Two years ago my wife and I were still reeling from the fact that our 1-year-old daughter, Alice, had prevented us from seeing any movies in the theatre for nearly an entire year. Video on demand had become our best friend as we were thrust into the universe of child-induced seclusion. We were never the type to try the patience of others by bringing our potentially screaming or stinky child into a cinematic sanctuary. We were suddenly beside ourselves with joy as I received tickets to the Tumbleweeds Film Festival, which was then in the second year of screenings. A film festival geared towards kids that was very likely to be full of tiny, screaming, stinky people? We would fit right in! We prepared for the warm embrace and support of our fellow movie-deprived parents and made it to our first screening. Minutes after the room went dark, my daughter was standing on her seat, looking out at all of the people trying to concentrate on the movie, screaming several blabbering phrases that I can only assume were the equivalent of baby profanity, because when I looked around I found that all of those other stinky kids had their eyes on my little lady, and they did not look amused. I nudged my wife and we decided to quietly make our way out of the theater, the journey made painfully long by the resentful gaze thrust upon us by the other tiny viewers. Alice had been shunned out of the theater by a group of her peers. I’m sure that our experience was slightly exaggerated, and as first-time parents, every public screaming episode left us slightly traumatized.
This year I was once again presented with the opportunity to check out the festival, this time, with a much older and wiser young lady to accompany me. I am glad to say that we did feel the warm embrace of my fellow parents, and Alice, a bond with her own, slightly larger and less stinky peers, as we set out to enjoy free pizza and a new world of cinematic exposure for kids in SLC that has no rival. Tumbleweeds’ wide variety of films targets all age groups with a range of films from all over the world. Alice and I set off on our own cinematic adventure, primed for laughs, tears and whatever other emotions we could muster from a 3-year-old attention span over the course of several hours and two days of movies.
Ernest & Celestine
Directors: Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar & Benjamin Renner
Our first venture into the festival, Ernest & Celestine, was probably a favorite. This animated feature is the story of Celestine, a mouse living in an orphanage in an underground mouse community, and Ernest, a bear who is a down-and-out musician looking for a good meal. In this world, bears and mice do not get along and are genuinely repulsed by one another. Celestine and Ernest are brought together by both of their rough situations and their mutually beneficial skillsets, as well as simply enjoying the company of one another. Together they defy the odds and break down the social hang-ups of their mutual communities. Beautifully animated, Ernest & Celestine captures the simple watercolor style similar to the illustrated books that the movie is based on. The soundtrack, composed by Vincent Courtois, is lighthearted and captures the youthful and adventurous characteristics of Celestine and her curiosity and thirst for life. Originally in French, we saw a version dubbed in English featuring voice work by Forest Whitaker, Mackenzie Foy, Paul Giamatti and William H. Macy. The connection made between the main characters as they overcome their challenges is sweetly endearing and fun.
Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang
Director: Óskar Santos
Zip and Zap are a pair of rambunctious brothers who have been sent away for the summer to a strict boarding school to straighten up. The school is structured with the strictest of disciplinary tactics and fun is strictly forbidden. Given Zip and Zap’s rebellious nature, they form the Marble Gang and are determined to undermine the very principles of the school by wreaking havoc throughout the night. Their crazy adventures lead them to discover secrets deeply rooted in the history of the school, which shakes the very foundation in which the school functions.
Who can resist a great throwback to the Goonies? Zip and Zap, based on a popular Spanish Comic Book, is full of the kind of energy that inspires youth rebellion and independence while fueling the imagination and need to explore. Zip and Zap is full of well-executed slapstick and physical humor while still fully exploring the need for companionship that we all feel when thrust into unsettling situations. Zip and Zap is a movie that both adults and kids can enjoy together and carefully maintains a balance of fart joke humor and smart dialogue. The fact that the movie was in Spanish did not deter my 3-year-old from being fully engaged by the movie (Tumbleweeds also provided headsets where kids could listen to someone reading the subtitles if they could not read them). Zip and Zap wonderfully utilizes the surroundings by beautifully capturing the architectural details of the school and surrounding grounds as well as incorporating creative booby traps, mysterious rooms and hidden treasure—everything that a rebellious young marble gang might need to bring down the man.
Girls P.O.V. (A Tumbleweeds Shorts Program)
My First Spellbook
Director: Gavin Laing
Katy, an imaginative young girl, is struggling with acceptance at school. She is picked on by other kids and she seems to constantly be singled out by her teacher when something goes wrong in class. Katy sees her opportunity for vengeance when she gets a copy of “My First Spellbook,” a recipe book for the young, aspiring witch. Katy then gives all who wrong her a taste of black magic through evil curses. Little does Katy know that being a witch and casting spells on your friends and family could have very negative consequences. This was a great film to begin this collection of short films focusing on girls as some of the other films take a much more serious note. My First Spellbook is fun and helps youngsters see the importance of thinking their actions through, and that negative actions can, in turn, have a negative impact on oneself.
A Different Tree
Director: Steven Caple, Jr.
Pearl’s class is working on putting together family trees for a class project, but Pearl is embarrassed to present to the class because she has never met her dad, and half of her family tree is empty. Pearl then sets off to find her dad, only to find that some dads are not all that they may be cracked up to be. A Different Tree was probably one of the more serious films that we saw at the festival, but it delivered an important message to adults and youth by showing the perspective of the loss that a person may feel in their lives when they may be missing a parent or loved one. Unfortunately, this is a reality that many kids face every day, and some have more difficulty dealing with than others. A Different Tree show’s Pearl’s journey as she comes to accept her situation by primarily focusing on Pearl, alone, as she works through everything. Despite the darker overtones, Pearl is played by Morgan Ashley, who effectively portrays Pearl’s brilliant and curious nature through her quirky expressions and body language, and still leaves viewers knowing that through her own determination, Pearl is going to be all right.
Tumbleweeds Shorts Program 1: Fun for Everyone!
Tumbleweeds Shorts Program 1 offered several short animated films ranging from 4 to 10 minutes in several animated mediums, here are some highlights:
Hedgehogs and the City
Director: Evalds Lacis
A number of animals are displaced when their forest is replaced by a new city. Forced to live in the park, the animals quickly adapt to the new hustle and bustle by engaging in entrepreneurial tactics to eventually reclaim their city. Viewers quickly bond with the animals in this film as they creatively deal with their new living situation and human neighbors as these easily embraced and cute creatures are portrayed using stop motion animation. The animals do not speak and rely on great Charlie Chaplin-like physical attributes (with some tweaking for each animal) to show off their amusing personalities.
Director: Natalia Chernysheva
A young boy in Africa mysteriously finds himself surrounded by snow for the first time after he receives a paper snowflake in the mail. The boy helps the local animals in the area cope with the new, cold environment as they parade around the suddenly snow-filled Savanna Desert. A brilliant color contrast is created using solid colors to illustrate the boy and animals against the plain white background of the snow. The simplicity of the interactions create an atmosphere that was fun to experience as I watched this movie with my own daughter. I couldn’t help but remember watching her play in the snow for the first time, which is an experience that Chernysheva captured perfectly as we watched the boy unknowingly run naked into the snow, not knowing that it would be cold. This film was ridiculously cute.