Diverse Films Abound in Next Gen

The Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) 2013 is just around the corner, so we caught up with Thomas Caldwell, MIFF Shorts & Next Gen Coordinator, for a bit more insight into this year’s Next Gen program.

When describing what the 2013 MIFF Next Gen program is, I often find myself saying what it isn’t: a collection of ‘family’ or ‘children’s’ films designed specifically for a youth market.

Instead Next Gen is a collection of high quality, diverse and engaging films that people of all ages can appreciate. Many of the films contain issues that young people can relate to, cover issues that are relevant to school curriculum or are in languages that are commonly taught in Victorian schools.

US Documentary, 'Valentine Road'

US Documentary, ‘Valentine Road’

As the majority of the festival is an 18+ event, we ensure that all the Next Gen films get a special exemption from Australian Classification so that anybody over 15, and anybody under 15 accompanied by an adult, can attend those sessions.

The main thing is that they’re great films that the MIFF programmers feel people under 18 would enjoy, and find thought provoking. The film Foxfire touches on teen rebellion, while German film Patty’s Catchup is about pursuing your dreams. There are many parallels to Australian society in the Irish film What Richard Did where a lesson about personal responsibility comes with a heavy price. And the animated memoir Approved for Adoption provides a fascinating and personal story of cultural difference and identity.

Violence is a theme in several Next Gen films explored in variety of ways, but always with integrity. I was extremely moved by the US documentary Valentine Road, which examines the link between violence and intolerance in the aftermath of a hate crime.

The film is about the 2008 murder of 15-year-old Lawrence ‘Larry’ King by one of his classmates, as a response to King’s sexuality and gender identification. By allowing the teachers, friends and legal experts involved in the subsequent trial to speak for themselves without overt judgment, the film delivers an insight into how young people are affected by the environments they grow up in, especially ones that cultivate and even excuse violent crime, as a response to somebody deemed different.

The film’s director, Marta Cunningham, says she remembers seeing the story in the media and feeling that there needed to be another voice that we hear. It was important for her that the audience go through the same journey she had.

Cunningham candidly discusses her documentary in this Sundance Film Festival interview:

Sightly more fun, but nevertheless critical of violence, is I Declare War where the war games of a group of children is visualised as happening for real. Think Lord of the Flies with a touch of Where the Wild Things Are.

Also a lot of fun is the South Korean supernatural romantic comedy/drama A Werewolf Boy, which is thankfully far closer in spirit to Edward Scissorhands than it is to the Twilight films.

Premiering at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, it’s an intriguing 180-degree turn from director Jo Sung-hee’s previous film End of Animal in terms of style, tone and pace. While End of Animal was sparse and obtuse, A Werewolf Boy has a much broader appeal with its blend of melodrama, whimsy, teen romance and light horror.

The supernatural comedy/drama 'A Werewolf Boy'

The supernatural comedy/drama ‘A Werewolf Boy’

One of my favourite films in Next Gen this year would be The Day of the Crows, a French animation that I suspect was strongly influenced by the Studio Ghibli films. It’s a perfect example of a film suitable for all ages.

The film is beautifully animated and full of humour and wonder, but also contains some very serious themes about persecution and parental neglect. I was surprised by how much this film moved me and I suspect most others will also fall for its charms.

So whether you fall under the banner of being a ‘young person’ or not, there is a lot to discover in this year’s MIFF Next Gen program.

– Thomas Caldwell, MIFF Shorts & Next Gen Coordinator

Melbourne International Film Festival runs from Thursday 25 July – Sunday 11 August 2013. School Bookings are open now, and general tickets are on sale from Friday 5 July.

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