Film prodigies: calling the shots

As the an number of international children's film festivals steadily increases, Vision explores their potential impact on young cinematic talent

Steven Spielberg was 13 when he made Escape to Nowhere, a 40-minute war film shot on a Super 8 in the desert outside Phoenix, with catapulted mounts of dirt standing in for explosives. It won first prize at the 1962-3 Canyon Films Junior Film festival. Four years later, he premiered his first feature in a local cinema, and a decade after that, Jaws made him a household name.

Perhaps a budding Spielberg will be inspired to follow a similar course thanks to the UAE’s inaugural Children’s International Film Festival (CIFF), which began on 24 April and runs until 2 May. The event is a celebration of global cinema made for and by kids, with 80 movies from 35 counties around the world, 30 of them by Emirati school children. The results are diverse, from Devoid of Touch, by female students in Dubai (tagline: “Saving a life goes beyond lending a helping hand”) to The Day I Became A Hero by a group of high school boys from Sharjah (“It’s not the cape that makes you a superhero, but the desire to do good.”)

E.T's director Steven Spielberg
Stars of 'Slam Downs' attended the film premier at CIFF

A film called Slam Downs, which premiered at the festival’s opening ceremony, was made by students at the Al Noor Training Centre for Children With Special Needs, with the help of veteran director Deepak Jain. The film charts the integration of two kids with learning difficulties into mainstream society, and Jain says that the experience was “incredible” and “changed me as a person”.

CIFF is one of a growing number of children’s film festivals in cities as diverse as New York, Munich and Seoul that are designed to engage and nurture young talent – something that’s crucial in an industry that’s fiercely competitive and technically demanding. The trend was arguably kicked off by the Giffoni Film Festival, a kids’ fest that has been running in a tiny town in southern Italy since 1971, attracting legendary guests such as Francois Truffaut, Robert De Niro and Sergio Leone. “Of all the film festivals,” Truffaut wrote in a letter, “Giffoni is the most necessary”.

There’s never been a better time for Emirati youth to begin experimenting with their own short films


With the UAE’s film industry exploding in recent years, and the most eagerly awaited film of the decade, J. J. Abram’s Star Wars movie, using the desert of Abu Dhabi as a backdrop, there’s never been a better time for Emirati youth to begin experimenting with their own short films. After all, if Spielberg hadn’t messed around with a Super 8 in the Arizona desert, he might never have gone on to make Saving Private Ryan, Indiana Jones or E.T.