Formerly known as Sprockets, the Kids Programme at the Toronto International Film Festival is always a hit among families wanting to participate in the excitement of the festival. For 2011, programmer Elizabeth Muskala has selected four unique features that will appeal to a wide range of age groups while keeping mom and dad entertained as well. There’s the ballet documentary First Position, the 3-D animated feature A Monster in Paris, Hiroyuki Okiura’s anime feature A Letter to Momo, and The Flying Machine, a lesson in Chopin starring Heather Grahm and pianist Lang Lang.
Criticize This! spoke with Muskala about her selection process. Read our Q&A below.
Brian McKechnie: How long have you been programming at TIFF?
Elizabeth Muskala: I’ve been with the Festival since 1996, but technically have only been selecting films as a programmer since 2004.
BM: What goes into your selection process for the TIFF Kids programme?
EM: Like the majority of film festivals, the selection process for the TIFF Kids Programme begins with evaluating cinematic merit. The films we screen have to be well made and show clear knowledge of and commitment to the craft. There’s a goal we set that each of these programme slots is as entertaining as possible for families, regardless of country of origin or genre, which ranges from an assortment of animation styles to live-action and documentary films.
BM: How do you select only four films for such a broad age range?
EM: Over the past fifteen years we have developed increasingly stringent pre-screening and selection processes that make us unique in the film festival circuit. Gathering extensive feedback enables us to fine-tune our diverse array of age-specific screening programmes to suit comprehension levels among any age group. Each film in the programme has an age recommendation as well as notes regarding content.
BM: How many films did you look at before choosing the four in this year’s programme?
EM: Over 60!
BM: What really grabbed you about each of the four films you picked? Do you have a favourite?
EM: The thing I’m most proud of this year is the incredible balance we’ve been able to strike in the programme lineup. From a stunningly animated 3-D feature, to a beautiful documentary on ballet, to a 3-D feature showcasing both stop-motion animation and live action; celebrating the 200th Anniversary of Chopin’s birth, to a serene, engrossing anime film from Japan. Each has its merits, but the programme overall is exceptional in this balance.
BM: How do kids and families react to the TIFF Kids programme?
EM: Year after year, no matter how difficult it can be pulling together a world-class lineup of family films, the payoff is ALWAYS in the audience reaction. It all seems worth it when you see the laughter and tears of the audience.
BM: You also programme the Sprockets Toronto International Film Festival for Children and Youth. How does programming that differ from your work on TIFF?
EM: The most striking difference is the scale of focus on family audiences. Sprockets aims to offer a variety of films and international styles for all age groups from ages 3 – 18. Gathering extensive family feedback and collaborating with educators enables us to fine-tune our screening programmes to suit comprehension levels among different age groups.
For example, Reel Rascals (ages 3 – 6), focuses on simple, funny, vibrant films with almost no dialogue, compared to Loot Bag (for ages 7 – 9 and 9 – 12), which begins to introduce complex narratives and abstraction, progressing into the programmes for those aged 12+ that often share international perspectives on issues of identity, coming-of-age, learning to socialize, family values, health, overcoming challenges and striving to accomplish one’s goals.
With Sprockets, we also address the needs of teens in our High School programme, which focuses on challenging feature films and documentaries that engage contemporary international, political, environmental and social issues. There are also extensive outreach and workshop activities as an example of our commitment to supporting emerging filmmakers.
BM: What are you looking forward to most at TIFF 2011 outside of the TIFF Kids programme?
EM: Jane Schoettle, the founder of Sprockets Toronto International Film Festival for Children and Youth and International Programmer for TIFF, has fantastic taste and has recommended that I see Burning Man.
TIFF 2011 runs from September 8 – 18. For more information, visit tiff.net.
Top image: A scene from A Letter to Momo. Courtesy TIFF.