SPROCKETS: TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL FOR CHILDREN At Canada Square (2200 Yonge) and the Sheppard Grande (4861 Yonge), from Saturday (April 12) to April 18. All non-English-language films subtitled. www.sprockets.ca. For complete schedule, see listings. Rating: NNNN
Every spring, Sprockets returns to Toronto, reminding us how feeble most North American children’s films are when compared to their international cousins. Seriously. Take your kids to any two selections, and if they come out asking to watch Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London, ditch them in the parking lot.
Here’s a quick sampling of the films in this year’s festival. All screenings take place at Canada Square unless otherwise indicated.
You can be forgiven for thinking you’re at the wrong festival when you watch Helen Hood Scheer’s Jump! (April 13, 10:15 am; Rating: NNNN).
An exhilarating documentary about competitive jump rope, it feels like a Hot Docs entry that somehow got shipped to the wrong address. But I’d gamble the Sprockets audience will be more appreciative of the stunning physical feats performed by the American jump-rope teams Scheer follows through gruelling regional and national heats all the way to the 2006 world championships in Toronto. And, yes, I teared up at the end. I dare you not to.
The dramas are perhaps less thrilling, but they have their appeal. Gernot Krää’s Paula’s Secret (April 12, 1:40 pm; April 13, 10:20 am; Rating: NNN) is a strange little adventure about a German tween (Thelma Heintzelmann) who joins forces with a slovenly classmate (Paul Vincent de Wall) to retrieve her precious journal from a pair of young Romanian pickpockets. It’s not often you see a movie tackle issues of child exploitation in the former Eastern Europe, but here’s one that does it with the appropriate respect and gravity. Neat.
Photo By R. Jeanette Martin
Paprika Steen alienates her students in The Substitute.
The Substitute (April 12, 1 pm; Rating: NNN) sees horror director Ole Bornedal trading the white-knuckle tension of his 1994 film Nightwatch for a kid-friendly riff on Robert Rodriguez’s underrated The Faculty. A class of Danish youths discover that their new teacher (Paprika Steen) is an alien who intends to ship them back to her planet for unspecified experiments. Funny, I had the very same experience in Grade 6.
Of course, there’s also the odd title that proves Europeans can make a kids’ adventure as banal and soulless as any Hollywood studio’s.
That’d be Ben Sombogaart’s Crusade: A March Through Time (April 12, 4:30 pm; Rating: N), a dreary time-travel movie that sends a contemporary teenager (Joe Flynn) back to the year 1212, where he falls in with the Children’s Crusade while his scientist mom (Emily Watson) pages frantically through tapestries and history books in an attempt to bring him back. Imagine an even cheaper and stupider version of Timeline and you’ve got it. Not that you’d want it, of course.
Up at the Sheppard Grande, Sprockets’ school program screens films aimed at a more mature audience, and the imports once again put domestic product to shame.
I’m thinking specifically of Hella Joof’s Bitter Sweetheart (April 15, 12:15 pm; April 17, 11 am; Rating: NNNN), in which a 15-year-old Swedish girl (Mylaine Hedreul) decides to lose her virginity to a popular classmate, only to realize she has feelings for another boy.
Intelligently told and sympathetic to its heroine rather than judgmental, Bitter Sweetheart respects its target audience enough to treat them like young adults rather than snickering children who can’t handle subjects like binge drinking, body issues, masturbation and awkward sex without hooting back at the screen. Sprockets is restricting the first screening to females only “to provide a safe environment for a panel discussion of the issues raised in the film.”
That's probably best.