Jury Coordination and Notes

Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway * Whimsical Animated Comedy-Adventure Film With Loads Of Laughs

June 20th, 2021

Thomas and Bea are now married and living with Peter and his rabbit family. Bored of life in the garden, Peter goes to the big city, where he meets shady characters and ends up creating chaos for the whole family. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Calee N. comments, “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway is a family-friendly comedy-adventure film. I loved watching whimsical animated film. It had me laughing from beginning to end. The crazy adventures of Peter and the animals are highly entertaining.” See her full review below.

Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway
By Calee Nowak, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 12

Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway is a family-friendly comedy-adventure film. I loved watching whimsical animated film. It had me laughing from beginning to end. The crazy adventures of Peter and the animals are highly entertaining.

In this film, the characters you loved from the first movie are back. A beautiful wedding, a new business, and a perfect life on the farm appeared to be all Peter Rabbit and his family need, but things change when a book Bea wrote about the rabbits gets an opportunity to be published.

Director Will Gluck and screenwriter Patrick Burleigh bring back Peter Rabbit with a new adventure while maintaining what we love about the characters from the first movie. The talented voice-overs of Peter Rabbit (James Corben), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki), Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Cottontail (Aimee Horne), and Barnabas (Lennie James) bring life to the characters and laughter. Of course, a comedy-adventure is nothing without a proper soundtrack. The music by Dominic Lewis keeps up with the high-energy animal mischief and helps build emotion. Art directors Nicholas Dare and Sophie Nash create realistic computer-generated animals that could easily play the lead actors in any movie, including humans. Their personalities will have movie viewers falling in love with them and cheering their victory.

Through Peter Rabbit’s adventures on the farm and in the city, we learn that the importance of “family” is a continuous theme throughout the film. Unfortunately, Peter makes the mistake of letting the judgment of others question his character. However, the unconditional love from his siblings, cousin Bea, Thomas and the other animals helps him realize he doesn’t have to be perfect to be loved. Bea and Thomas finally understand that “family” comes in all shapes and sizes. 

I rate Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 3 to 18. Adults will also enjoy sharing laughs with their families. Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway premieres in theaters June 11, 2021 and on Amazon Prime.

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Censor * Raises Lots Of Questions About Censorship, Effects Of Fiction, And Media Violence

June 17th, 2021

After viewing a strangely familiar video nasty, Enid, a film censor, sets out to solve the past mystery of her sister’s disappearance, embarking on a quest that dissolves the line between fiction and reality. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Calista B., comments, “Censor is a unique movie that raises a lot of questions about censorship, the effect that fiction has on people and violence in the media. I really appreciate it for its subtlety; however I feel like the message is a little unclear.” See her full review below.

Censor
By Calista B., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 17

Censor is a unique movie that raises a lot of questions about censorship, the effect that fiction has on people and violence in the media. I really appreciate it for its subtlety; however I feel like the message is a little unclear.

The story follows Enid, a film censor. Her job consists of viewing graphic horror films and deciding what to cut and what to leave in. However, after a particular film reminds her of a traumatic childhood memory, she becomes convinced that there is some connection between her work and the disappearance of her sister.

First off, I want to take a moment to appreciate the atmosphere of this film. The lighting and sound design combine to create an extremely bleak and dreary mood, as if the entire film takes place on an unpleasant foggy day. It fits the constant sense of unease this movie gives off, especially when combined with the uncomfortable subject matter.

Censor has an interesting insight on fiction’s effect on reality. I’m very invested in this topic, as someone who loves video games and has constantly heard discussions about how the medium causes violence. Though the film doesn’t outright say it, there’s an underlying message about how society sometimes draws conclusions that aren’t true. At one point, a murder gets connected to a film that Enid allowed to be released. However we later find out the killer didn’t even watch the aforementioned film. This leaves you wondering what the truth of the case is. This murder case is never brought up again and, ultimately, is not that important to the plot.

Censor’s themes surrounding the idea of censorship, and the way they connect to Enid’s past, are genuinely really engaging. Enid claims she does her job to “protect” people, and this perfectly ties into Enid’s trauma. A common thing that happens to trauma survivors is that their brain will block out the memories of the event. As such, Enid can’t remember the exact details of her trauma. Her brain is essentially censoring itself to protect her. But what exactly is it protecting her from? What is the truth of her past? This connection is so fascinating.

I must warn audiences, though, if you don’t like gore or discussions of gore, this movie is not for you. There’s a montage at the beginning showing all kinds of graphic violence, and there is more gore later in the film.

I give Censor 4 out of 5 stars, and recommend it for ages 16 to 18. Censor releases on June 11, 2021.

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Americanish * A Breath Of Fresh Air Looking At Rom-Coms Through A New Lens

June 10th, 2021

The 2021 CAAMFest Audience Award-winning film debut by Iman Zawahry takes place in Jackson Heights, Queens where two sisters and their fresh-off-the-boat cousin try all the conventional ways to earn the love and respect of their mother. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Abigail L. comments, “Although still containing classic rom-com clichés, this film introduces diverse cultural and ethnic characters and story arcs to American film audiences. Writer and director Imam Zawahry highlights the strength of feminism and family ties as she explores the ups and downs of women in the work force and romance.” See her full review below.

Americanish
By Abigail Liu, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

Americanish is a breath of fresh air as it looks at romantic comedy through a new lens. Although still containing classic rom-com clichés, this film introduces diverse cultural and ethnic characters and story arcs to American film audiences. Writer and director Imam Zawahry highlights the strength of feminism and family ties as she explores the ups and downs of women in the work force and romance.

Set in New York City, the lives of three Pakistani women are thrown into turmoil while they endure career, family, romance and culture clashes. Maryam (Salena Qureshi), a college student who dreams of attending Harvard Medical School, worries about her MCAT score and navigates her crush with her study partner, Shahid (Kapil Talwalkar), who happens to be married. Meanwhile, Maryam’s older sister, Khala (Lillete Dubey), attempts to score a work promotion and ignores the advances of a well-intentioned police officer. Their cousin, Ameera (Shenaz Treasury), moves in with their family from Pakistan in search of a doctor to marry, but her budding friendship with the local store clerk (Godfrey) risks putting a damper on her plans.

This film successfully shows the struggle of balancing cultural traditions with personal ambition through love and marriage, careers and family. When reading the summary of this story, it first seems overused and bland, but it is quite the opposite –  the message conveyed in the film is meaningful and empowering. The acting feels unconvincing at times, but the film’s message makes up for it. Even though there are a lot of Hollywood romantic comedy clichés found in the film, there are moments that are genuinely humorous and funny. My favorite part is the separate, but connected, stories of the three women. As the story progresses, they grow closer as they find themselves relating to one another in their disappointments with romance.

Americanish teaches women of all ages that it is never too late to find love and that being a woman can mean whatever you want it to be, whether that is becoming a successful businesswoman, a doctor or a loving wife. Parents should be aware that this film contains implied sex, references to adult minor language and references to sexism and racism.

I rate Americanish 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 13 to 18, plus adults. This film can be viewed now at select festivals.

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The Human Factor * Israeli and Palestinian Conflict Negotiations During the Clinton Administration

June 3rd, 2021

With unprecedented access to the foremost American negotiators, THE HUMAN FACTOR is the behind-the-scenes story from the last 25 years, of how the United States came within reach of pulling off the impossible – securing peace between Israel and its neighbors. Today, the need to learn from past mistakes couldn’t be more urgent.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Ashleigh C. comments, “The Human Factor documentary is very informative and will be loved by those that are curious about the negotiators of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict during the Clinton Administration, and their efforts to bring compromise and peace. The one-on-one interview setting makes it easier to understand and grasp basic questions of this foreign political situation.” See her full review below.

The Human Factor
By Ashleigh C., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, 17

The Human Factor documentary is very informative and will be loved by those that are curious about the negotiators of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict during the Clinton Administration, and their efforts to bring compromise and peace. The one-on-one interview setting makes it easier to understand and grasp basic questions of this foreign political situation. And while the film does provide some context in the beginning, you may want to do a little research on the conflict before watching. 

I had an unexpectedly emotional reaction to this documentary. Director Dror Moreh cleverly sets a specific tone that grabs the viewer, and then reveals history in a brilliant way. My favorite parts are with the negotiators and their dialogue about their personal firsthand experience being a part of this crucial stage in history. While it is a foreign conflict, we are shown it from the United States’ perspective.

I love the music throughout this film, thanks to composer Eugene Levitas. While a lot of scenes were usually serious due to the political dialogue, some scenes added unusually whimsical music to set a certain mood.

The message of this film is really important to understand, especially in the current political climate of the United States. “People just like to demonize the other side. All that is out is the human side, the animosity for each other. And unless (we) are planning on accepting the other side, there is zero hope for a solution.” The challenge of any political conflict is building bridges and crushing barriers, and this conflict is no exception. The Human Factor does contain violence, gore, and scenes that depict warfare.

I give The Human Factor 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it to ages 13 to 18 as well as adults. You can watch The Human Factor in theatres nationwide on May 7, 2021.

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Launchpad * Emotional And Uplifting Collection – Great For Teens And Adults

May 29th, 2021

Launchpad is a collection of six short films. Six filmmakers from underrepresented backgrounds were selected and provided with the opportunity to share their perspectives and creative visions that will show audiences what it means to be seen. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Kyla C. comments, “Launchpad is an emotional and uplifting collection of Disney short films that are great for teens and adults. Every one of the six movies features excellent acting, impressive cinematography, great special effects and storylines with meaningful themes.” See her full review below.

Launchpad
By Kyla C, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 11

Launchpad is an emotional and uplifting collection of Disney short films that are great for teens and
adults. Every one of the six movies features excellent acting, impressive cinematography, great special effects and storylines with meaningful themes.

Launchpad includes six different shorts, each with its own unique plot. American Eid and The Last of the Chupacabras are both centered around religion; American Eid is about a young girl finding out she has to go to school on the Muslim holiday, Eid. The Last of the Chupacabras  is about a lone Mexican-American trying to keep her culture alive. Growing Fangs is a fantasy about a half-human/half-vampire trying to hide her identity from both worlds. Let’s Be Tigers is about a young girl, Avalon (Otmara Marrero) trying to process the loss of her mother while she is babysitting for a 4-year-old. Dinner Is Served follows a Chinese student trying out for the top position at a fancy restaurant. The Little Prince(ss) is a story about a young boy who loves ballet and whose best friend’s dad comes to talk to his parents about his “girlish behavior.”

With emotional and deep storylines, these short films need great acting to convey the strong messages of the films. These actors deliver. Every character is portrayed by a passionate actor that deeply understands their character and performs with passion. Even for films with no dialogue, you can understand what they are thinking and feeling. Otmara Marrero who plays Avalon in Let’s Be Tigers, delivers an unforgettable performance as such a sorrowful character. The change as she plays with Noah (Dash McCloud) is visible as the film develops. In American Eid, Jenna Qureshi, who plays Ameena’s older sister, Zainab, also delivers a stunning performance, making her teenage, trying-to-be-cool character relatable in every way. The cinematography is equally excellent. The special effects in the fantasy films are wonderful, particularly in Growing Fangs with its vampire effects. Magic is the main component in this one, but there are other effects as well. The stories are all well-written. Some of the shorts are heart-breaking and emotional, while others are more uplifting and creative. There’s a variety of wonderful ideas spread throughout.

These shorts have many themes, some overlapping others. A central point for all of them, is to recognize other people for what they are, not for how they appear.

I give Launchpad 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 12 to 18 plus adults. Launchpad can be viewed on Disney Plus beginning May 28, 2021.

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Hollywood.con * Comedic, Mysterious And Informative

May 27th, 2021

An actor steals the identity of a producer, and is hurled into Hollywood’s next Mayan film. In the jungle of Mexico she is mistaken as a member of a cartel. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Mikella G. comments, “I like Hollywood.con because it is a comedic film that is very informative about Guatemalan culture. It contains a lot of funny scenes and is very entertaining.” See her full review and interview with director / star Mikella Boorem below.

Hollywood.con
By Mikella G., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15

I like Hollywood.con because it is a comedic film that is very informative about Guatemalan culture. It contains a lot of funny scenes and is very entertaining.

This film starts off profiling a struggling actress living in Los Angeles. However, after an unexpected turn of events, the protagonist Mika (Mika Boorem) finds herself in Guatemala, working on her first ever producer job. Throughout her time there she experiences many ups and downs, and eventually finds herself. While in Guatemala, Mika and her team encounter some competition in making their film. They must work together to stay competitive, while learning how to respect the values of other cultures.

Something that I really like about this movie is how they include a mix of genres in one film. Not only is it comedic, but it is also mysterious. I love mysterious films and, including humor, makes it that much better. Another thing that I enjoyed are the fun little special effects that are included every so often. They have the right amount to create a fun dynamic, without making it become a live action film.

The message of this film is to always stay true to yourself, even during competitive times. This film does include some profanity.

I give Hollywood.con 3 out of  5 stars and recommend it for ages 12 to 18, plus adults. Hollywood.con is available now on Amazon Prime!

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RK/RKAY * A Mind-Bending, Multi-Layered Film, Shot And Edited With Meticulous Care

May 12th, 2021

RK is a filmmaker, making a new film, in which he also plays the lead character of Mahboob. Its a quaint film, like a tribute to the cinema of the sixties. People close to him are not really sure why RK wants to make this film.. Edit begins and RK has a sinking feeling that this film is not going to come together, that this time he has really screwed up. His nightmares warn him of an impending disaster. Sure enough, one afternoon RK gets a call from the edit room- something terrible has happened. Mahboob has run away, run out of the film. Nobody can really understand why would he leave, where would he go. But he is not there anymore in the rushes- missing from the film negative as well. The fact is Mahboob was running away from his killers, and somehow he left the film and arrived in our world. RK finds him, brings him home- but Mahboob has no idea where he is from, or that he is any different from people around him. Slowly, he is told. They must convince him to go back to the film, so that RK can finish his film. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Eshaan M. comments, “A mind-bending film, RK/RKAY is a multi-layered film, shot and edited with care for small details. You’ll be tuned in, trying to figure out where the plot will go next, throughout the duration of the film.” See his full review below.

RK/RKAY
By Eshaan Mani, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15

https://youtu.be/FaryF6gmA6Q

A mind-bending film, RK/RKAY is a multi-layered film, shot and edited with care for small details. You’ll be tuned in, trying to figure out where the plot will go next, throughout the duration of the film.

The storyline follows filmmaker RK (Rajat Kapoor) who is in the process of directing and starring in his film. He plays the lead character of Mahboob. The film opens with a nostalgic vignette for 1960s Bollywood films – the clamor on set, a high-maintenance actress as the female lead Gulabo (Mallika Sherawat) and a slight sepia tone. Everything seems to be going just fine when the editing for the film begins, but RK gets a call from the editing room. Mahboob has run out of the film and has somehow entered the real world, fleeing from the film’s cartoonish killers when RK finds him and brings him home to sort things out. RK must convince Mahboob to go back into the world of the film, as that is where he belongs.

RK/RKAY is a crowd-funded film, but you cannot tell from the incredible production quality. Director Rajat Kapoor is an experienced short and feature length film director and his expertise, even with a low budget, is evident. I am blown away by the cinematography, script and overall production quality. The film-within-a-film premise requires clear dialogue to avoid confusion, and RK/RKAY delivers. Even though it is a Hindi film, the subtitles are clear and you can easily follow what’s happening. I also love the cinematography; the film makes amazing use of light and shadows as well as colors. The film that RK is producing has a bit of a sepia or golden tint to it, as does Mahboob when he enters the real world. Depending on their mood, characters may be placed halfway, completely, or not at all in the shadow. Though the film tends to drag a bit in the second half, the whole production effort is impressive enough that one gets pulled back into the film.

RK/RKAY promotes messages of finding yourself, being dedicated to your projects, and staying true to love.

I give RK/RKAY 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 15-18, plus adults. RK/RKAY premieres in the US and Canada on May 14, 2021, in theatres and virtually.

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Crappy Mother’s Day * If You Think Your Family Is Crazy, Think Again!

May 4th, 2021

Three generations of women come together on Mother’s Day. Things don’t go as planned. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Katherine S. comments, “If you think your family is crazy, think again. When three generations of women, Sarah (Kristen Krak), Totie (Jackie Debatin) and Grandma (Vivien Landau) attempt to celebrate Mother’s Day, things go from bad to worse – immediately. From a senile grandmother to whacky uncles to a grandpa who is buried in the backyard, keeping the family together for a single day proves a difficult task, especially when Sarah brings her fiancé into the mix. You don’t need to be a master chef to figure out that this is a recipe for a really “Crappy Mother’s Day.” See her full review below.

Crappy Mother’s Day
By Katherine S, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 13

Crappy Mother’s Day is sure to get some laughs out of you and it comes out just in time for Mother’s Day.

If you think your family is crazy, think again. When three generations of women, Sarah (Kristen Krak), Totie (Jackie Debatin) and Grandma (Vivien Landau) attempt to celebrate Mother’s Day, things go from bad to worse – immediately. From a senile grandmother to whacky uncles to a grandpa who is buried in the backyard, keeping the family together for a single day proves a difficult task, especially when Sarah brings her fiancé into the mix. You don’t need to be a master chef to figure out that this is a recipe for a really “Crappy Mother’s Day.” 

Director Dan Karlok lets go of the reins and allows slap stick comedy to insert itself at every turn of the movie. Though the comedy is hilarious, some of the scenes are a bit longer than needed and a bit random. The acting is wonderful, making this family look absolutely wacky and wild. None of the relationships seem normal. Kristen Krak, as Sarah, really appears to be the only normal person in the family. Addison Anderson, as James, plays a very fun character that breaks out of his shell as the movie develops.

Bill Rutkoski, the crazed fiancé of Totie, is very believable. I certainly wouldn’t want him for a stepdad. Vivien Landau plays the perfect mean, old grandma. John Rutkoski and Mike Rutkoski, as Uncle Lenny and Uncle Donny respectively, nail the Planet of the Apes-obsessed uncles. My favorite characters are Grandma and Aunt Sonny (Marie Lenzie) because they are the most entertaining. They are always arguing and fighting in humorous ways, like two old, senile bats that love tormenting each other.

The message that is your family is the only family you have and, as crazy as you think they might be, they love you. Also, when getting married, be prepared for your newly expanded family and find something in common, even if it’s just Planet of the Apes boxers. There is profanity, some mature topics and heavy drinking.

I give Crappy Mother’s Day 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 14 to 18, plus adults. This film releases on VOD May 4, 2021

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City of Ghosts * Clever, Charming And Refreshing

April 29th, 2021

A group of kids discover stories around their city by communicating directly with the ghosts who inhabit it. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Jude A. comments, “What could possibly be clever, charming and also refreshing? The new short series City of Ghosts! displays a new authentic animation style that is really pleasing to the eye and will make you want to watch the show more and more. The show delivers a very creative plot that makes you fall in love with both the show and its characters.” See his full review below.

City of Ghosts
By Jude A., KIDS FIRST Film Critic, age 15

What could possibly be clever, charming and also refreshing? The new short series City of Ghosts! displays a new authentic animation style that is really pleasing to the eye and will make you want to watch the show more and more. The show delivers a very creative plot that makes you fall in love with both the show and its characters.

City of Ghosts follows a group of children that love ghosts. Together they decide to make a homemade show discovering different ghosts around the city. The children go to various places meeting new people and new friends.

City of Ghosts has a very different animation style than most other shows. The physical characters are animated, but the environment around them is real world settings. This seems odd at first, but over time you start to adore it. The animation really stands out because of this creative new angle of animation it delivers.

The show has many themes of friendship, family and exploration. City of Ghosts also has many morals. It teaches children the importance of creativity and the concept that you can do anything you put your mind to.

I give City of Ghosts 5 out of 5 stars and I recommend it for ages 2 to 6. This was definitely a highlight of the New York International Film Festival and is available now on Netflix.

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Dreambuilders * Captivating And Unique Storyline That Gives A Twist To How Dreams Are Created

April 22nd, 2021

Minna’s life is turned upside down when her dad’s new fiancée Helena and her daughter Jenny move in. Her new stepsister Jenny turns out to be horrible and Minna is frustrated. She wants her gone! One night, Minna discovers a world behind her dreams in which the dreambuilders create our dreams on theater stages and finds out how to manipulate Jenny’s dreams. But interfering with people’s dreams has dire consequences and when Minna goes too far one night, Jenny can’t wake up. Minna must enter the dream world one final time to face the dreams she has created in order to save Jenny and her new family.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Avery P. comments, “The film Dreambuilders is a very creative movie.  It is very whimsical and bright and takes you on a fun adventure behind the scenes of our dreams!” See her full review below.

Dreambuilders
By Avery Peaslee, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 13

The film Dreambuilders is a very creative movie.  It is very whimsical and bright and takes you on a fun adventure behind the scenes of our dreams!

The plot of this film takes in the concept of modern family issues. When Minna’s (           Robyn Dempsey) life is turned upside down upon the arrival of her new stepmom Helene (Karen Ardiff) and mean daughter Jenny (Emma Jenkins). Minna is able to find the backstage to her dreams and tries to sabotage Jenny’s dreams to stop her from ruining her life. When a dream creation goes wrong, Minna finds herself and her dream worker friend Gaff (Luke Griffin) helping to bring back Jenny.

Throughout the animated movie each scene is colorful and bright. The set designs are so whimsical and creative. I love each design and the idea of our dreams. The dreams are created for each person with actors, sets and scripts. There is a whole new world behind the backstage of dreams. The ideas are super fun. My favorite part of the movie is when Minna finds this hidden world. Each character is very unique and has a certain style that makes them different. The storyline is also quite sad because it addresses family issues. The hardship between the two families eventually wears off until they all learn to love each other. There is beautiful background music playing throughout the film. The songs all have a story behind them relating back to the scenes in the movie. The movie did become a bit predictable at times, but it is still original, entertaining and worth watching.

The message is to be careful what you wish for. Minna wants a specific life with just her dad. When others show up, she is unsure and does not take into account the sadness and harm she would bring to her family by messing with others’ dreams. You should know that this film includes a sensitive topic of families like divorce, fighting and new family members. There are also some frightening and intense scenes.

I give Dreambuilders 3.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 7 to 13. Available now at select KIDS FIRST! Film Festivals

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