Jury Coordination and Notes

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Four Kids and It * A Wonderful Fantasy Film with Such Realistic Looking CGI

Friday, June 26th, 2020

A group of kids on holiday in Cornwall meet a magical creature on the beach with the power to grant wishes.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Lindalee R., comments, “Inspired by E. Nesbit’s 1902 serialized novel called Five Children and It,  the movie Four Kids and It is a wonderful fantasy film for all ages that brings the story alive. The CGI seems so real that I believed the Psammead (the creature in the film played by Michael Caine) was actually alive and right there with the actors on the set.” See her full review below.

Four Kids and It
By Lindalee R., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 12

Inspired by E. Nesbit’s 1902 serialized novel called Five Children and It,  the movie Four Kids and It is a wonderful fantasy film for all ages that brings the story alive. The CGI seems so real that I believed the Psammead (the creature in the film played by Michael Caine) was actually alive and right there with the actors on the set.

Full of adventure, Four Kids and It is about two families. Each family has two kids and all four kids want their birth parents to get back together. When the two split families meet up for a vacation, the kids find out their parents are dating each other and they absolutely freak out. While being forced to play with each other and to get to know one another, they meet a magical sand creature called a Psammead who tells them that he can grant each of them wishes, but only one a day. Also, the wishes expire at sunset.

Throughout this movie the four kids get to know each other better, become much closer and start to bond more like a real family. There is a man named Tristan Trent (Russell Brand), who lives in a mansion on the island that they all go to for their vacation. For generations, Tristan’s family were hunters of rare and unique living creatures on Earth. Tristan and his ancestors have been trying to find the legendary Psammead for decades. When the kids come to the island, he knows that he could use them to track the creature down. If he can lure out and capture the creature, he can finally add it to his family’s collection of trophies…and hopefully get in a wish or two as well!

The scenes with the kids each coming up with their own magical wishes and living them out for the day are fun. It also made me wonder what I would wish for if I only had a day to experience a wish.

The message of this film is to be careful what you wish for, but also that sometimes change happens and no matter how bad it seems, that it can offer up new opportunities and maybe create something better than you ever had before.

I give Four Kids and It  5 out of 5 stars, and I recommend it for ages 6 to 18, and adults will love it too! I know my parents sure did.

The movie will be available on Digital, Blu-Ray, DVD and on-demand, as well as major digital platforms like Amazon Prime, Vudo and others, on June 30, 2020, from Lionsgate Film

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Floogals: Investigation Station * Funny, Original, Always Teaching Kids Ways to Explore

Monday, April 27th, 2020

Join the Floogals on a mission of discovery as they explore Earth and the funny “hoomans” who live there! KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Ethan P. comments, “I like Floogals Investigation Station because it is very funny, original and creative… I like that it is not just animation, as some parts are real life graphics.  I also like that it is always teaching kids to explore and experiment in every episode.” See his full review below.

Floogals Investigation Station
By Ethan P., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 11

I like Floogals Investigation Station because it is very funny, original and creative.  It captured my attention the whole time.  I like that it is not just animation, as some parts are real life graphics.  I also like that it is always teaching kids to explore and experiment in every episode.

This DVD is about three purple lookalike aliens called Floogals – Captain Fleeker, First Officer Flo and Junior Boomer.  The Floogals learn new things and report back to their boss to inform him what they have learned on Earth.  This DVD contains six episodes about experimentation, discovery and observation.  Each episode has about 11 minutes of adventure and funny situations.  One of the funniest things of this show is that the aliens call the humans “hoomans.” 

My favorite episode is “Project Popcorn.”  This episode is about the Floogals discovering a food called popcorn.  When a human accidentally lets go of the popcorn, it falls and the dog eats it, so they think it is dog food.  Later they start to realize what popcorn is.  Another one of my favorite episodes is “Project Sleep” which is about how a “hooman” girl invites her friends over for a sleepover.  The Floogals spy on the girls to see what a sleepover is all about.  The Floogals slowly learn about and process the word “sleepover,”  The Floogals do not realize that the whole time they are actually part of the sleepover.  The graphics are real live backgrounds and the Floogals are little animated aliens.  The animation is neat and very colorful.  The voiceover talent suits each character.  I like Junior Boomer’s character the most, because he is clumsy, funny, and always curious about learning new things.

The moral of this show is: don’t ever let someone stop you from doing what you desire.  Don’t allow anyone to discourage you from doing what you are capable of doing.  For example, Junior Boomer investigates this thing call “popcorn” and Captain Fleeker tries to stop him, but Junior Boomer still investigates.

I give Floogals Investigation Station 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it ages 6 to 18, plus adults.  By Ethan P., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic. For more reviews by youth, visit kidsfirst dot org.

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Emma * A Cheerful Adaptation of Jane Austen’s Beloved Novel

Thursday, February 20th, 2020

Jane Austen’s beloved comedy about finding your equal and earning your happy ending, is re-imagined in this film. Handsome, clever, and rich, Emma Woodhouse is a restless queen bee without rivals in her sleepy little town. In this glittering satire of social class and the pain of growing up, Emma must adventure through misguided matches and romantic missteps to find the love that has been there all along. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Arjun N. comments, “Emma is a cheerful adaption of Jane Austen’s beloved novel. Readers of Jane Austen can rejoice as her characters come to screen.” See his full review below.

Emma
By Arjun Nair, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 18

Emma is a cheerful adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved novel. Readers of Jane Austen can rejoice as her characters come to screen. Others might not find this to be their cup of tea.

Mia Goth (left) as “Harriet Smith” and Anya Taylor-Joy (right) as “Emma Woodhouse” in director Autumn de Wilde’s EMMA., a Focus Features release. Credit : Focus Features

In this adaptation the “handsome, clever and rich” matchmaker Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor Joy) pursues her adventures through matches and romanticism to find love.

Anya Taylor Joy, as Emma, gives the best performance. Anya has grown from a being newcomer and this demanding performance proves that, allowing for eloquent speaking and characterization. Her conversations with other characters are straight out of the classic Victorian tale; keeping in mind, she is American. Her love interests are Johnny Flynn as Mr. Knightley, a dashingly critical friend, and Callum Turner as Frank Churchill, a rich gentleman. I also enjoyed Mia Goth as Harriet, as she helps Emma find her match.

Johnny Flynn (left) as “‘George Knightley” and Amber Anderson (right) as “Jane Fairfax” in director Autumn de Wilde’s EMMA., a Focus Features release. Credit : Focus Features

Director Autumn de Wilde is artistic, but the pacing could be tighter. This is a slow movie as several scenes are long, drawn-out conversations. I feel this aspect is best achieved in books, though some movies can capture the audience’s attention like that. This movie really must be your forte for it to be enjoyable. The character’s parlance is always olden English, and there is a loss of stakes. The score by Isobel Waller-Bridge is authentically Georgian capturing the grounded roots of genteel women living in England.

The message of this film is to not rush love, as Emma and Harriet let time prove its worth after hasty pursuits. I give this film 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 7 to 18, due to brief nudity, even though younger kids might not be interested in watching this. The movie releases in theaters on February 21, 2020, so check it out.

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2020 Film Independent’s Director’s Close Up: Week Three

Friday, January 31st, 2020

Week Three of Film Independent’s Director’s Close Up ventures into the mysterious world of television. Unlike feature films, television has directors with little authority, writers with all the power and story arcs that can last decades. Directors Kyle Patrick Alvarez (The Stanford Prison Experiment13 Reasons Why), Silas Howard (PoseThis is Us), Marvin Lemus (Gentefield) and Lynn Shelton (HumpdayThe Morning ShowGlow) reveal what happens behind the camera of the most popular television shows.

The role of the director in film contrasts with television directors. In feature films, the director has unlimited creative authority in every single department. In television, some directors may experience a limited amount of authority, but many cannot adjust the script in any way or have little control of the final edit of the episodes.

Wendy Calhoun, Marvin Lemus, Lynn Shelton, Silas Howard, Kyle Patrick Alvarez

Directors will often direct a single episode while crew members, writers, and producers generally stay on the same show for years. Silas Howard compared it to “throwing a party at someone else’s house” and moderator Wendy Calhoun compared it to the relationship between a substitute and a teacher. To help get to know the crew, some directors will greet and speak with every member of the crew or utilize unconventional methods such as bringing the crew candy or baked goods (which, according to the panel, has an impressive success rate). To help initiate directors, “shadowing” sometimes occurs wherein a possible future director will “shadow” the current director to learn the feel for the production and style of the show.

The show writers have so much creative influence that the medium has become known as the “writer’s medium.” The writers ensure that, not only does each episode have an interesting, entertaining and original story, but that the world maintains consistency throughout every episode as well. For some shows, this becomes more complicated when writers must also consider overarching intertwining subplots such as the highly acclaimed Game of Thrones, which throughout its seven seasons had dozens of plot lines with dozens of characters that ranged from a few episodes long to multiple seasons long.

Kyle Patrick Alvarez, Lynn Shelton, Wendy Calhoun, Silas Howard, Marvin Lemu

To assist in production, writers create “show bibles” that give basic information on the characters, settings and other aspects of the world being portrayed. Sometimes, the production also creates “look books” which use a series of photographs, color pallets and more to convey the tone of the show. Showrunners, which lead the production of a show,  meet with directors to discuss each episode in meetings called “tone meetings,” that can last as long as nine hours. 

Recently, the world of television has begun to lose its strangeness as film and TV have merged more and more. Filmmakers now create “cinematic universes” which resemble the styles of TV and TV networks such as HBO develop shows where each episode can last over an hour and the greater show-wide plot has a large singular central conflict, similar to most feature film plots. Perhaps eventually it will be the world of film that seems mysterious, as television and instant streaming shows grow in popularity worldwide. 

For more information on Film Independent, go to https://www.filmindependent.org/

By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 17

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2020 Directors Close Up * Week Two

Friday, January 24th, 2020

Acting allows a script to transform from words on a page into an emotional and three-dimensional performance. So, Week Two of Film Independent’s Director’s Close Up delved into the relationship between actor and director by hearing from Marriage Story director Noah Baumbach, actress Martha Kelly (Nancy Katz) and casting director Francine Maisler.

Before actors can bring characters to life, a screenplay must be written for them to inhabit. Noah, who also wrote the screenplay for Marriage Story, spoke in detail about his unique writing process. Unlike most writers, Noah includes his actors and crew in the writing process allowing him to “have a dialogue with them.” This included interviewing every actor, so he can tailor the characters to their personalities. At the end of the film, when Adam Driver (Charlie) plays the guitar, Noah explained that the moment had been specifically written for Adam. Similarly, one of Laura Dern’s (Nora Franshaw) monologues directly came from conversations between Noah and Laura. 

Noah focuses on ensuring the script resembles reality as much as possible, so he tends to interview people who have experienced similar things to what the characters experienced. For Marriage Story, he interviewed many individuals who have had experience with both marriage and divorce to ensure that the story maintains as much realism as possible. To add more realism, Noah collected stories that he heard from friends and families and found “the right place for it at the right time.” In a scene from Marriage Story, Charlie accidentally cuts himself. Noah states that the inspiration came from a real-life event that happened to a friend of his. 

While these strategies help ensure the film flows naturally, casting the right individuals has a large influence on the quality of the film. Casting director Francine Maisler spoke on their process, saying Noah treats “every part like it’s the lead.” Noah takes time to find the right actor for each role and works with them to ensure they understand the character. Noah and Francine will sometimes save the names of actors they meet so they can work with them on future projects, one example is Merrit Weaver (Cassie), whom they met years ago and decided she would be perfect in Marriage Story. During the audition process, he wants the actors to not know the lines, to be slightly unrefined, or even “raw.” This allows him to work with the actors to develop a strong character.

After casting and writing have been completed, he conducts rehearsals not to practice the lines but the “blocking and rhythm of the dialogue.” This also helps the actors learn the character. An example is with Alan Alda’s portrayal of Bert Spitz. Alda told Noah that he didn’t understand the Bert’s character until he saw the set for Bert’s office. Onset, Noah avoids saying “action” to push the actors to perform the same way they would off-camera, which he believes allows a more natural performance. He would also does many takes or slightly adjusts the blocking of the actors or gives the actors little things to do during the scene to help naturalize the performances. 

Noah also took inspiration from previous films. He watched “screw-ball comedies from the 30s and 40s such as Persona (1966) and Dr. Strangelove (1964) to prepare for Marriage Story. When working with actors, he collaborates with them instead of ordering them. “They give me ideas in their performance,” he explains. Even with writing, Noah states that when he begins writing any script, he feels that he’s “just an amateur all over again.” Noah’s process speaks for itself, with the film receiving five nominations at the 92nd Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Screenplay, and being honored as one of the best films of the year by the American Film Institute.

Marriage Story is streaming on Netflix now. For more information on Film Independent, go to https://www.filmindependent.org/

By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 17

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2020 Film Independent Directors Close Up * Week One

Sunday, January 19th, 2020

How does the look of a film get decided? What even encompasses a film’s “look”? Such questions led the discussion in week one of Film Independent’s Director’s Close Up featuring the director of Hustlers, Lorene Scafaria and costume designer of Hustlers, Mitchell Travers.

As moderator John August pointed out, cinema is a visual medium. Thus, unlike many other art forms, it can take advantage of the visual element to help further the themes of the story. For Hustlers the theme focuses on control – whether it is the main characters fighting for control of their lives or control against the greed that leads to the story’s conflicts. To create a look that further drives that theme, director Lorene Scafaria collaborated with cinematographer Todd Banhazl, production designer Jane Musky, and of course, costumer designer Mitchell Travers.

Travers spoke about his approach in creating the “thousands” of costumes for the film. Because the film takes place in a “modern period piece” between 2007 and 2015, he looked back to the styles and trends that represent the era, and not necessarily all the good aspects of the era. He wished to show “the amazing mistakes,” that the era created. He drew inspiration from celebrities of the time such as Nicole Richie, Miley Cyrus, Tila Tequila, Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez who plays Ramona in the film. Travers explains that this helped represent the imperfections of the period. To achieve such visions required work – he explained the tasks required costume assistants and costume supervisors, with a costume department as big as 35 people. The same situation occurs in production design, art department and makeup. The smallest details viewers scarcely notice on-screen require months of work by sometimes thousands of people, yet, without their talents, films would look bare and unrealistic.

Films often use color, or better yet, a lack of color, to develop a theme. Hustlers has a strong focus on the greed of wealth, so Scafaria spoke about the careful consideration of how to treat the color green in the film. Despite having dozens of sets, thousands of costumes and many main characters, only in dollar bills does green appear throughout the film. This helps further bring the viewer’s focus to dollar bills as they drive the characters, the conflict and the story itself.

Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic

Every scene has its look to further its purpose in the greater story. Scafaria and Travers analyze a specific scene where Ramona and Destiny (Constance Wu) have an intense conversation in a diner where Romana attempts to convince Destiny to commit a crime. Scafaria worked closely with cinematographer Todd Banhazl to create this drama in a visual matter. The shots keep tight on the two actresses and viewers can scarcely see the interior of the diner, due to how much the two stars take up the frame. This instantly creates a secretive, pressured feeling to the scene. The movement of characters also helps further this, while Destiny stays still, Ramona moves her head as she talks and the camera moves with her. This creates a distinct energetic separation with Ramona taking a pushing, demanding role and Destiny taking the role of a follower. When the clip gets muted, it maintains that contrast without needing the dialogue to explain the purpose of the scene. Such little details ensure the audience feels the correct mood – a mixture of nervousness and adrenaline – as Destiny carefully considers whether to participate in the crime.

The first panel of Director’s Close Up lived up to its name and gave the audience a close and intimate look at the creative process for Hustlers and the many intimate details that help convert stories from a mere series of events to an emotional and human-like experience on the big screen.

For more information on Film Independent go to https://www.filmindependent.org/

By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 17

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If the Dancer Dances * An Exquisitely Shot Film Honoring Merce Cunningham’s Choreography

Friday, October 25th, 2019

If The Dancer Dances invites viewers into the intimate world of the dance studio. Stephen Petronio, one of today’s leading dance-makers, is determined to help his dancers breathe new life into RainForest (1968), an iconic work by the legendary choreographer Merce Cunningham. With help from three members of the former Cunningham company, the film tracks Petronio’s dancers as they strive to re-stage this great work, revealing what it takes to keep a dance – and a legacy – alive. Timed to coincide with Cunningham’s centennial, If The Dancer Dances  is the first documentary on the subject of Cunningham’s work since his passing in 2009.

Merce Cunningham was an American dancer and choreographer who stood at the forefront of American modern dance for more than 60 years. As a choreographer, teacher, and leader of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Cunningham had a profound influence on modern dance and earned some of the highest honors bestowed in the arts, including the National Medal of Arts and the MacArthur ‘Genius’ Fellowship. Cunningham is also notable for his frequent collaborations with artists of other disciplines, including the musicians Radiohead and John Cage (also his life partner), as well as visual artists Andy Warhol, who did the décor for  RainForest, the dance featured in If the Dancer Dances, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.

If the Dancer Dances
By Cynthia P., KIDS FIRST! Reviewer

If The Dancer Dances is an exquisitely shot film that brings the audience into the studio to watch the company members get interviewed and listen to their opinions and fears as we observe them at work. We observe the technically brilliant Petronio Company goof off, get engaged (which seems a bit staged), rehearse, giggle and crawl – nothing too interesting or special.

The film If The Dancer Dances, directed by Maia Wechsler, was created to document the rehearsal, choreographic reconstruction and performance of the dance RainForest with Petronio’s 30-year-old, New York-based contemporary dance company.

My favorite part which lifted me up from the predictability of the 86 minute film is when dancer / choreographer / company director Stephen Petronio reveals that his “dance parents,” Trisha Brown and Merce Cunningham, are no longer able to dance. Ms. Brown is ill and Merce has passed away. Stephen feels compelled to continue their work and decided to re-stage RainForest. He felt a need to “continue even more” and restage the legendary ballet RainForest on his own company with décor by Andy Warhol, costumes by Jasper Johns, music by David Tudor and, of course, the amazing choreography of Merce Cunningham – a quintessential collaboration by four of the greatest modern artists of their day. As most dancers who have studied modern art or dance, the sight of Warholian silver pillows floating on stage is a vivid image that one cannot shake. Despite the very grainy archival film of this dance, this work remains legendary.

Meg Harper, the Cunningham dancer who performed in the original work, discusses the challenges of setting the piece, her ups and downs with it, and the feelings that she experienced on stage. None of her issues are high stakes, surprising or new. In fact, they are blasé challenges that seem so weak compared to the power of just enjoying the ballet. Every single moment spent not watching the dancers dance seems like filler. It is sweet to hear dancers talk, but it feels as if the filmmakers tried to make it more interesting when actually, they don’t. The dancing in the studio is what elevates this film. I wanted to see exquisite movement shot, edited and presented well. Of course, we want to get to know the dancers, as it  makes the film more textured, but these efforts seem forced and makes so much of the film fall flat.

When former Cunningham dancers discuss Merce and his work, it starts to get a bit more interesting. When we watch Merce kindly teach from his wheelchair and view a dancer break down, thinking of the power he has over her, we get a glimpse of his intensity. I personally remember his feeble hands reaching out to shake mine and his warm lovely smile that was so engaging.

There are no stakes in this film that have excitement for me. Yes, we watch the amazing dancers learn phrases, laugh in rehearsal, make the movement their own and then perform the work at the Joyce Theatre. It doesn’t work for me and is disappointing. The performance just doesn’t have any urgency or excitement.

The archival footage of RainForest sizzled for me. This celebrated work that shaped dance for an eternity costumed the dancers in ripped leotards with holes. This motif is part of fashion today – 40 years later! Those moments just cannot be re-done. Merce asked his company to halt after his death in 2009 for this very reason.

As much as it is nice to see works re-imagined, this film about the process didn’t give me anything new. I’m afraid that I feel some works of art just need to stay asleep. Sweet dreams RainForest, we love you. However, for newcomers to the world of modern dance, dancers and audience members alike, this may well awaken a sense of history and place that they were unaware of previously. So, with that in mind, I can recommend this to teens ages 15 to 18 as well as adults and give it 3.5 stars out of 5. It is available on VOD Nov 12.

“The dance studio is a private and mysterious place. If The Dancer Dances grants us rare access, bringing us into the studio to watch the staging of a Merce Cunningham masterwork on the Stephen Petronio Company. It’s the tracking of this intimate process, a dance being passed one body to another, that makes this film a great gift.”  Mikhail Baryshnikov on If The Dancer Dances

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Volta – A Feast for the Senses

Sunday, October 20th, 2019

Volta is a touring circus show by the Cirque du Soleil. Energetic, urban and contemporary, VOLTA is a captivating voyage of discovery that showcases never-before-seen under the Big Top acrobatics in a visually striking world. Driven by a stirring melodic score and inspired in part by the adventurous spirit that fuels the culture of street sports, VOLTA is a story of transformation. It is about being true to oneself, fulfilling one’s true potential, and recognizing one’s own power to make it possible. Ultimate freedom comes with self-acceptance, and with the liberation of the judgement of others.  VOLTA is playing now in Atlanta through January 5, 2020.

VOLTA: Cirque du Soleil
By Ivey H, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 13

This show is a feast for the senses! All I can say is WOW! It is such a beautiful and captivating night under the Big Top Tent.  This is the 20th Cirque du Soleil show to visit Atlanta and the 15th Big Top to be raised in Atlanta. 

The show is comprised of very talented acrobats that swing, jump, dance, bike ride, skip rope, roller skate, balance and so much more. There is almost no dialogue, which I did not mind at all.  The host of the show Mr. WOW is very amusing. There are some very humorous parts. Even a 3-year- old behind me was engaged and laughed at the comedian, which was so adorable.

I love how the talent engages the audience. I enjoyed the theme of the show and loved the storytelling with its beautiful displays of different backgrounds to enhance the story. The colors are radiant and vibrant. The costumes are absolutely inspiring and very different. They engulf so many different cultures into very urban costumes. They blend looks from Native Americans with African culture and hip hop, all into one.  The costume designer, Zaldy Goco, designed the costumes for Michael Jackson’s “This is It” tour, Lady Gaga’s “Monster Ball Tour” and more. He has received four Emmy nominations and you can see why. His work is phenomenal.

My favorite part of the performance is the couple dancing and the unicycle rider, Philippe Be’langer, with dancer. They are all highly skilled acrobats. I had anxiety watching them display their incredible body strength and balance. Another favorite part is “Hair Suspension,” with the very Zen Lady Vanessa Ferreira Calado hoisted up in the air by her hair. 

The music and singing are a beautiful addition and the lady violist is captivating to listen to. The grand finale is the BMX street bikes. This is a nice ending and these extreme cyclists are impressive! I don’t know how they do it.

The message of this show is about embracing yourself, accept yourself, and love your true liberation and freedom.

I recommend this show is for ages 3 to 18, plus adults and give it 5 out of 5 stars. The show is playing now through January 5, 2020 at Atlantic Station. It is best to park under Dillards and walk to the Big Top Tent. There are plenty of good snacks and drinks available for purchase.  There is a 25 minutes intermission between first and second act. Be sure to check it out, you’ll be glad you did.

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Molly of Denali * Delightful and Authentic Portrayal of Three Generations of Native Americans

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

Molly of Denali is an American-Canadian animated television series created and produced by Atomic Cartoons and WGBH Kids for PBS Kids and CBC Television. It premiered on July 15, 2019. The series is the first ever nationally distributed children’s show to feature an Alaska Native as the main character and protagonist. Thirty-eight half-hours have been ordered. Between the two 11-minute story segments, there is a special live-action segment filmed in Alaska. The series follows 10-year-old Molly, an Alaska Native girl from the fictional village of Qyah, and her family, friends Tooey and Trini, her dog Suki, and other residents. Her family runs the Denali Trading Post. It was created by Dorothea Gillim and Kathy Waugh and stars Sovereign Bill. The Molly of Denali theme song is sung by Phillip Blanchett and Karina Moeller. KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror, Terry S. comments, “This animated show is truly delightful and quite authentic in portraying three generations –  grand parents, parents and children. The images are true to form and culture.” See her full review below.

Molly of Denali – Grandpa’s Drum and Have Canoe Will Paddles (TV series)
By Terry S., KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

Molly of Denali is an animated TV series featuring a strong Native American 10-year-old girl from Alaska. The show I watched has two 11-minute episodes: Grandpa’s Drum and Have Canoe will Paddle. The focus is on problem solving, while incorporating literacy and technology skills.
Alaskan Native values are modeled including respect, sharing, team work and honoring elders, family and cultural awareness.

The program highlights a Native American community in Alaska. The lead character Molly is a strong, energetic young girl, full of life and an inquiring mind. In Grandpa’s Drum, she and Tuli find an old photograph of her grandpa when he was young together with a young girl. They discover he doesn’t like to sing anymore, because he no longer has his drum. They go on a quest to find the girl and his drum by using their research skills. In Have Canoe Will Paddle, Molly, Tuli and Trini get resourceful once again with their literacy skills to learn how to paddle a canoe. With their friendly social skills, they find an appropriate coach to teach them, so they can enter a race.

Native Alaskan children will proudly see themselves and their way of life and a broader audience will be introduced to a new culture. They will experience adventures with the lead characters and see their contemporaries problem solving, learning and having fun. In Grandpa’s Drum, they will see Molly and Trini singing and their Grandpa remembering songs with his drum and teaching them. In Have Canoe Will Paddle, they will see the steps Molly and friends make to learn how to canoe and master the race. They will learn to know that we are more alike than different. Viewers may be motivated to explore their own cultural backgrounds as a result.

This is a very engaging show with fun characters that are eager to learn. Each episode flows well, incorporating literacy and technology skills that young children can relate to. It encourages them to go out and learn the skills they need to problem solve and have fun while doing so.

Young children, parents, teachers and caregivers alike will learn about the Native Alaskan culture and learn new Native vocabulary, as well as the difference between now and then. In Grandpa’s Drum, we learn that when he was a young boy, he had to go to boarding school and was not allowed to celebrate his culture at school. Today, we find out that this does not happen. Children are at home going to school and can celebrate their culture. This animated show is truly delightful and quite authentic in portraying three generations –  grand parents, parents and children. The images are true to form and culture.

In addition to the two animated shorts in each episode, there is a live action piece. In this episode, Molly answers questions about life in Alaska. We see children who live there at the river comparing old photographs of a similar place and see what it looks like today. They learn a traditional song from an elder. One girl says, “When I am dancing with ancestors, I connect with the past.”

Molly of Denali has all the benefits of inviting the viewer to question, probe and problem solve as described above, while introducing the viewer to a new culture and environment. It encourages one to look into situations such as in Grandpa’s Drum when it helps him to reconnect with his youth, re-learning the songs he loved with his new found drum, and then teaching and passing them on to the younger generation. Viewers will be motivated and encouraged to explore their own cultural backgrounds. Similarly in Have Canoe Will Paddle where it shows how one can learn a new sport, if they so desire. The role modeling of determination is inspiring.  

The moral of the series is: if there is a will, there is a way as it models problem solving to get the results you want, gaining new skills and having fun while doing it! Molly and her friends are terrific, inspiring role models for young children to get excited about learning!

I give this series 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 4 through 8. This airs on PBS Kids and CBC Television now, so look for it. Reviewed by Terry S., KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror.

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Film Independent: Future Filmmakers by Gerry Orz, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

Friday, August 30th, 2019
Clara Siliezar, Lacey Brauer, Vivian Munoz, Caitlyn Phu, Chase Okimura, Riley Thomas Stewart; Images courtesy of Getty Images and Film Independent

Recently I attended Film Independent’s Future Filmmaker’s Program where they screened twelve excellent short films of all genres and styles made by filmmakers in middle school and high school. Film Independent’s event showcased the true creativity and expression that exists in kids of all ages and proved most of all that knowing the technicality of filmmaking does not make an excellent film – a vision does. 

In modern cinema, we push for VFX, complicated sets and high resolution. Sadly, for youth filmmakers like me, and the ones premiered at Future Filmmakers, such extravagance exists merely as a pipe dream. Those cameras stray far outside any reasonable budget, as does any hope of professional Pixar animation or Marvel VFX. 

Clara Siliezar, Lacey Brauer, Vivian Munoz, Caitlyn Phu, Riley Thomas Stewart; Images courtesy of Getty Images and Film Independent

In a way, this makes films produced by children and teens all the more exciting. We lack the discipline and rules that have become enlisted in the larger overarching film industry, and it shows beautifully. Artists all over have been animating in the most incredibly unique mediums, with Old Man Planet directed by Jessee Quales a prime example where he combines stop motion and drawn animation that enticed me far more than many other recent animated feature films. Both Cannibal Cat, directed by Andrew Martin and The Princess and the P.D., directed by Lacey Brauer demonstrate the pure storytelling ability of animation, where the rules of our world fade away and we can create imaginative new ones for whomever we please. 

The event also visualized a common theme that may lead to becoming a defining theme in the next generation of cinema – identity. The massive majority of youth films shown in this screening dealt with identity in some form or another with Durian, directed by Caitlyn Phu, discussing cultural identity in a very visual way where she tells the story of Clara Chu, an Asian teenager struggling to determine if she recognizes herself as Asian or American. The T is not Silent takes identity on in the LGBT context where director Clara Siliezar interviews transgender teenagers in San Diego about discovering their gender identity. 

Film Independent staff: María Raquel Bozzi, Senior Director of Education, Sarah Berkovich, Film Education Manager and Josh Welsh President of Film Independent; Images courtesy of Getty Images and Film Independent

Most importantly, in all these short films, the filmmakers show that this generation dares to show things that no other generation had dared show. This is Not a PSA, directed by Delana Lewis discusses African American culture;  Brujería,  directed by Vivian Muñoz discusses the taboo nature of receiving mental healthcare in Mexican culture. Many more demonstrate the bravery of this generation of filmmakers to go into the world and show the most unspoken aspects of our society. 

Finally, and most importantly, the next generation of filmmakers shows a willingness to create – no matter what limits they have. Many filmmakers at the event discussed the difficulties of working, either completely alone or with very small crews. They used small DSLR cameras or simple point and shoot cameras. Dyad, directed by Riley Thomas Stewart shows this most of all. The film takes place on a scorched desert world and Stewart filmed most of the story in a real desert, in order to capture the decayed quiet world he wished to create. 

Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

The commitment from these 12 creators should be an inspiration to anyone interested in telling stories, as cinema does not require money, knowledge or experience. It merely requires time and passion. 

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