Two years ago, during the Late Summer Bank Holiday, the very first Family Friendly Film Festival hit a few venues across Manchester. Back in August 2006 I was doing The LOOK at QT Radio in the Northern Quarter, and jumped at the opportunity to cover this new event. It subsequently made the topic of one of the first blog posts here.
FFFF, curated by Arts About Manchester, has been taken off the ground by the infatigable Leah Byrne who, with the help of her assistant Rachel Witkin and a team of volunteers, is now in the third year of bringing the best in children’s film and animation to the parents and children of Greater Manchester. The screenings at the very first FFFF included some award-winning and nominated films and cartoons (you can find the full list if you follow the link to the 2006 post), but that was only a half of what the FFFF team had to offer. Recognising the importance of the visual impression, the festival organisers wanted to involve children – and their parents – in some hands-on activity, whereby they came up with an idea of creative workshops.
I edited some of the 2006 show – this is a good recap of the aims and programme of the first Family Friendly Film Festival. The first speaker is Leah herself, followed by the one of the WFA Media & Cultural Centre workers, followed in turn by one of the parents who with their children took part in the puppet animation workshop at the Zion Arts Centre. Naturally, because Leah is interested in film, we also got to talk about the Disney films vs. European and Japanese animation. The enthusiasm of the interviewees potently proves that at this event both children and parents learn new skills, and adults relive their childhood moments; and that cinema as a medium is wonderful for bringing the members of family together.
This year the festival has grown far and wide, and lasts not for a few days over a Bank Holiday weekend, but for over a week, from 8th until 17th of August. The venues are as diverse as Urbis, Zion Arts Centre, The John Rylands Library in Deansgate, and The Stockport Plaza. The best thing, as before, is that most of these events are free, drop-in-sessions for kids and parents, although there is a portion of events for which you need to book a seat or to buy a ticket. These are usually the workshops, and also some screenings, but all at £5 or less. The tickets are on sale NOW at www.quaytickets.com or by phone on 0870 428 0785.
This year FFFF also has some activities celebrating the National Year of Reading, and one of these will include the screening of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the Reading Room at the John Rylands Library in Deansgate. Other events that are part of the National Year of Reading will be taking place at the Central Library, Clayton and Chorlton Libraries, and The Met.
And one the festival’s highlights is doubtless Darius Goes West (dir. Logan Smalley, USA, 2007). To quote the short synopsis,
Darius Weems from Athens, Georgia, was born with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). In 1989, Darius watched his older brother, Mario, pass away from the same disease at age 19. Soon after, he lost use of the muscles in his legs and began using a wheelchair. A group of his friends felt there was no need for his quality of life to disintegrate along with his muscles. So, they decided to take Darius, who had never seen a range of mountains, never dipped his toes into an ocean, and never crossed a state line on the adventure of a lifetime. After raising $60,000, this “band of brothers” rented a wheelchair-accessible RV and hit the road. Their three-week cross-country journey had one major goal: to reach Los Angeles and convince MTV’s popular show, “Pimp My Ride”, to customize Darius’s wheelchair. Along the way, they evaluated wheelchair accessibility at many of America’s major tourist attractions and raised awareness of DMD by holding over a dozen press conferences. They also found joy, brotherhood, and the knowledge that life, even when imperfect, is always worth the ride.
Already the first FFFF was courageous in the choice of some of the screenings, and it goes further to help children of Greater Manchester to learn to see themselves and other children in perspective. Somehow here cinema and animation may be doing a better job for the youngsters who may not yet be able to experience the power of a written word, but are not hindered from learning lessons from film’s sight&sound. Hopefully, there will be many more years for FFFF to come.