“A Story From Space” Reaches for the Stars

The history of American space exploration is filled with drama. This charming short squashes the complexities of the first journey to the moon into a bite-sized tale, exactly the kind a parent would tell a child at bedtime, as the astronaut dad in this film tells his daughter back on earth. It captures much of the drama of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, with none of the tragedy.

"A Story From Space" still image
An astronaut dad tells his earth-bound daughter a tale, in A Story From Space

Directors Joseph Childs and Iro Tsavala change animation styles during the film, switching from more detailed present-day setting to a simpler style of illustration for a storybook flashback, which adds a fairytale quality to this adventure about early space exploration. They also utilize real audio samples from NASA space missions for some technological verisimilitude.

"A Story From Space" directors
Directors Joseph Childs & Iro Tsavala

The style leverages deceptive simplicity of illustration as shorthand for deeper emotional and psychological concepts — exactly what great animation is for. By doing so they prove you don’t need a huge effects budget to generate feelings like awe and wonder.

The work is a moving celebration of the power of science to take us where where our imagination dares us to go. And the film’s post-credits ending is perfect.

Be sure to see this lovely film, which is quite appropriate for our venue, the Chabot Space & Science Center, shown as part of the BAICFF 2020 program Shorts All Ages: Program 1.

History Rains Cats and Dogs in “The Dog’s Story Part II”

Some of the most exciting works in our festival are those made by kids. Their inventiveness and passion demonstrates that they aren’t waiting until they’re older to be called “filmmakers.”

"Dog's Story Part II" still image
Khan Catirius, feline villain of The Dog’s Story Part II, caught in a sandstorm.

The quality of these works is epitomized by Arkhip Varfolomeev, a young animator whose work has been featured in our festival before, as his short film The Dog’s Story was part of our 2019 program. This year’s entry, The Dog’s Story Part II,  is a direct sequel to the latter, but don’t worry if you missed the previous chapter, as Varfolomeev starts this film off with a handy summary of the last one.

Arkhip Varfolomeev
Director Arkhip Varfolomeev

The tale, told with humor and energy, concerns an ongoing battle between dogs and cats, and is clearly inspired by the real historical conquests of past warlords. Varfolomeev has clearly researched his character’s costumes, as he references elements like Renaissance clothing and samurai armor.

Varfolomeev is a gifted animator and illustrator, and he has both unique vision and style.  His character designs are creative, engaging, and funny, and his black-and-white line drawings evoke the work of independent comic book artists. He also provides many of the character voices and foley, which gives the work a fresh, idiosyncratic flavor.

Varfolomeev is a truly talent to watch, and we have no doubt he’ll continue to evolve to become a major force in international animation.

Don’t miss this film in BAICFF 2020, as part of our program Shorts By Kids: All Ages!

This Speedy Chimp Hits “400 MPH”

400 MPH is one of those movies made for the pure joy of filmmaking. The directorial team of Paul-Eugène Dannaud, Julia Chaix, Lorraine Desserre, Alice Lefort, Natacha Pianeti, and Quentin Tireloque have created a fun, riveting short with a photorealistic style.

"400 MPH" still image
The simian protagonist of 400 MPH

Its chimpanzee hero not only wants to go fast, but seeks to drive ever faster to break each successive speed record and shatter the magic barrier of 400 miles per hour. It’s the history of the human conquest of the land speed record in miniature, as if it perhaps occurred on the Planet of the Apes; the film’s vehicles are even inspired by actual designs used in real historic speed record attempts.

"400 MPH" directors
It takes a village to make a monkey go fast!

The film’s audio is just as important as its images, and the roar of powerful engines helps build an atmosphere of white-knuckle intensity. An excellent synth score caps the film’s emotional climax.

These are the kind of filmmakers who clearly aim to create features in the future, so keep an eye on these talented folk, as you’re sure to hear their names again.

Be sure to see 400 MPH in the Shorts for 7+: Program 1 at BAICFF 2020, and bring your crash helmet!

“Last Day of Autumn”: Like an Animated Children’s Book

Swiss director Marjolaine Perreten has showed her work at BAICFF before, as in our 2018 festival we screened her animated short A Festive Wind (2017). Perreten even runs her own film event, as in 2017, she founded the Animation Film Festival of Savigny, the first animation festival in the canton of Vaud, Switzerland.

She excels at wordless storytelling built upon the kind of lovely, graphically-crisp visuals you’d find in a children’s illustrated storybook. This instant, universal appeal has charmed audiences around the world, and her work was even recently shown before some theatrical screenings of Studio Ghibli films, such as the Hayao Miyazaki fantasy classic Kiki’s Delivery Service.

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From Last Day of Autumn

Her newest work uses color as a separate character, as the earth-tones of fall give way to onrushing colorless winter. Indeed, the animals race against winter itself, in their yearly bicycle race that is part of their very “cycle” of life.

The film is charming, funny, and sweet, but also made with great care and artistry.

Be sure to see this beautiful work at BAICFF 2020, as part of Shorts All Ages: Program 2.

“Don’t Mix Us Up!” Channels “Sesame Street”

Tone Thyne’s series of five animated shorts fit into a classic tradition of children’s animated educational films, as best exemplified by the numerous interstitial works shown on the long-running and well-loved public television show Sesame Street.

These shorts are funny, delightfully silly, and driven by catchy music. The goal of the films is to verse children in the idea of taxonomy — how to categorize objects into different groups.

"Don't Mix Us Up" still image
From Don’t Mix Us Up!: Cabbage and Lettuce

The cartoons propel us on a rapid journey through time and space, as we jump to diverse spots such as the Roman Coliseum, undersea coral reefs, Niagara Falls, a roller coaster, and the Great Pyramids. We’re always guided by two different singing objects, including Whipped Cream and Shaving Cream, Sugar and Salt, and Mustache and Eyebrow.

Director Tone Thyne has an unusual claim to fame, which is that the face of Woody from Toy Story was based on his features. His long history in the animation business has made him a excellent creator of whimsical characters, and in each episode of cartoon he brings to life numerous inanimate objects that grin along with the song as if they were in on the joke.

Check out these entertaining works in Shorts All Ages: Program 1 and Shorts All Ages: Program 2 at BAICFF 2020!

Kuku Studios Presents “Go! Go! Cory Carson”

In addition to our many screenings, the Bay Area International Children’s Film Festival hosts several special guests. Expect surprises galore — cartoon-lovers rejoice!

Berkeley’s Kuku Studios was opened by several talented Pixar creators with a passion for children’s animation. On Saturday, Feb. 22, the company’s three founders, Alex Woo, Stanley Moore, and Tim Hahn, will all be on hand to discuss the development of their brand-new Netflix cartoon, Go! Go! Cory Carson.

Alex Woo Stanley Moore Tim Hahn
Alex Woo Stanley Moore Tim Hahn

Their Pixar credits include such beloved hits as Ratatouille,Wall•e, The Good Dinosaur, Finding Dory, and Monsters University.  Furthermore, the panel will be moderated by young actor AC Lim, who gives voice to talking car Cory Carson.

Go! Go! Cory Carson Trailer

Just as for our past “How Do They Do That?” panels, this event is perfect for anybody interested in the step-by-step process of digital 3D animation, as it includes an in-depth discussion of how these filmmakers develop a shot from storyboard through to the dynamic final version.

And not to be missed are the special sneak preview premieres of the brand-new, never-before-seen television program, Go! Go! Cory Carson.

“Child of Nature” is a Humanist Triumph

Child of Nature, is Brazilian director Marcos Negrão’s stunning documentary about how children around the world strive to rise above their tough circumstances, which include exposure to war, poverty, hunger, and abuse. But the film’s main subjects, five children across five continents, are not victims, but are rather the heroes and authors of their own unique stories. Each is charting a pathway to a better life, and along the way reaching out to help other children in need.

Child of Nature Trailer

This inspirational film demonstrates how youthful idealism infused with empathy is powerful force for demonstrable, real change. The depiction of these children’s desire to help their fellow human beings results in a film both heartwarming and heartbreaking, and it will make you question your own place in a changing, often difficult world.

Director Marcos Negrão
Director Marcos Negrão

Director Marcos Negrão will be in attendance to tell you his stories of the challenges of shooting a truly epic production, which took him to all corners of the earth in search of his young, dynamic subjects. The film is required viewing for those determined to find 21st century solutions to seemingly intractable global social problems — especially as our children will inherit the complex issues bequeathed to them by previous generations. This remarkable work has its Bay Area premiere only at BAICFF 2020!

Shown With: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The students at Ms. Holbert’s 5th-grade class at Vallejo Charter School in California share the articles of the Declaration on Human Rights. It’s a civics lesson in miniature, and a reminder that commitment to these principles is essential when seeking to create a better world for everybody.

 

Film Spotlight: “Hair Love”

Featured in the BAICFF 2020 Shorts All Ages: Program 1 is the remarkable film Hair Love. Directors Matthew A. Cherry, Bruce W. Smith, and Everett Downing, Jr. have created a gorgeous, touching story about the lengths to which a father will go to style his daughter’s hair. Top-notch animation and heart-melting storytelling bring the tale vividly to life.

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Hair Love

Our protagonists are loving father Stephen and his determined daughter Zuri. In the past, we learn, Zuri’s mother was the one who tamed her fierce mane, and now Zuri wants to accomplish just such a look — but her mother is unavailable. Zuri lacks the practice to do it on her own, so Stephen steps up to give it a try. Yet Zuri’s hair proves to be a formidable opponent, and Stephen finds that he’s gotten into more than he bargained for.

The film was funded by a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, and the filmmakers have seriously delivered on their promise to create excellent family-friendly entertainment of the highest caliber. In an unusual turn of events for a short film — because it’s just that good! — Hair Love had a proper theatrical release, and screened in theaters before Angry Birds 2.

The film was produced by Sony Pictures Animation, and the production credits include such luminaries as Peter Ramsey (Oscar winner for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), actor-director Jordan Peele (Get Out), and actor Gabourey Sidibe (Precious).

Hair Love is now the winner of Best Animated Short at the 2020 Academy Awards! It demands to be seen on a big screen in the company of an audience — don’t miss this one!

Short Films Explore “The Power of Friendship”

The theme of the 2020 BAICFF, The Power of Kids, is demonstrated by our program’s films in various ways. Taking action to save the environment is one method (like in Microplastic Madness), but other excellent examples of kids showing their inner strength are found in the ways they help each other out in tough situations. Our special shorts program, The Power of Friendship: Kids Stand Up To Bullying, demonstrates that even in the darkest moments, reaching out to others in need of support is an act of kindness within the power of every child.

In The Time Tree, a deaf girl from Renaissance England who is bullied by her family’s servants for being different, travels through time to the present, where she meets two modern girls who help her realize the potential of her intelligence.

The Time Tree Trailer

Happy Birthday shows the story of how an uninvited party guest is treated badly by the other attending children, forcing the birthday girl to make a decision about how she treats people.

"Happy Birthday" still image
Happy Birthday

Furtherance features the tale of a bullied autistic boy who loves superhero comics, and takes inspiration from them order to solve his schoolyard troubles.

And in Gabrielle, a young ballet dance who is given a hard time by a demanding teacher finds an unexpected friend.

Be sure to check out this inspiring program at BAICFF 2020!

Chinese Characters Live in “More Than Just a Square”

One of our BAICFF 2020 shorts programs, The Power of Knowledge, is a celebration of learning. It includes the film More Than Just a Square, which explains some of the pictographic roots of Chinese hanzi, or written characters, and demonstrates how they evolved from specific drawings into the more stylized forms used today. The work reminds us that by understanding the origins and development of these characters, it also serves as a way to memorize their meanings.

More Than Just a Square Trailer

Appropriately, filmmaker Chingyu Yang utilizes animated calligraphy to tell the story, and a person-shaped written character, Hannah, is the viewer’s animated guide.

Chinese calligraphy is not only a writing system, but at its most carefully rendered is also considered an art form, as producing beautiful characters using a traditional writing brush with ink takes both skill and many years of training. Brush painting is central both to Chinese calligraphy and watercolor art. It is little wonder, then, that Chinese animators incorporated these painting techniques into children’s films, making the very first brush-painted animated film in 1960, Little Tadpoles Looking for Their Mother.

Little Tadpoles Looking for Their Mother

The result is a gorgeously-realized film with an aesthetic that is uniquely Chinese. You don’t need to understand the language to appreciate the tale, which follows the well-worn path of many a children’s storybook, as newly-hatched tadpoles embark on a quest to find their mother. Along the way they encounter a variety of underwater creatures whom they wrongly and enthusiastically assume to be their parent, until they finally locate Mama Frog at the end.

With its own animated brush strokes, More Than Just a Square builds on a technique central to the history of Chinese animation, which brings its language and art to life.