Children’s Film First Conference 2015 (Claire Vaughan, Chapter)

Claire Vaughan, Programme Officer at Chapter Arts Centre Cardiff tells us all about her experiences at the Children’s Film First Conference 2015 in Brussels:

“A hop to London on a bus, a skip onto the Eurostar and a jump off the platform into the beautiful, multicultural city of Brussels and I was making my way to a European-wide conference on Children’s Cinema.”




In these times of austerity it proved that there are alternatives and with a little investment in these areas we can create a more robust and healthy film culture in the future. A really inspiring couple of days with some wonderful people.



Family friendly cinema is of real interest to us here in Chapter. Our Family audiences are consistent cinema goers. Blockbuster and cartoon favourites are all hits with our audience but when we try something a little different the feedback is not always that great as audiences vote with their feet and sadly don’t come. Recently we had a bit of a lightbulb moment when we screened the Norwegian film Dr Proctor’s Fart Powder, which is a really colourful and fun Chitty Chitty Bang Bang-style comedy where two children befriend a lonely inventor. The film had a general release in the UK dubbed, and we advertised it as such. However, it wasn’t until the screenings started that we realised that some contemporary family audiences hadn’t experienced a live action dubbed film. Many of us grew up watching Heidi and other international family titles on TV but it happens so rarely that a live action film is screened with dubbing that our audience thought that there was something wrong with the audio sync. This raised really important questions over the future of introducing children to world cinema and their exposure to film culture that isn’t made in the English language. It made it clear that we need to do some work with our audiences on how we can help them access a wider film culture. It was really pertinent to have in mind going into the conference.


The other hot topic for us was the publication earlier this year of y Donaldson Report which Welsh Assembly Education Minister Huw Lewis called a “compelling, exciting and ambitious vision for a new curriculum in Wales”. The ambitions laid out by Professor Donaldson puts creative thinking directly in the heart of education and has implications to go completely against the grain of the education approach in Westminster. Arts organisations are all looking at how they can help to mentor on this new style of teaching, which could create new, engaged and really dynamic audiences. Into Film is working directly with schools and my colleague Matt Beere is a film educator working with hard-to-reach young people and children on the autism spectrum but this conference was an opportunity to see what other film educators are doing across Europe and how other film exhibitors are engaging their general young audiences with film.

The first evening there I joined my colleague Matt Beere (from here at Chapter) as well as Gavin Johnson from Ffilm Cymru Wales FAN BFI a Rhiannon FAN BFI a Jonathan from the Youth Film Festival Wales where we met up with people from festivals, distributors, filmmakers, exhibitors and funders from all over Europe. These things are always a bit intimidating but we got chatting to some really interesting people and it was clear that we all had a lot to learn from each other. We spent a lot of the evening comparing and contrasting the different approaches between Sweden and Wales with Mikael, Fredrik and Linnea from Folkets Bio Filmpedagogerna. Sweden, like Wales, is a country with a largely rural geography but with the population centred in the south. They are also a country with different languages competing for space in the public consciousness and how the public broadcasters are able to help languages grow. However, Sweden is a country that despite a swing to the right in terms of government, still sees the value in education and funding for the creative industries and it was wonderful to hear examples from them about how they have approached different communities within Stockholm and beyond.

The conference proper was opened with a really inspiring speech from Julie Ward, MEP for North West England who spoke about the importance of learning from each other and what work she is doing within the European Union to make film education and creative thinking at the heart of learning. She went on to talk about citizenship and children’s rights being incredibly important to the education curriculum. The issue of how education and culture is an important tool to dealing with the refugee crisis was keenly felt by many of us and was one of the biggest topics of conversation in the introductory drinks the evening previously so it was reassuring to hear that someone on the Culture and Education Committee for the EU was putting this discussion on the agenda. We then had an eccentric keynote speech from Dutch filmmaker Boudewijn Koole who directed the award-winning film Kauwboy He discussed how creative learning benefits the entire community by using the example of how in the ant community 92% are workers and the other 8% are wanderers and on the surface they do “nothing” but they are the creative thinkers who find food and take new approaches. He said that children are experts in new thinking, they are not jaded by “been there done that” approach so we need to respect their right to choose for themselves and create with us. We need to open them up to creative thinking rather than telling them what to think”.


From an exhibition perspective the most important part of the day came next, with a discussion on distribution models with Ed Fletcher from Soda Pictures, Matthieu Zeller from Octopolis, Anja Horckmans from Jekino FAN BFI a Reinhold Schoeffel from the German equivalent of the BFI (BJF). In the UK Soda is developing the Children’s Cinema Club, which is helping to distribute and help audiences engage with world cinema. It was really useful to hear about future trends and although the moderator seemed a little spooked by the VOD models of distribution it was heartening that the speakers themselves working in that side of the industry are taking a more measured approach. Matthieu from Octopolis recognised that we need to engage children with VOD platforms in some way as this is how they are consuming visual entertainment, but the communal experience is still very important so it can become a tool rather than something to be feared. Soda are trying out different distribution splits to encourage venues to take risks. BJF is looking at partnerships with theatrical and non-theatrical as well as producing study guides for films to improve the life of a film. It was all very encouraging and points to a joined-up, collaborative approach which made me very hopeful for future audience development work we can do here in Wales.


At this point the conference split into different groups. I went to a really wonderful talk on Young Jurors and Curators, with the example of the European Film Festival’s youth programme being the most inspirational. They have two levels of engagement for their audience, a younger programme strand and a 12+ programme which mentors and eventually gives control of the programme to the young people themselves. As Director Iris Verhoeven said, this is a risk but it reaps huge rewards of not only a more engaged audience but a larger one too. The young people chair Q&As, volunteer and curate the programme entirely themselves and it is incredibly successful. The second discussion I attended was a presentation from Claire Oliver on the amazing work Into Film is doing to look at how to reach young people in schools. It made me incredibly proud that so many people left the room talking about a UK initiative. However, as a venue the Eye Filmmuseum in Amsterdam gave an example of a really integrated approach to film education. They have developed a web series made with young people with a film-with-a-film plot about making a zombie movie for a film festival. The script references the history of horror films, information about which is found on their website and then screenings of the films can be found at the venue. At the end of the series the young people involved screen their film at an actual festival with the entire experience which in turn gives viewers an insight into the industry. The web series is promoted by young Youtube stars within The Netherlands who are encouraging the young people to look at filmmaking and using their voices in a different way. It is incredibly ambitious and successful and showed what can be done as an alternative but collaborative method to introducing young people to film culture. However, although my talk was enlightening a lot of fun was being had with the Mash Up Table which is a part-performative tool, part education tool using technology and QR codes to take an entirely different approach to editing. Along with a presentation on the Children’s Film First Databases which will make study guides for a selection of new films every year available in various languages, the conference had a lot of hope to offer film educators and those looking to engage young people in film.