To Be Real

The richly deserved heaps of accolades festooning Mr. Rogers Neighborhood usually highlights the wonderful work with puppets and make-believe. There’s an aspect of the fred rogers high schoolprogram’s design that is firmly, essentially rooted in reality, children’s realities. The documentary segments produced for them, through the Neighborhood characters such as all the music segments through Joe Negri’s Music Shop, appealed to kids desire to know the real world, about how things are made, and about neighbors. When children were featured as guests, they were never performing, always rooted in their own reality, and respected for it. Though many people don’t make the connection between Mister Roger’s Neighborhood and children’s documentaries, children’s documentary makers share Fred’s perspective, and their best films serve the same purpose. My love of the program is tightly woven with my desire to see more for children on screens that is rooted in that calm and relevant reality

A thousand channels and nothing to watch

I was sitting on the A train in NYC last week. As usual, it’s a wonderful place to closely observe people’s interactions without being noticed. A 10 year old boy was intently scrolling on a phone. His mother sat beside him, watching. I was on the other side of him. It became clear that he was seeking a movie to watch when they arrived home after soccer practice, from the looks of his t-shirt and shoes. “It’s PG” he said, hopefully. “Hmm, I see 16 or older”, she replied. More scrolling…. the Avengers. The Minions. And more scrolling…. No, no, no. He looks up the Common Sense Media site (I repeat – HE looked up the Common Sense Media site!) and explores recommendations for the movies suitable for a 10 year old New York City dwelling, soccer playing, still small enough to want his mother’s approval, adorably cute in a perfectly average way, boy. He seems dejected while scrolling down through the thumbnails – “seen it, no, boring, dumb, I think it’s for girls, no…  Mom, I don’t know”. “You could watch Minions again? Hmmmm?” …..

This exchange plays out over and over again in all sorts of American locales. I know what he was looking for, I think. Companionship. Someone like him, but not too much like him. A surprise. A problem he can solve. In all of his scrolling, not a single live action program, about real kids – funny, sad, thoughtful, surprising, amazing –  appeared. Not one. If only there was a theater for all children, with films made for laughing and crying and thinking and learning and feeling. Lots of them. From everywhere. About all kinds of kids. Relatable kids – not just the extraordinary or extreme; the super cute or super nerdy; the sassy or the smarty.

Welcome to “Kino Bambino”, a Screening Room for Children’s Docs  

old film theater

Today’s Feature:  “I Am A Girl!” by Susan Koenen. She’s one of my professional heroes (heroines?) I’d love to meet her. Her early work is very similar to my own.

I_AM_A_GIRL_4

If you liked “I am a Girl”, you might also find “How Ky Turned Into Niels” another Dutch documentary interesting as well  https://www.npostart.nl/mensjesrechten/26-10-2014/VPWON_1234209.

 

Some of the entire catalogue of IDFA Kids and Docs programs are available for streaming. This is a rich site to browse these Dutch (and co-produced) professionally produced docs for kids.

radio amina 2

 

Radio Amina: a film from Nigeria, made in coproduction with the CBBC.

 

The Children’s Mayor:

thechildren_smayor_06

This film about a Dutch boy of Moroccan heritage https://www.tiff.net/films/the-childrens-mayor/  was featured at the TIFF festival, but good luck trying to stream it. Licensing frequently makes accessing international films impossible. Librarians, archivists, children’s television experts – can you help me?

 

L’Equip Petit. It’s subtitled! And delightful! I am happy to find this, I don’t see much doc coming out of France as a rule.

 

Safiya’s Summer.  safias summerElse von Driel, again from Holland, is another well known maker. This is a film from the series “Mensjes Rechten” (Children’s Rights). Docs like these help kids to empathize with new neighbors.  View the entire film here.  Here’s another beautiful film by Els Von Driel for “Just Kids” too:  “Guillaume’s Wondrous World” .

Sprinkles 4-Ever! When’s the last time you saw poor kids on TV in the US, especially poor kids treated as normal kids deserving of dignity?

 

To Be Real

The richly deserved heaps of accolades festooning Mr. Rogers Neighborhood usually highlights the wonderful work with puppets and make-believe. There’s an aspect of the fred rogers high schoolprogram’s design that is firmly, essentially rooted in reality, children’s realities. The documentary segments produced for them, through the Neighborhood characters such as all the music segments through Joe Negri’s Music Shop, appealed to kids desire to know the real world, about how things are made, and about neighbors. When children were featured as guests, they were never performing, always rooted in their own reality, and respected for it. Though many people don’t make the connection between Mister Roger’s Neighborhood and children’s documentaries, children’s documentary makers share Fred’s perspective, and their best films serve the same purpose. My love of the program is tightly woven with my desire to see more for children on screens that is rooted in that calm and relevant reality.

This “Drunken History” sketch is funny, I’ll even bet Fred would get a kick out of it. Fun fact, the actor playing Fred Rogers is Colin Hanks, Tom Hank’s son (doesn’t he look exactly like both his mom Annette Bening, and dad?). Tom’s the producer of the devotional Mister Rogers film coming out soon. The idea that they were mutually conducting a study of  Rogers behind the scenes is pretty cool, and the wise and wicked interpretation of the history by Solomon Gregoire, brought me delighted cackles, curiosity about how he came by some details I’d never heard before (have you?), and a warm grin.

Free to Be You and Me

marlothomasCan we find a show on the air, on demand, for that matter anywhere, that gives Kids as much encouragement to be themselves and acknowledges their realities as much as “Free To Be You and Me” did?  – cause here we are, 45 Years later, and…. crickets….. !  In the greatly expanded media landscape, I’ll bet there’s still room for a magazine type show, with spots by well known adults, that hits on all subjects of social interest to kids – with sensitivity, wit, song, and whimsy!  Free to Be – or Not To Be

Skinny and Fatty

I rarely watched TV as a child. So maybe it’s the rarity of the occasion that made the experience of watching the CBS Children’s Film Festival skinny and fattyon one particular Sunday afternoon so memorable. “Skinny and Fatty”, a film from Japan about two lonely boys, affected me very deeply, and though only 10, I began wondering about such things as the possibility that children could living lives very different from my own, and that someone made this film to show us something about caring for each other. That this person took us and our realities seriously.  Because this really happened to me, I know that children can and often do appreciate such films. Children just haven’t changed that much, despite their media diets. I don’t know that Skinny and Fatty actually stands up too well on today’s screens, but where can kids today see any such film, so grounded in reality, that would bring them close to children not like them, to bring them into a global community of caring? That’s what The CBS Children’s Film Festival did, especially on this afternoon, in April, in 1969. I remember it like it was yesterday.  Can the “CBS Children’s Film Festival” be revived for the new media landscape?  If so, how? By whom? I don’t think it  will be CBS. Subscription services are sometimes mentioned, and I think there’s room for growth, but people seem pretty tapped out on media costs at present.