Sidebar more than child's play

Berlin is the only major film festival to have sidebars dedicated to children's and teenage pictures.

Given that the youth audience is the holy grail of the mainstream movie industry, it's odd that Berlin is the only major film festival to have sidebars dedicated to children's and teenage pictures.

The Berlinale instigated the Kinderfilmfest as far back as 1978, with a mandate to screen films that show the world from young people's point of view. This was augmented in 2004 by the 14-plus section aimed at adolescent audiences. Every year more than 35,000 people attend the sidebar, which is centered on the Zoo Palast theater.

Now going into its 30th edition, the original sidebar was renamed Generation Kplus this year, while the older section becomes Generation 14plus. "We needed a name with a certain abstraction, like Panorama and Focus," said Thomas Hailer, the sidebar's director.

This year's edition gets off to a high-profile start with the European premiere of fantasy adventure "The Last Mimzy," directed by New Line chief Bob Shaye.

The selection is characterized by its wide range, with films from Thailand, South Korea and Malaysia rubbing shoulders with offerings from Hungary, Latvia and Scandinavia. The program typically contains more challenging films for children rather than popcorn entertainment fare. It comprises titles that are not specifically conceived for kids but may have their own appeal for younger audiences. "We screen films for children, but not necessarily children's films with talking animals," Hailer said.

But those who do want to see their animals speaking will not be disappointed by "U," the French music-themed animated story of a lonely princess who befriends a unicorn directed by Gregoire Solotareff and Serge Elissalde.

In it's fourth year, the 14plus section is now firmly established. "From the first year, we had a very good mix in our audiences," Hailer said. He is a firm believer in pushing the boundaries in terms of what young audiences can appreciate: "They like to be challenged, they like to see other rhythms of storytelling. They deserve it."

Since its inception, the teenage sidebar has showcased such challenging fare for young minds as Sundance double-winner "Quinceanera" which tackles teenage pregnancy in Los Angeles' Hispanic community; "Turtles Can Fly," Bahman Ghobadi's tale of children in war-torn Iran; and teenage lesbian romance in Pawel Pawlikowski's "My Summer of Love."

The fourth edition comprises a wider geographical span than ever, with titles from Brazil, India, New Zealand and Japan. "This year the mix is wonderful. The rumor has spread, so we are getting a bigger offer," Hailer said.

The current crop includes such tough subjects as the 1980s U.K. skinhead movement in "This Is England" by Shane Meadows.

One innovation this year is the inclusion of several "cross-section" screenings, with titles borrowed from other Berlin sections but deemed of interest to a youth audience. These include Brazilian title "The Year My Parents Went on Vacation" from Cao Hamburger, which screens first in Competition.

Indeed, the dedicated section is a rare window for younger audiences to have access to the rich offer of films at the Berlinale. Festival rules prevent under-18s attending the "adult" sections in Berlin, regardless of a film's content.

Although the Generation sidebar remains peripheral to the main festival activity around the Potsdamer Platz, it is building a solid reputation as a showcase for the German market, which traditionally has a strong focus on family films. "The majors are starting to realize that it can work as a platform to launch a film," Hailer said. But despite the growing importance of the adjacent European film market, he concedes that his first duty is to the Berlin fest's public. "It's an audience event."

Eric Lagesse of French producer-distributor Pyramide, said the sidebar is not a priority in terms of positioning films for sales, but that it can help.

"It's a presence. It allows films to be presented at another festival," Lagesse said. Pyramide has two titles in Generation, "Je m'appelle Elisabeth" (Call Me Elisabeth) directed by Jean-Pierre Ameris, about a young girl who befriends a man on the run from an asylum, and "The Way I Spent the End of the World" directed by Romania's Catalin Mitulescu.

The latter has already premiered at the inaugural Rome film festival, the latter bowed in Cannes. Both titles are unsold in Germany. "(Screening in Generation) is more a question of prestige -- it's always prestigious to be in Berlin," Lagesse said.