Image courtesy of LYFF and Isabella Salvetti

For the past two years, my daughter and I have attended the Leed Young Film Festival (LYFF) which runs activities and events over the Easter weekend. We’ve met Aardman animations and the people who produce Nella the Princess Knight. We’ve created clay creatures, designed costumes, and made our own animations in a variety of mediums.

We were both looking forward to more fun this year and then every event was cancelled. My daughter was quite distraught as it is the highlight of the Easter holidays for her. Then, we got an email through saying that LYFF was looking for Jury Members for the Golden Wings Young Jury Competition.

Each child that became a jury member was given Vimeo access to a selection of short films and short animations – seven videos in each category. They had to watch them and then vote for their favourite.

My daughter needed a computer to watch them, which meant I had to put aside my work and watch them with her. I was amazed not only by the wealth of talent on offer but also the often serious issues that were covered in short films that ran anywhere from 2 minutes to 10 minutes.

In two blog posts, I’ll be giving you a little bit of detail about each of the entries. Fans of our podcast will particularly like the film A Very Bad Day and the message it puts across.

All film stills courtesy of LYFF and the directors listed.

Live Action Short Films

Scout, directed by Kelvin Murray

As a member of Girlguiding for almost two decades, I had to say this short film about three Scouts working hard to get their badges was very appealing. Unfortunately, compared with the other entries in this category, this felt more of a mini-documentary than a film with a beginning, middle, and end and identifiable characters. But it was still great to see the looks on the kids’ faces when they got their badges; that never gets old.

Luce & Me, directed by Isabella Salvetti (winner)

Image courtesy of LYFF and Isabella Salvetti

I felt this film was a deserving winner because it was a beautiful, uplifting story told with clever direction that made you question what you’d assumed only moments ago.

We start with a boy and his father in the car, the father fixated on the football match on the radio. He becomes irritated when his son needs to pee. Only when the kid gets out do we realise that he’s dressed as Luce – a female superhero. His father takes him into a nearby cafe to use the loos and then gets distracted by the football game again.

When “Luce” is mocked by another boy in the cafe, he gives the other kid the finger, a bold gesture that undermined any impression you might have formed that his girly outfit makes him “soft.”

When we arrive at our destination, we find out why the boy is dressed as a superhero: because he made a promise. When he fails to deliver on that promise in full, his anger turns on himself at needing to stop for the bathroom. The father, who’s still desperate to see his match, appears to lose his rag and drags the boy into a room with a TV showing the game.

But here’s the final, beautiful twist: the room also happens to be the hospital intercom room. The father switches off the TV and uses his phone to help his son fulfill the remainder of his promise.

Luce and Me is full of drama, tension, and the audience’s assumptions are constantly challenged. The message that’s put across is not just that you can wear what you want and be who you want, but also that promises matter – and sometimes fulfilling them means being mocked or missing out on your favourite game, but that’s a price worth paying. I had tears in my eyes at the end.

The Little Princess, directed by Jason Maza

Image courtesy of LYFF and Jason Maza

This film was well done but it had two main flaws. Firstly, I had to actually explain to my daughter what was going on. I don’t think she leads a particularly sheltered life – we explain politics and world issues to her when they come up – but she didn’t understand that a man sitting on a deserted railway station writing a note to leave under a rock was a man who was contemplating committing suicide by throwing himself under a train.

Since this is a young children’s film competition, I felt that the fact children wouldn’t naturally draw the necessary inferences to appreciate the film was a hindrance to their enjoyment of it.

Secondly, I found the fact that the little girl spoke French with no subtitles provided meant that it was difficult for the audience to relate to her because we didn’t know what she was saying. I understood and appreciated the fact that it was based on the famous novella by Antoine de Saint-Expéry, but that’s not a book I’ve read with my daughter yet and so those specific nuances were lost on her.

So although I don’t have a problem with suicide being a subject tackled by a children’s film, I did feel that The Little Princess didn’t make the issues or the resolution particularly accessible to younger kids.

The Mall, directed by Jerry Hoffmann

Image courtesy of LYFF and Jerry Hoffmann

While I considered Luce and Me a worthy winner, I felt this film was equally deserving of the top spot. It tackled the same issue as Luce and Me – namely the relationship between father and son which, as we will see, was a very popular theme with the contenders this year.

Every parent can relate to the father in this film who has three sons with him in the supermarket, two of whom are badly misbehaving. There’s the youngest who’s a little brat, into everything and tearing the place up. There’s the oldest who is clearly supposed to be the responsible one but is just egging his littlest brother on. Then there’s the middle child, relegated to pushing the shopping trolley, ignored by the whole family – ignored enough that he’s tempted to steal something from the supermarket.

When the alarm goes off, all four of them are taken up to the security guard’s office where we discover what this little boy has taken is a mermaid toy that is clearly designed for girls. The implication is clear: he stole it because he could never ask his father for such a toy. The older brother laughs; the youngest is bored; the father is troubled.

Once everyone is back in the car, you can see that the father is affected really deeply. He drives off. Then he reverses and gets out. Every kid in the car watches, astonished, as he walks back inside. Moments later he’s back in the car. From the way the kids hurriedly strap themselves back into their seats when they see him coming, you can tell he’s a hard disciplinarian, which makes what happens next even more touching.

He reaches into the back seat and hands over the mermaid toy that he’s bought.

What made this film so very powerful for me is that there was not a single word of dialogue spoken – and it didn’t matter. The characters were clearly defined, the message came across clearly, and the whole film packed a powerful punch.

A Very Bad Day, directed by Sian Carry

Image courtesy of Sian Carry

After all the seriousness we’d just encountered, this short piece stood out as a breath of fresh air because while it dealt with a serious issue, it did so in a light-hearted almost slapstick way. Most importantly, the main character (played by the incredibly expressive Nadhiá Porcelli) in this film was female – although, notably, not a girl but a woman. While I loved all the films in this category, I did feel they were very heavily orientated towards men/boys and the father-son relationship. I’ve no idea where the fault lies for this – whether it was the selection process whittling out the female entries or whether they just didn’t receive many entries which addressed issues centred around girls and women.

Again, there is no dialogue in this film but that doesn’t matter: the message still gets across. The main protagonist is a grown woman who appears to be dressed in a princess outfit; she is carrying five balloons on sticks. As the day goes on, minor, bad things keep happening to her and each time one does, she pops one of her balloons. Eventually, she has only one balloon left and it’s started to rain.

Then a woman with no balloons sits down next to her, opens an umbrella, and shields them both. The protagonist is confused and gestures to the woman: “Where are your balloons?” She gets the mimed reply: “All gone.”

The message is clear: even though she has no balloons, this “new friend” (that’s her name in the credits) has still done something nice for a stranger. Our princess protagonist gives her new friend the final balloon she’s holding, and then the world is full of balloons.

I thought A Very Bad Day was in line with a film like Inside Out where a visual representation of emotions is used to communicate to kids how life works and how to deal with certain situations. In this film, the balloons represent our ability to cope, and the message is that it’s okay for lots of little things to upset you. Even a bright, smiling woman dressed as a princess can feel overwhelmed at times, through no fault of her own.

On a subtler level, I thought it was marvelously effective for the woman to be dressed as a princess. Whether it’s toys, books, or clothes, girls are very often associated with princesses and smiles and all things good. I really liked that the filmmaker had decided to challenge this trope and make the point that even princesses can have a bad day, just like anyone else.

Boje, directed by Andreas Cordes & Robert Köhler (runner up)

Image courtesy of LYFF and Andreas Cordes & Robert Köhler

I’m glad that this film made it as a runner-up as I adored it. I wasn’t quick enough to write down what nationality the filmmakers were, but this had a strongly Icelandic feel to it.

Wherever it was filmed, the director made good use of both the landscape and the colour scheme. To begin with, a father and son (there’s that theme again!) are walking along a deserted, somewhat bleak beach. There is no colour in the shot apart from the little boy’s bright yellow coat. They are walking separately and the boy is asking questions the father cannot answer.

Then, the boy asks: “How do you know when you love someone?” Instead of answering him directly, the scene cuts to the father reading a bedtime story about how a man spoke to the sea. The next morning, there’s a message in a bottle for the little boy, answering his question.

The boy is thrilled and asks more questions; they are answered by bottles from the sea. Yep, you’ve guessed it – the father is writing the answers and leaving them out for his son. But now that they’ve got this communication going, their home is filled with the colour: twinkling fairy lights, bright jumpers, and so on.

Then one night, the boy sees his father writing a letter and putting it into a bottle. No words are exchanged but the boy simply goes back to bed.

The next morning, we are back to the same bleak colours and deserted beach – only this time, there’s a bottle for the father. Inside it is a message not written in words but expressing the depth of his son’s love for him nonetheless.

No, I’m not crying, it’s just these onions I’m cutting up…

Rewind, directed by Hugo Chetelat

In the final live action film, a young boy is clearly bored and uncomfortable visiting his grandfather who appears to have suffered a stroke or has some other condition that makes him immobile and unresponsive. But when the little boy tries to lighten the atmosphere by listening to his grandfather’s old personal cassette player (remember those, fellow children of the 80s?), he finds himself transported back into his grandfather’s life and the two of them make a connection.

I think perhaps the best moment in this is when the boy lets his father listen to the same music on the headphones. The father briefly closes his eyes and you think that he, too, has been transported. But then it becomes clear that all he hears is the song that is playing. This magic is reserved just for the boy and his grandfather.

I thought this was a wonderful little piece that took a problem that likely faces many children (how to deal with a grandparent who has suddenly got very sick) and turns it into something sweet by means of a fantasy. It also highlights the connective and healing nature of music and has a lovely final shot to the film.