Why should grown-ups have all the fun?


As the Jio MAMI 18th Mumbai Film Festival kicks off this week, children and young adults can look forward to seeing a range of acclaimed films especially curated for them as part of the section, Half Ticket. Monica Wahi, who is the founder and director of the Southasian Children’s Cinema Forum has curated the section and says that the section is an attempt to introduce cinema to young children, and encourage them to become cineastes.

This year, Half Ticket will commence with the screening of The Little Prince, an animated adaptation of the 1943 classic by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Directed by Mark Osborne of Kung Fu Panda fame , The Little Prince uses stop-motion and CGI to bring to life the beloved story of an aviator who meets a young prince who lives on an asteroid. Wahi says that they are very proud to be screening this internationally-acclaimed film, also because it has had a limited theatrical release across the world, before it premiered on Netflix in U.S.

Half Ticket will present a slate of 28 films from across the world, including 13 features and 15 shorts. “When you put together a programme, the films must be diverse and yet speak to each other to create a larger story,” says Wahi. “From handmade shorts and indie features like The World of Us or The Blue Bicycle to celebrated big studio productions like Heidi and Fanny’s Journey there is a wide range of films.” Apart from the film screenings, nine budding writers will attend a screen writing workshop by Dibarkar Banerjee, Diya Mirza, and Varun Grover.

Half Ticket was introduced last year with schools being its primary audience, and Wahi said that both children and teachers enjoyed the festival immensely. This year, in its second edition, the section is not limited to schools — it is also open to festival delegates accompanied by children and young adults, aged five to 17, for weekend shows. What’s fabulous about the selection is that there’s something for all age groups. Younger children can experience two interactive sessions of animated shorts led by Gillo Theatre Repertory.

Schools too are excited about Half Ticket, and many teachers have expressed an interest on engaging with world cinema across the school year. “This is the kind of impact we hope for,” says Wahi, adding, “When films are no longer looked at as just entertainment content for consumption, but are valued as art, education and culture.”

A lot of the programming is for tweenagers, often the most responsive age group when it comes to new experiences. “At this age, children hunger for something new,” says Wahi. “They are much more open to experimentation, to introspection, and to connect what they have watched inside the theatre to the real world they encounter outside. Introduce them to a new kind of cinema, and they lap it up.” Apart from The Little Prince, Half Ticket will screen films such as Heidi and At Eye Level from Germany, Hang in there, kids! from Taiwan, and Window Horses from Canada. Closer home, children can see Hardik Mehta’s documentrary Ahmedabad ma Famous, Nina Sabnani’s animated short We Make Images and Manas Mukul Pal’s Feature Colours of Innocence among others . Many of these films are difficult to access outside of festivals and Half Ticket offers parents, teachers, and children a space to watch cinema from across the world.

Young adults can look forward to engaging with the films through a series of meaningful conversations and discussions. In fact, for Wahi, one of the highlights of Half Ticket is the discussions that are held with the children, post screening. “We hold discussions with the children, where we deconstruct the films for its artistic and social relevance” she shares. “Every time, I find myself overwhelmed with the kind of responses the children give. Cinema after all is itself a conversation.”

One of the most exciting part of Half Ticket is the children’s jury, which will be comprised of seven children between ages of nine to 17. Last year, the jury unanimously gave the Golden Gateway Award for Children’s Feature to Ottal, a Malayalam film directed by Jayaraj. “ Ottal is a film that’s lyrical and languid. It has a gentle sort of humour and is essentially steeped in sadness. And yet children love it,” said Wahi. The jury choice only underscores the fact that children engage with meaningful cinema, which contrary to popular perception, doesn’t always have to be slapstick or humorous alone.

Wahi adds that the one thing that brings the section together is that the films reflect empathy and openness. “They are about being open and fearless. These films encourage you to empathise with people who are different from you. At the same time, they ask you to be self-critical – compel you to look inside yourself and challenge your own positions. This is very important particularly these days when the world is becoming more and more divisive,” she emphasises.

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