Generation sidebar in growth spurt


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BERLIN -- It's been four years since the Berlinale's kids film festival added a dedicated section for teenagers and a year since it switched the name to Generation. Now the sidebar is really coming of age.

Generation 14plus, as the teenage selection is known, has outgrown its original locale in one of the lesser theaters at the Zoo Palast and is moving across town to the stylish setting of the Babylon cinema in Rosa-Luxembourg Platz.

"With around 420 seats at the Zoo Palast, it was completely chaotic; there were just too many people," said Thomas Hailer, the head of Generation. "This is a good problem to have but a difficult one to solve in Berlin. Luckily, we managed to get a venue, and it's a beautiful cinema, a very old, very dignified place. This year we'll have something like 550 seats."

The increased seating is just one advantage of 14plus leaving the Zoo Palast to younger audiences of the Kplus section for ages 5 and up. "For teenagers, it's much cooler for them to have their own venue and not to have to deal with the smaller ones," Hailer said.

Between the 14plus and Kplus lineups, Generation's films sold nearly 50,000 tickets last year, and organizers expect to top that figure for this edition. "It's tremendous growth," Hailer said.

The increased numbers -- coupled with a high-quality selection of challenging films -- has helped Generation gain recognition as a full part of the Berlin International Film Festival and overcome any perception of it as the kiddies' ghetto.

For the first time in its 32-year history, the section this year will screen documentaries. "They had been excluded before under the festival rules, and because we thought the kids' jury would be unable to distinguish the difference," Hailer said. But last year, the mocumentary "Razzle Dazzle" went down well, and the jury in fact had no problem identifying the genre distinctions.

"We were seeing more and more interesting documentary stuff this year, so we decided to kick out the rule," Hailer said.

This year there are two documentaries in 14plus: "War Child," from U.S. helmer Christian Karim Chrobog, which follows Emmanuel Jal -- a former child soldier who is now a rising star of African hip-hop -- on his first trip back to his roots in Sudan; and "Love, Peace and Beatbox" directed by Volker Meyer-Dabisch, about the legacy of one of the central figures of Berlin beat-box scene who died in a knifing incident.

"This is very Berlin," Hailer said. "It's a very fun film about beat-boxing, but it also conveys the peaceful mission of these hip-hop guys."

Another addition this year is the inclusion of a short film program in 14plus, mirroring the short film program in the Kplus section. Four Crystal Bears will be awarded, for best feature and best short in each of the two sections.

Overall, Hailer said the lineup is thematically a little more optimistic than in previous editions. "We had quite tough programs in recent years — children in war, children in all kinds of deep shit you don't want to have kids in. This year, many films deal with reconciliation. It's not the pink happy flower world, but the films do consider how (the characters) can contribute to any kind of reconciliation."

Geographically, the mix is a little different this year, with four U.S. features across the two sections. "Last year we had a very strong presence of Asian films," Hailer said. "That's not the big thing this year. Instead, we have strong films from Australia." These include the 14plus opening film "The Black Balloon," starring Toni Collette, a family story about two teenage brothers, one of whom is autistic and the other who embarks on his first love with a beautiful girl (played by Australian supermodel Gemma Ward).

Kplus opens with "Where is Winky's Horse?" a sequel to the story of a Chinese girl who has moved to the Netherlands from Dutch director Mischa Kamp. The first installment screened here two years ago.

The younger section includes two animated movies: "A Tale of Two Mozzies," the seventh film by the grand master of Danish animation Jannik Hastrup to screen in Berlin, co-directed by Flemming Quist-Moller; and the French comic-strip adaptation "Go West! A Lucky Luke Adventure," directed by Olivier Jean-Marie.

Generation remains essentially an audience event, but distributors are increasingly recognizing its potential to position a kids or teenage film.

"14plus is becoming a brand, and the foreign industry is considering that this is a good section to enter the world market, so we're getting more offers," Hailer said. "Our film scouts are becoming more aware from year to year and sending us more and more."

About 900 films were submitted for inclusion this year, including shorts.