Substance on screen: A different youth oriented film festival

Reel 2 Real International Film Festival for Youth is celebrating its 20th anniversary by holding its first ever free outdoor screening at sunset (July 13). The film they have chosen for this event is the animated feature, Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet co-produced with Bardel Entertainment.

Written and directed by Roger Allers (The Lion King), the film intersperses Gibran’s poetry within animated sequences by award winning filmmakers such as Tomm Moore (The Secret of Kells) and Nina Paley (Sita Sings the Blues); and with music by Damien Rice, Glen Hansard and Yo-Yo Ma.

Set in a Mediterranean seaside village, Kamila (Salma Hayek) is a house cleaner for exiled artist and poet Mustafa (Liam Neeson). She also has to take care of her daughter, Almitra (Quvenzhané Wallis), who’s free spirit makes it hard to stay out of trouble. The three set out on a journey for Mustafa’s home all while evading the authorities who fear that the truth in his words will incite rebellion.

Ambitious beginnings

A still from the animated film The Prophet. |

Reel 2 Real is proud to have been part of the Vancouver Film Festival community for the last 20 years and this outdoor screening is very much keeping with the spirit that inspired founder Venay Felton to come Vancouver and establish this organization.

“I worked in New York City, in a place called Media Center for Children. We went around to schools with heavy 16mm films and we would screen these films to children and get their feedback,” says Felton. “We would then write film reviews for a magazine that was distributed to librarians, who purchased films, based on their feedback. I thought there must be a better way to expose children to films from all over the world.”

In 1993, she went to the Chicago Children’s film festival where she met the director of the event and the director of the Halifax Film Festival. With them as her advisory board, Reel 2 Real was born.

“Vancouver seemed like the best place to start a children’s film festival because there was not one at the time. There were efforts made in the past, but none had succeeded,” says Felton.

With a twenty year tenure in the city there is much to celebrate but still plenty to accomplish. Felton and her team work hard every year to meet these challenges.

“We are very successful at getting school groups to attend the festival. It is harder to draw the public. In part because of so much to do in Vancouver,” Felton says.

She goes on to talk about parents not being sure about films with subtitles, but the Reel 2 Real team has come up with a great solution.

“We used to turn the sound of the film down and read the subtitles out loud. The adults did not like that but the children did not mind it,” says Felton. “Now we can give children headsets in which someone is reading the subtitles and just the children can hear it. It is like having a storyteller read the film to you.”

Not just passive viewing

At 5 p.m., preceding the screening of the film, there will be free animation workshops and also NFB VR productions (Tidal Traces, Cardboard Crash, Blind Vaysha) for the families to come see. This is in keeping with the philosophy of Reel 2 Real, who sees their screenings as not just passive entertainment.

“Reel 2 Real is about going from film reel to real life. That means with every screening we have a workshop or a discussion,” says Felton.

The team wants to make sure that good alternative films make it to their intended audience of young people and their families.

“There is a lot of criticism of some of the mainstream films being violent or not appropriate for children. We find films that are box office hits in their own country, and no [one] is aware of these great films. Our real dream is also to see more of these films produced in Canada,” says Felton.

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