jean-François Pouliot and François Brisson is screening in the Sundance Kids sectionPhoto courtesy of the Sundance Institute

The Sundance Film Festival may be known more for edgy adult films than family fare, but that is changing. Three years ago, Sundance added a new category to its diverse slate –Sundance Kids — and this year’s selections are scene stealers.

The three films being screened during this year’s festival come from filmmakers in the Netherlands, Canada and the U.S. and range from documentary to comedy and from from digital animation to live action.

The Institute’s intention, according to Sundance Kids section programmer Patrick Hubley, is to help elevate the quality of films being made for children.

There is also a conscious effort to seek out films that represent other cultures. In cases requiring subtitles, the festival provides a ‘reader’ to help young audiences keep up with the dialog. This year’s selection, "The Little Gangster," for instance, is presented in Dutch with English subtitles and a reader will be present for the festival screenings.

Previous year’s Sundance Kids selections have earned worldwide recognition. Year one’s animated feature "Ernest and Celestine" earned an Oscar nomination and year two’s Claymation adventure "Shaun the Sheep" is now a popular Netflix series.

"One thing that is cool is that this year we have three films for different age groups," said Hubley. The animated feature "Snowtime," is recommended for ages 5 and up.

The story, says Hubley is based on a classic winter tale that he first heard as a child growing up in Canada, "The Dog Who Stopped the War." Set in a small mountain town covered with an abundance of snow and featuring a big lovable St. Bernard, Park City viewers (young and old) should have no trouble identifying with the story.

"The themes of the story — friendship and understanding — are still relevant," says Hubley. But "Snowtime’s" quirky characters and unpredictable plot differentiate it from the typically saccharine juvenile genre.

The animation puts "Snowtime" at the top of the class. From the characters’ multi-colored knitted hats and scarves to the capers of a pair of identical twins, to the Rube Goldberg snowball catapult and ice castle, every detail is ingenious and artistic.

There is music, too, from Celie Dion, Marie Mai and Simple Plan, among others.

If you don’t have a kid, you might want to borrow one as an excuse to attend a screening of this charming film.

Hubley said he stumbled on "The Little Gangster" at CineKid, a children’s film festival held in Amsterdam. The plot features a family coping with loss and a young teen struggling to find his identity.

"I thought this film was clever and entertaining. But it also deals with important serious themes," said Hubley.

Struggling after the loss of his mom, anxious to help his bumbling dad start a new life and tired of being bullied at school, young Rik Boskamp secretly accepts a job promotion on his dad’s behalf, forcing them to move to a new community. There Rik adopts a tough-guy persona, convincing neighbors and classmates that his dad is a mafia boss. Madcap chaos ensues.

"The story is well made and the young actor Thor Brau does a great job. For me this film highlights the wonderful films being made for kids," said Hubley.

The dialog is in Dutch with English subtitles.

This year’s festival also marks the Kids section’s first foray into documentaries. Set in the icy upper reaches of the Altai Mountains in Mongolia, "The Eagle Huntress," is an astounding story about a 13-year old girl’s attempt to break into an exclusively male tradition — hunting with eagles.

"The Eagle Huntress" casts its spell with spectacular photography, physical fortitude and patience. Director Otto Bell and Direcotr of Photography Simon Niblett manage to erase any evidence of an outside film crew (incuding dialog exclusively in Kazakh) allowing audiences to imagine they are riding on horseback alongside Ashol-Pan and her father across the jagged snow covered peaks in search of prey.

The film delves into Ashol-Pan’s family and school life, making the film especially accessible to peers around the world. The difference being that her school breaks are spent galloping across the tundra with a giant eagle balanced on her on her wrist to capture dinner and a new fur for her wardrobe.

The plot intensifies when Ashol-Pan decides to vie for the province’s top eagle hunter title, raising a protest from some of the local elders.

The film is recommended for children ages 12 and up, perhaps due to graphic footage of a fox being captured by an eagle. But for children and adults who are comfortable with that image, the film is sure to leave indelible visual memories and serve as a source of inspiration for young women and their families around the world.

Sundance Kids Films

This section of the Festival is especially for our youngest independent film fans. Programmed in cooperation with Utah Film Center which presents the annual Tumbleweeds Film Festival, Utah’s premiere film festival for children and youth.

The Eagle Huntress / U.S.A.

(Director: Otto Bell) — Step aside, Daenerys and Katniss—Aisholpan is a real-life role model on an epic journey in a faraway world. Follow this 13-year-old nomadic Mongolian girl as she battles to become the first female to hunt with a golden eagle in 2,000 years of male-dominated history. World Premiere

Little Gangster / Netherlands

(Director: Arne Toonen, Screenwriter: Lotte Tabbers) — Rik Boskamp wants a life where he’s not constantly bullied. When he and his family move, the people in their new town think his father is a Mafia boss, and everybody treats them with respect—until a bully from Rikkie’s past turns up. How long can he keep up his lie? Cast: Thor Braun, Henry Van Loon, Rene Van ‘T Hof, Meral Polat, Fedja Van Huêt, Maas Bronkhuyzen. North American Premiere

Snowtime! / Canada

(Directors: Jean-François Pouliot, François Brisson, Screenwriters: Normand Canac-Marquis, Paul Risacher) — To amuse themselves during their winter break from school, the kids in a small village have a massive snowball fight. But what starts out as pure youthful fun and enthusiasm deteriorates into a more serious conflict as the children learn the role that love and friendship play in their lives. Cast: Sandra Oh, Ross Lynch, Angela Gallupo, Lucinda Davis, Don Shepherd, Sonja Ball. U.S. Premiere

Tickets for the Sundance Kids screenings, which are held at the Redstone 1 Theater in Park City and Salt Lake Library Theater in Salt Lake City (with one exception, a single screening of "The Eagle Huntress" at the Prospector Theater in Park City) are $10. Advance tickets may be may be sold out before the festival begins but waitlist tickets often become available during the festival.

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