Sid the Sloth from this summer's Ice Age 3 made his off-screen debut as a tiny figurine in McDonald's Happy Meals; now he's appearing, for a much chillier price, on seasonal hoodies. And more than three years after he zoomed out of theaters, Lightning McQueen, the star of Pixar's Cars, is still flashing his winning grill on everything from pillowcases to toddler toilet seats.
Parents aren't likely to see the petulant claymation creatures of Crank Balls emblazoned on any must-have merchandise. But that movie, and the 60-something others to be screened at this week's Asheville International Children's Film Festival, are designed to stick around in more meaningful ways.
"These are noncommercial, thought-provoking films," says Tim Arem, the event's creator and artistic director. With festival curator Elizabeth Shepherd of the Northwest Film Forum, Arem will present two days of eight screenings at Asheville Pizza & Brewing Company, including a choice of two features and a thick flurry of spectacularly innovative shorts.
Clocking in anywhere from one to 19 minutes, these are arranged in thematic groups. "Gutsy Guinea Pigs, Sweet Spiders and Sleepy Gorillas" and the all-animated "Gentle Planet" promise the most for preschoolers. Older kids can get their global culture on with collections of shorts showcasing action-heavy international adventures and worldly folktales.
A particular treat – one destined to draw indie-filmophiles as well as the under-12 set – is a group of vintage animated shorts from Poland spanning 1947 to 1968.
"I did some consulting in the local schools, and made that choice based on the large Eastern Bloc community that lives here," says Arem, who splits time between homes in Asheville and L.A. In fact, much of the seven-day festival is devoted to private school screenings.
Even so, debuting a week-long, untested entertainment outlet in such dicey financial times provokes wonder. But the long-time event producer doesn't seem worried. Instead, he enthuses about the "aboveboard support" of the local community. "We have 52 sponsors," he boasts. "That is huge for a first-year event." He points out that kids' film fests have been happening for three decades in New York and Chicago – and at much higher fares. Weekend tickets at the local festival are priced lower than even first-run feature films.
Still, the seasoned businessman has been screening previews for months "to get a buzz going," most recently at the Lake Eden Arts Festival.
"We showed 12 shorts at LEAF, and the room was packed. I think folks were really taken aback at how cool they were, even though it didn't happen to be Billy Jonas on stage," Arem says with a laugh. "Everywhere you heard little giggles, and at times, you could hear a pin drop.
"As a producer, I wasn't watching the films as much as I was observing the crowd, how they were taking it in. At times, the kids' expressions were priceless, and that's the kind of experience I want to bring to this festival."
Arem's also trained his analytical lens on the anti-"screen time" crowd – those Asheville parents who've killed their televisions and would rather die themselves than relinquish their children's souls to the devil Disney.
"I'd be interested to see those parents' reaction to these kind of noncommercial offerings, to experience viewing incredible scenery in Brazil or China, or many kinds of animation, forms they haven't seen. In one film, a dog has a tail that comes to life, becomes his buddy, becomes separated from him, and then ultimately they are reunited. I could hear a lot of kids whispering to their parents about that one."
During the foreign-language shorts, communication veered the opposite way, with parents reading the subtitles to their younger ones.
Even the shortest films, says Arem, "have been selected to promote interaction and dialogue."
Get more info at www.aicff.org.
About the films
• The Red Jacket (China, 2006, 90 min.; with English subtitles)
Director: Yalin Zou
Ages 8 and up
A girl from a rural mountain area of China longs to buy a new red jacket to wear to an upcoming festival. The film's main actors are real villagers from the Miao region. (Shown with the short Vitruvius' Toybox.)
• Gettin' Grown (U.S.A., 2004, 74 min.)
Director: Aaron Greer
Ages 8 and up
A pre-teen boy tries to help his mother by filling a prescription for his ailing grandmother, who lives with them. But the troublesome journey to the pharmacy comes to symbolize his family's working-class urban milieu. (Shown with the short When I Grow Up.)
Stupendous Shorts (thematically arranged short films)
• "Rise and Shine!" Happy journeys for all ages.
1. Pound (Evan Bernard, U.S.A., 2007, 2 min.)
2. The Narrator (Mark Ratzlaff, Canada, 2008, 4 min.)
3. A Sunny Day (Gil Alkabetz, Germany, 2007, 6 min.)
4. Little Dinosaurs (Dana Dorian, Scotland, 2008, 1 min.)
5. Bibi (Bek Shakirov, U.S.A./Uzbekistan, 2005, 6 min.)
6. The New Species (Evalds Lacis, Latvia, 2008, 10 min.)
7. Bear Is Coming (Janis Cimermanis, Latvia, 2008, 16 min.)
8. Captain Flint's Old Sofa (Michael Zamjatnis, Germany, 2006, 8 min.)
9. The Little Swineherd (Maria Horvath, Hungary, 2007, 8 min.)
10. My Happy End (Milen Vitanov, Germany, 2007, 5 min.)
11. Carrot on the Beach (Partel Tall, 2008, Estonia, 6 min.)
12. Crank Balls (Devin Bell, U.S.A., 2007, 5 min.)
13. Super Al: It's Snow Fun (Natt Thanvigit, 2007, 2 min.)
• "Game Changers: Films About Growing Up"
Live-action adventures from around the world (ages 8 and up).
1. Ruby Who? (Hailey Bartholomew and Natala Stuetz, Australia, 2007, 6 min.)
2. Wormhead (Manauvashar Kublall, U.S.A., 2006, 13 min.)
3. My Greatest Day Ever (Mark Bellamy, Australia, 2007, 8 min.)
4. Paul's Grandpa (Ove Sander, Germany, 2007, 19 min.)
5. Every Day After 4 (Angeli Andrikopoulou and Argyris Tsepelikas, Greece, 2007, 10 min.)
6. It's My Turn (Ismet Ergun, Turkey/Germany, 2007, 10 min.)
7. When the Universe Conspires (Caio Bortolotti, Brazil, 2008, 15 min.)
8. Ubuntu (David Serota, U.S.A./South Africa, 2007, 3 min.)
9. Super Al: Rocking Outrage (Natt Thanvigit, 2007, 2 min.)
• "Living Large: Folktales to Remember"
Myths and fables spanning the globe (ages 7 and up).
1. Obara and the Merchants (Manauvashkar Kublall, U.S.A., 2007, 15 min.)
2. The Coyote and the Tortoise (Len Simon, U.S.A., 2008, 4 min.)
3. The Great Race (Geoff King, UK, 2008, 4 min); Folktale Box (Yunkyung Kim, South Korea, 2007, 4 min.)
4. The Hare-Herder (Lajos Nagy, Hungary, 2007, 8 min.)
5. Cirkus Spektakular (Matt Timms, Gillian Reid and Sean McCormack, UK, 2008, 9 min.)
6. Journey Out (Seiji Lim, UK, 2008, 2 min.)
7. The Rooster, the Crocodile and the Night Sky (Padraig Fagan, Ireland, 2008, 6 min.)
8. Sheep Checkmate (Albert Radl, Germany, 2007, 4 min.)
9. Sooner or Later (Jadwiga Kowalska, Switzerland, 2007, 5 min.)
10. Matopos (Stephanie Machuret, France, 2006, 12 min.)
• "Gutsy Guinea Pigs, Sweet Spiders and Sleepy Gorillas"
Everything cute with feathers and fur (ages 3 and up).
1. Jiro and Miu (Jun Nito, Czech Republic, 2007, 8 min.)
2. Bruno (Gil Alkabetz, Germany, 2008, 2 min.)
3. Traffik (H. Godreull/V. Huet/ M. Salmas, France, 2006, 1 min.)
4. What To Eat, Oscar? (Mig Jou, Taiwan, 2008, 4 min.)
5. Do Unto Otters (Galen Fott, U.S.A., 2008, 10 min.)
6. The Little Crow With the Naked Bottom (Raimke Groothuizen, The Netherlands, 2008, 5 min.); Mumuhug (Sofa Studio, Taiwan, two episodes, 2008, 6 min.)
7. Good Night, Gorilla (Jesse Sandor, Germany, 2007, 3 min.)
8. Miriam's Colors (Jelena Girlin/Mari-Lis Bassovskaja, Estonia, 2007, 5 min.)
9. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs (Konstantin Bronzit, U.S.A., 2008, 8 min.)
• "Gentle Planet"
More animals – all animated (ages 3 and up).
1. Good Morning (David B. Levy, U.S.A., 2007, 1 min.)
2. Miriam's Nestbox (Riho Unt, Estonia, 2007, 5 min.)
3. Cravings (Jane Sablow, U.S.A., 2008, 2 min.)
4. Bean Sprout (Chang Shu-Man, Taiwan, 2007, 5:40 min.)
5. Elephants in New York (several child directors, France, 2005, 2 min.)
6. Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! (Gene McGivney, U.S.A., 2008, 8 min.)
7. The Boy Who Cried Wolf (Konstantin Bronzit, U.S.A., 2008, 7 min.)
8. Voyage to the Bunny Planet (Gene Deitch, U.S.A., 2008, 19 min.)
• "Witaj Polsko!"
Vintage animation from Poland (all ages).
1. In the Time of King Krakus (Zenon Wasilewski, 1947, 14 min.)
2. Cat and Mouse (Wladyslaw Nehrebecki, 1958, 8 min.)
3. Dumpling (Lucjan Dembinski, 1959, 9 min.)
4. A Little Western (Witold Giersz, 1960, 5 min.)
5. The Pocket Knife (Leszek Lorek, 1961, 8 min.)
6. Crossbow (Wladyslaw Nehrebecki, 1963, 9 min.)
7. The Little Quartet (Edward Sturlis, 1965, 7 min.)
8. A Tale (Ryszard Kuziemski, 1968, 10 min.)