Adults typically have to wait until December, when studios start rolling out Oscar contenders, to see the best films of the year. Local kids are luckier: Each October brings the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, organized by Facets Multi-Media, the Chicago-based arts nonprofit. The entries to this year’s 28th annual fest, a ten-day affair beginning October 21 and hosted in cinemas across the city, range from fairy tales to coming-of-age stories and feature a diverse array of formats (documentaries, TV shows, etc.), divided by age group.
When asked to name some highlights, CICFF programming director Ann Vikstrom cites Rock It!, a Disney live-action feature in the vein of High School Musical, and a program of good ghost stories—after all, the festival coincides with Halloween season. And if you (or, um, your kid) love cartoons? CICFF has snagged three entries from France—“the big hot thing,” Vikstrom confides. “A Cat in Paris will probably win a number of awards, and it’s super adorable. Who doesn’t like cats and who doesn’t like Paris?”
If you’ve got toddlers, you’re in luck: My First Movies is an entire series specifically for the 2–5 set. At just under an hour each, these shorter films tend to focus on early-childhood education. During the week, the films help with language and math skills, Vikstrom explains. Weekend titles, including Elias and the Treasure of the Sea, tend to be “more about family and neighborhood,” she says.
Young Steven Spielbergs and Spike Lees are in luck too: The festival’s intimate Take One! workshops provide a great opportunity for ages 7–14. The teachers are bona fide pros, too: Artists from LAIKA, the studio behind Coraline, teach an animation workshop, while Lookingglass Theatre peeps teach acting.
With 251 films from more than 40 countries, the festival lives up to the international billing in its name. I Am Kalam, about a poor boy who idolizes former Indian president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, already won raves at Cannes. The Magicians, a Dutch feature about a boy who learns magic, is another critical favorite. TuTu Much, a Canadian doc, follows nine girls from around the world as they audition for ballet school. And here’s a nifty bonus: A team of actors will read subtitles aloud for movies geared to kids ages 8 and under.
CICFF runs October 21–30. Tickets are $9; ages 2–16, $6. For a complete schedule, visit cicff.org.