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Ben Knight: What is a kids’ film?

What is the actual point of the Generation section? Ben went to a panel discussion on the eternal question – what exactly is a children’s film?

You might think the Berlinale is all about queuing up for hours to get tickets for a black-and-white Finnish film about a man who lives in a puddle, and not getting any because everyone knew ages ago that Püüddel Män is the one film you absolutely have to see.

But there’s so much more to it – behind the scrambling for tickets for obscure movies, the aggressive use of scarves as double-seat placeholders, and the deadening suspicion that you’re one of a flock of panicky culture-sheep, the real Berlinale is really happening in the shadows – the nooks of cocktail bars: show business people pitching, discussing, making deals, identifying trends, and generally being what they are – the secret arbiters of your future movie consumption.

Among them are the curators of other festivals, scouting for talent and gathering ideas for their own events. And every year these people all have to answer one question: “What about the children?”

As Eve noticed the other day, the common complaint about the Berlinale children and young people’s section “Generation” is “This is not a children’s film!” Many a festival-goer has emitted such an exasperated cry. But though it’s a source of irritation every year, the selection policy is deliberate. The main criteria for a Generation film is not whether it is actually for children – it just has to be about children, or about children’s “concerns,” whatever that means.

This was the subject of a Generation panel discussion on Wednesday morning.

The panelists – all either children’s filmmakers or children’s film festival curators – started from two basic points: 1) the definition of a children’s film is extremely loose – it’s one of those “I know one when I see one” things, and 2) children’s films are unfairly stigmatized and patronized.

One panelist, Maxine Williamson, artistic director of the Asian Pacific Screen Academy in Australia, described how film marketing people routinely see the children’s section of a festival as a box office death sentence (this provoked much tutting from other panelists).

Rasmus Horskjaer, film commissioner for children and youth at the Danish Film Institute, pointed out that most kids prefer adult films anyway. No one would call James Bond children’s entertainment, but that is what most six-year-olds actually like the best. Rasmus, meanwhile, said he watched Mad Max when he was eight. He also argued that Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange was, in fact, the perfect film for teenagers – not only because teenagers are the best at appreciating the combination of violence and comedy, but, more importantly, “because Kubrick does not patronize the main character.” This was, it seems, Rasmus’s defining characteristic of a young person’s film.

This all points in only one direction: maybe it’d be better not to have a children’s section at all. But that’s not right either. In fact, so the experts said, the point of Generation is to feed and guide children’s cinematic imaginations.

Or you can use the Generation section as one of my friends does: as a gratuitous violence- and bollocks-filter. One thing you can be pretty sure of with the Generation section: rape scenes will be kept to a minimum and there will be a lower tolerance of long, existentially-significant images of a Finnish man standing in a puddle.