Little Big Shots Takes Flight

Travelling the world, late-night phone calls and an enormous amount of determination is all part of life for Ben Laden as festival director for Little Big Shots International Film Festival for Kids. 

We catch up with Ben to find out more about the 2013 program and to find out just how he managed to bring the Oscar-winning film ‘The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore’ to Melbourne for this year’s festival.

Ben Laden at 'Little Big Shots'

Festival Director Ben at the Chicago International Children’s Festival 2012

Each year, after Little Big Shots International Film Festival for Kids takes place at ACMI, I head overseas to some of the biggest children’s film festivals in the world. Two of those festivals include Cinekids in Amsterdam and the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival.

At these events I meet with many filmmakers, other festival organisers from around the world and, most importantly, I knuckle down and watch hundreds of new short films for kids. Watching all these films can be a challenge, but it’s amazing to see so many extraordinary international films in one place.

The moment I saw The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore, I fell head over heels in love. Directed by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenberg, the film tells the story of a man who encounters a mysterious library where books literally come to life. Not only is it beautifully animated, but the main character is based on Buster Keaton, my all time favourite filmmaker and performer. Buster Keaton is best known for The General, a 1926 American silent comedy inspired by the Great Locomotive Chase. (Kids, if you haven’t seen this film, I highly recommend it)

Scene from 'The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore'

Scene from ‘The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore’

After returning from Chicago, I couldn’t get The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore out of my head and I knew I had to get it into Little Big Shots 2013. My first step was to contact Moonbot Studios, the animation studio who made the film. My communication with them seemed to go well initially. But then: BAM! The film won the 2012 Academy Award for Best Animated Short. The contact I had went silent.

You see, once you win the Oscar everybody wants to know you and securing the rights to screen the film proved very challenging. For six months I worked tirelessly trying to re-establish the negotiations through a number of different channels.

Scene from 'The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore'

Scene from ‘The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore’

Finally I went back to our friends at the Chicago International Children’s film Festival in a last desperate attempt to get the film to Little Big Shots 2013. They agreed to see if they could and within a week, after a couple of phone calls, I was talking with the head of Moonbot Studios. I explained how much Aussie kids would love the film, and she agreed to let us screen the masterpiece at the festival this year.

A great deal of work goes on behind the scenes in the lead up to Little Big Shots, but seeing the look on all the kids’ faces at the screenings each year makes all the effort totally worth it. Year after year our festival continues to build. My dream is to eventually become as big as the kids’ film festivals in Chicago or Amsterdam.

For now, we have an incredible 84 short films made for kids from all over the world. 30 of them are made by kids, perhaps the Oscar-winners of tomorrow?

– Ben Laden, Festival Director of Little Big Shots

Little Big Shots is an international film festival for kids, running Friday 7 June – Monday 10 June 2013. See The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore in the Tikes to Ten and Forever Young packages of this year’s festival.

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