Reel 2 Real brings challenging fare for wised-up kids

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      Last Sunday (March 31), the Québécois film Une Colonie/A Colony walked off with the Canadian Screen Award for the year’s best motion picture. On Monday (April 8), it receives its second-ever Vancouver screening at, of all places, the Reel 2 Real International Film Festival for Youth.

      “It’s a film you could see at VIFF or playing at a mainstream theatre if Canadian film was better supported,” Tammy Bannister, the R2R director of programming, tells the Georgia Straight. “But it’s told from the perspective of a young person. And that’s one of our key guiding principles.”

      A bittersweet tale of the relationship between a 12-year-old white girl and an Indigenous outcast in semirural Quebec, Une Colonie is precisely what Bannister means when she talks about films “not always intended for young people but suitable for young people to see”. That notion surfaces across the nine features and multiple shorts programs coming to the festival, where the more contemplative, naturalistic beats of China’s A First Farewell sit in contrast to titles obviously designed for juvenile viewers, like the animated Andean fable Pachamama: The Sacred Treasure.

      Having hunted for content from the Berlinale to the mammoth Cinekid Festival in Amsterdam, Bannister points out that R2R is one of the last outfits still thinking about the children on this more market-driven side of the Atlantic.

      “We’re so paternal here with our culture, and the kids in Europe, the things they’re watching are just miles beyond what we are,” she reports. “It’s definitely a sustainable industry in Europe, whereas in North America it’s not supported. Even TIFF Kids has folded. That leaves the New York International Children’s Film Festival, Reel 2 Real, the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival—I guess those are the biggest three left in North America, and I don’t think we’re at the level of Chicago and New York.”

      If our screens, big and small, are otherwise dominated by the mainstream product churned out by the corporate conditioning complex, R2R might have the fix. Beyond its famous opening-day pancake breakfast, the festival includes a busy program of discussions, Q & As, panels, and workshops further committed to raising the media-literacy and critical-thinking skills of kids at both the elementary- and high-school level. Which, in turn, reflects the broader mandate, practised for the festival’s 21 years, of simply respecting the intelligence of its audience members in ways that never occurred to the bean counters at Disney.

      “Their bullshit detectors are just so good,” Bannister says, “But as a young person, you might just not have the language to say what you think, and so you can’t communicate with the adult world in that way. What we offer is the ability to learn that language and have a seat at the table.”

      Bannister adds that the festival “can complement the school system in this way, where they don’t have the resources”.

      No less important, and to the relief of many, R2R is doing a pretty good job of complementing the parenting system, too!

      A Colony recently won the Canadian Screen Award as the Best Feature Film in Canada.

      The Reel 2 Real International Film Festival for Youth takes place at the Roundhouse Community Centre and the Vancity Theatre from April 7 to 13.