The New York International Children’s Film Festival (NYICFF) is scheduled to run from February 21 through March 15, 2020. This year, the show will highlight the cinematic achievements of Japan courtesy of an expanded program. Moreover, emphasis will be put on recent animations from Canada and the first-ever Industry Forum focusing on inclusion and representation in children’s media presented.
Most of the titles in this years’ festivals revolve around stories of kids who are determined to make a difference and subsequently take self-guided steps in activism and action, while still managing to reflect empathy. Featured films include: FORWARD: TOMORROW BELONGS TO US from France; FRIZTI: A REVOLUTIONARY TALE from Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Czech Republic; TOO FAR AWAY from Germany; CLUB OF UGLY CHILDREN from Netherlands; ROCCA CHANGES THE WORLD from Germany; and FAHIM from France.
Nina Guralnick is the Executive Director of NYICFF, and she is responsible for the strategic direction of the organization. Prior to joining NYICFF she served as President of Live Earth where she successfully harnessed the power of integrated entertainment to reach worldwide audiences of nearly two billion people via 500 media partners. She also served as the general manager of Control Room and was the head of new media for DreamWorks Records.
Maria-Christina Villaseñor, the Programming Director responsible for curating the Oscar-qualifying New York International Children’s Film Festival, recently discussed the event and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your love for the arts and why do you gravitate towards media companies, especially those that cater to children?
Maria-Christina Villaseñor (MCV): I can remember sketching in front of a painting on an elementary school field trip to an art museum, and instantly feeling that environment was my happy place. I was very fortunate that one of my earliest jobs was in a film archive and museum as a work-study student and I have been involved in film and the media arts ever since then. I love nothing more than curating and contextualizing film and art, and know firsthand how important that arts engagement experience is for children. Equal access to the arts is something I champion across all ages and demographics, but it’s especially important for kids.
MM: How did you initially get involved with NYICFF and what are the biggest challenges associated with your role there?
MCV: NYICFF (New York International Children’s Film Festival) is an amazing organization that’s been around for over 23 years. I’ve been here for the past four years, but prior to that had attended NYICFF as a researcher curating programs for other institutions, and as a parent bringing my kid out to share in experiencing something I loved. So, it felt very natural to step into the role of Programming Director at NYICFF when the opportunity arose because I could fully understand the Festival’s distinctive programming approach, and the deep connection and meaning that the Festival holds for kids, for filmmakers and the media field, and for parents and educators.
MM: How are the NYICFF films selected?
MCV: We review over 1500 open submissions as well as conduct year-round research to find the very best short and feature films from around the globe. Not all of them were originally intended for young audiences, and since we are an Oscar-qualifying festival, we want to capture very high quality films that we know will have a resonance for young viewers, so it is a huge amount of work to make sure we cast the net as widely as possible for great film!
MM: How do interested filmmakers go about submitting work to you and are any fees involved?
MCV: Filmmakers can find all information about submitting to the Festival on our website, and we receive works via the FilmFreeway platform.
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the evolution of NYICFF?
MCV: We just hosted our first-ever Industry Forum. It was an amazing success and real evolution of our mission to foster a more intelligent and inclusive film culture for all ages and audiences. We’ve expanded beyond serving family audiences to now also directly serving the industry and media field, from emerging filmmakers to major studio executives. We added this industry component to the core activities of our organization, which we also hope will continue to evolve and expand to serve even more communities everywhere: from our Oscar-qualifying, annual NYC-based film festival; to our city-wide media arts and literacy program, Film-Ed; and our national screening program serving major and regional cultural institutions, cinemas, and museums, NYICFF Kid Flicks. And we also work with countries abroad and across the US to provide consulting services for festivals and organizations that want to develop or expand their film offerings for families. For us, evolution is about expanding inclusion, diversity and excellence in film programs for young audiences locally, nationally, and internationally.
MM: What can attendees expect from your forthcoming festivals and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
MCV: We have two more weekends of our amazing month-long festival with fantastic films and great filmmaker Q&A’s where kids can pose their questions directly and families can experience wonderful film programs that offer lots of great conversation-starting topics to last well beyond the span of the Festival. So, we invite everyone to join us! You can also learn more about this year’s program through this wonderful New York Times article.
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