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Your children are not your children
Monday August 29th 2005, 7:33 pm
Filed under: art,film,reviews
Written By:

“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.”
– Khalil Gibran from The Prophet

Young people have been an important part of cinematic storytelling literally from the very beginning. One of the first fictional films ever made was called ‘L’Arroseur Arrosé’ (1895) by Louis Lumière, which features a mischievous boy who decides to play a trick on an unsuspecting gardener. Chaplin’s ‘The Kid’ (1921) became one of the most successful and iconic films from the silent era that featured a child in a starring role. Not long after that, Hal Roach started a series of films first called ‘Hal Roach’s Rascals’, later referred to as the ‘Our Gang’ series. What made these films so remarkable and charming was that they used almost no adult actors at all.

Along with the advent of television and the subsequent expansion of cinema both as art and as business, child actors have become an integral part of all of the various filmmaking industries of the world. The effort and teamwork required to create a commercial film is monumental, so it is doubly remarkable when a young artist can sustain the energy and patience required to take on the task of a starring role in a feature length production. The titles reviewed below are a small sampling of quality films in which young people play a predominant role.

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Rabbit-Proof Fence Australia
(2002)

[IMDB Link]
[Netflix Link]
I guess that I was unprepared for this film to be as powerful as it was. It is a story from a shameful time in 20th century Australian history when aboriginal girls were forcibly taken from their families by government officials to be integrated into greater Australian society as maids and servants. This film tells the true story of 3 young girls who ran away from their ‘humane’ captors to return home to their village 1,500 miles away. There is also a ‘making of’ bonus documentary film on the DVD which enhances the film perfectly. The main actors are three non-professional Aboriginal girls with thick Aussie accents….there were a few times that I had to turn on the subtitles so I wouldn’t miss a word of their performances. The director of this film is Phillip Noyce, best known as the big-time corporate Hollywood director of ‘Patriot Games’ (1992), ‘Clear and Present Danger’ (1994), and ‘Silver’ (1993). For this film he returned to his native Australia to tell a very important Australian story.

Spirited Away Japan
(2001)

[IMDB Link]
[Netflix Link]
I feel compelled to make an outrageous statement about ‘Spirited Away’, which is that it is my all-time favorite animated film. It was directed by Hayao Miyazaki who has been called “the greatest living animator” by John Lasseter (director of ‘Toy Story’, ‘Monsters Inc.’, etc). I would also say that as a filmmaker and storyteller, regardless of medium, Miyazaki is among the greatest of his generation. He himself has declared that ‘Spirited Away’ will be remembered as the peak effort of his career. I find the dreamstate feel of the storyline to be very authentic, and the animation provides a seamless blending of the real and not-so-real elements that make up the film’s environment. After having viewed it for the first time I distinctly remember a lingering feeling of having awakened from a too-vivid dream. The art is stunning to look at, and the shots are built with a complexity and subtlety that allows the viewer’s imagination to soar. The characters are beautifully designed and some of them are also a little frightening and grotesque. I guess this is supposed to be a kids film but I think that just about anyone would love it.

Children of Heaven Iran
(1999)

[IMDB Link]
[Netflix Link]
This is an absolutely fantastic Iranian film which has achieved some level of commercial and critical success in the US….among other things, it received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film, and I am pretty sure it was the first Iranian film to be recognized in this way. It follows the extra-normal adventures of a 9 year old boy and his younger sister as they are forced to secretly share a pair of shoes after hers are accidentally lost. Like most international films that have some level of success in the wide-world, the story is based on simple and universal themes involving human nature. In this case the importance of personal accountability is at the center of the plot, and there are many moments that honor the beautiful gestures of generosity and love that we are capable of even in the most trying circumstances. The location shooting in both the poor and the rich neighborhoods of what I think is Tehran is very beautiful, but what was even more interesting to me was how the film provided a cultural window on modern life in Iran: The way the boys and girls are educated separately; the living dynamics of the crowded ancient neighborhoods where the main characters live. This is a touching and very memorable film.

Pather Panchali India
(1955)

[IMDB Link]
[Netflix Link]
I’m far from the first to say it, but this film is one of the absolute all-time masterpieces of cinematic art. It is the directorial debut of Satyajit Ray, who has been called the father of Indian cinema. At the time this film was being conceived and constructed he was very aware of the cutting edge work being done by his European contemporaries. He was particularly inspired by the Neo-Realists….a group of Italian filmmakers who in the mid-forties found themselves suddenly freed from the confines of the state-controlled cinema of Mussolini. They used their newfound freedom to tell dark stories about the tribulations of ‘common’ people that many viewers at the time found quite off-putting….and admittedly some of these are among the most depressing films ever made. Satyajit loved these films and one in particular, ‘Ladri di Biciclette’ (‘The Bicycle Thief’ – 1948), was a major source of inspiration for ‘Pather Panchali’. He saw the potential impact of India’s recently gained independence from the British Empire as akin to the kind of post-war cultural upheaval that inspired the Cinema of Liberation he saw coming from Europe. Ultimately it was this heartfelt belief and the lifetime of action behind it that inspired the generations of Indian filmmakers that have collectively built the modern Indian film industry. The subdued production value of this film is quite noticeable, as Mr. Ray’s meager budget and limited access to modern filmmaking equipment (or even decent film stock) necessitated making many sacrifices. However, all of that is completely obscured by the brilliant storytelling, the beautiful photography, and the revealing window he opens for us to glimpse his culture. I feel compelled to place a cautionary filmnerd caveat upon this film….by some people’s standards this might be a challenging film to watch and enjoy.

Whale Rider New Zealand Germany
(2003)

[IMDB Link]
[Netflix Link]
This film got a ton of exposure during the year of it’s release….due in no small part to a Best Actress Academy Award nomination going to the star Keisha Castle-Hughes who was 12 when ‘Whale Rider’ was shot, making her the youngest Best Actress nominee ever. I suppose that I was expecting this to be a good film, but based on its reputation I also was expecting a saccharine-sweet level of sentimentality. As it turns out ‘Whale Rider’ certainly had its share of touching moments, but it never resorted to the kind of over-the-top heartstring-abuse inherent in some other films of it’s type.

In This World United Kingdom
(2002)

[IMDB Link]
[Netflix Link]
‘In This World’ is a fictional film which achieved it’s documentary look and feel by using the same technique as ‘The Blair Witch Project’: The startling realism is a result of the filmmakers’ immersion in a situation that directly parallels the one they are depicting in the fictional arc of the film. The principal characters are two young Afghan refugees who have been living in the camps of Peshawar Pakistan for most of their lives, and the film chronicles their illegal and harrowing journey from Pakistan to London. The sparse film crew actually traveled through the region with their two principal actors, telling local officials that they were making a documentary about the Silk Road. All of the events in the story were based on the real experiences of Afghan and other refugees in this area of the world, and many of the secondary characters were portrayed by ‘incidental actors’, such as the border police and fixers who basically play themselves in the film. This is a fantastic example of why independent film is so important….Hollywood is not capable or interested in making films like this, and we NEED films like this.

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Thanks for reading! If any of you have a favorite film or films that feature the creative contibitions of young people please post a suggestion.

[grin]


2 Comments so far
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I’m looking forward to checking out your film picks. Great first posting…I have seen a few of these films and am looking forward to seeing the rest. Thanks for the info. This is a great addition to DS!

Comment by chrisybug 08.29.05 @ 8:50 pm

I have always loved this quote by Khalil Gibran; a superb segue way into this theme. It is also nice you’ve chosen to indicate the international breadth of film with flag icons.

Whale Rider is up with some of the very best movies I’ve ever seen and one of my favorites. Images and feelings from this movie have haunted me ever since I saw it. I stumbled upon it and thankfully hadn’t seen the contrived trailers which might have turned me away (I saw them on the DVD extras). The Beautiful cinematography, strong performances, and magic realism allow this art to resonate…with great mystery and love.

Thanks for this theme. I’ve already moved some of these movies up higher on my queue at Greencine.

Comment by tao 09.06.05 @ 7:00 pm



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