In this digital age young people have free access to media content wherever and whenever. The days of waiting with bated breath for a cinema release or renting a video as a weekend treat are long gone with most children now having their own Netflix profiles on their parents’ accounts and a tablet or phone to watch it on. Getting children to be interested in film is increasingly difficult as visual media is treated as something to pass the time between school, dinner and bed, and not the art form that it is. How do we get kids interested in film? How do we get children to look beyond the screen? How can you inspire your daughter, son, niece, nephew, grandchild or neighbour to be the next Ava DuVernay (without buying the Barbie)?
The key is to get them watching, but certain kinds of films are going to get them more tuned into the filmmaking process than others.
Films about films
The quickest way to make children aware that what they are watching is in fact a film and not an illusion is to show them films about films. J.J. Abrams released Super 8 in 2011 as a toned-down kids’ version of his work on Matt Reeves’ 2008 triumph Cloverfield. Suffice to say you don’t have to watch a woman pulled off of a spike in this version. Just as Cloverfield forced a consciousness in the viewer of the filmmaking process, so too does Super 8, though where the first opts for handheld found footage, the latter’s success is in its depiction of a group of kids making a film. The nerdy film geek stereotype is made irresistibly cool as the city is taken over by an alien and the kids are at the front line, camera in hand.
If you want your kids to know more about film history, give them a copy of Hugo. Presented as a film about two children and an automaton, the film is more an exploration of the beginnings of cinema than mechanics, as Scorsese crafts a love letter to Georges Méliès. Though the 2011 feature had a mixed reception, the enchanting depiction of A Trip to the Moon ensures that Hugo will always strike a chord with film lovers and inspire a new generation of cinephiles.
Films that can be recreated
I’m talking stop motion. 27 years ago Aardman animation’s characters Wallace and Gromit sent kids into a playdough frenzy as they used their cameras to create moving stories. Though Shaun the Sheep Movie was a huge success when it was released in 2015, and the TV series has become as cult as Clangers or Camberwick Green, stop motion animation has come leaps and bounds since plasticine was the main medium.
LAIKA studios lead the way with their stunning Oscar-nominated features Coraline, ParaNorman and the soon to be released Kubo and the Two Strings. LAIKA are always at the frontier of practical animation, with ParaNorman being the first film to utilise 3D colour printing to create the vast array of face parts needed for its characters. This is stop motion that doesn’t try to look like our reality, but uses sculptural media to craft beautiful and impressive dream worlds.
LAIKA’s films inspire children to let their imaginations come to life, but the stop motion method means that those impossible reveries can become reality. The beauty of stop motion is that you don’t need high-end kit to make it look good, even a compact camera and some blu-tack can make a great film with the right person behind the camera. Give them a camera and let them create.
Films that are simply stunning
Nothing is more powerful to the curious mind than something simply beautiful. Well-crafted sequences and stunning art are sure to trigger a child’s interest in cinema, providing more than an intriguing plot or a pretty protagonist. Film should be a social experience whether in a cinema or at home, so what you put on has to appeal to both of you.
Animation is at the forefront of kids’ cinema, but anyone who has had to listen to Let It Go while pushing their trolley round the supermarket knows how exhausting the density and reach of Disney films can be. Look out for the smaller animations making the headlines, such as The Little Prince, which can now be watched on Netflix. While still major players in the industry, Pixar and Studio Ghibli are animation studios that carefully craft their scripts and style to create films that elevate children’s cinema beyond simply making blockbusters. Toy Story is one of the most successful franchises in the world, despite only having released 3 features in two decades, but as the scene below demonstrates, the careful storyboarding and attention to detail is what gave these films commercial success.
If animation isn’t really your beat look for stunningly crafted live action family films, such as Beasts of the Southern Wild or Wadjda. Common Sense Media is a great site to give you an idea of content and appropriate age through both adults and kids’ reviews before you buy.
Films that make you explore further
Decades ago these films may have been the Star Wars family, and may be again with the new series of movies, but for young people today Harry Potter is the franchise of their generation. Over 10 years of filmmaking the Harry Potter series has served to illustrate the advances the industry has made in terms of special effects, prop design, set design and costuming. Through watching these films young people become aware of the work put in behind the magic, the people casting the spells to create the illusion.
Adapting from books which involve animated newspapers, levitating objects, an enchanted ceiling and moving staircases required an innovative and experimental approach to filmmaking. With each successive book the tricks became more difficult and more daring, pushing the crew further and further.
This entire process has been documented in ‘Page to Screen’, a book for Potterheads and film lovers alike. Through this visual and written material, young people can foster a true appreciation for the process of filmmaking through one of the most successful and well-known franchises in the world. If the trials and tribulations of making the movies doesn’t spark their interest, rest assured that the Harry Potter franchise, with its smorgasbord of British acting talent, will have young people sitting in front of The Elephant Man, Schindler’s List and Educating Rita in years to come, while the directing talent will lead them to the work of Chris Columbus, David Yates and Alfonso Cuarón. Or you could look up the voice actors from their favourite animation to open them up to a whole new world of cinema.
So they like watching films and want to know more. Now what? Cinema is a social art so find opportunities for them to see movies in the cinema, interact with their peers or get involved in a project. The Barbican’s Framed Film Club are special screenings specifically for young people, while Into Film is an organisation that aims to give kids free access to films in schools and activity clubs. Look out for children’s strands in film festivals that often host post-screening Q&As, such as the panel with the cast and crew of Bill at last year’s Cambridge Film Festival. As they get older many cinemas and exhibitors provide cheap tickets, such as the BFI’s £3 tickets for 16-25 year olds and the Barbican’s £5 tickets for 14-25 year olds. These organisations also host brilliant educational opportunities for young people, so it is well worth signing up to their mailing list. The Youth Cinema Foundation hosts courses for people aged 13-24, while the Young Film Academy covers ages 8-17, which could provide great practical experience.
Once they hit 18 years old enrol them in courses at Raindance to hone in on their filmmaking skills and passion. You never know, they might even end up doing an HND in Moving Image or MA/MSc in Film with us at Raindance. Who knows? Doing either of these courses could turn your child into a professional filmmaker.