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Berlin's Generation Section Director Talks Screening Suicide and Sex and Redefining the Coming of Age Story

Photo of Bryce J. Renninger By Bryce J. Renninger | Indiewire February 21, 2012 at 10:19AM

"From time to time, someone like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter refer to us as the kid's ghetto," Maryanne Redpath told Indiewire about the section of the Berlinale she directs, Generation.
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Maryanne Redpath
Berlinale Maryanne Redpath

"From time to time, someone like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter refer to us as the kid's ghetto," Maryanne Redpath told Indiewire about the section of the Berlinale she directs, Generation.

The Generation section has been around since the early twenty-first century, when the festival's Kinderfilmfest section became the more mature Generation section.  Redpath, a New Zealander who joined the Berlinale staff in 1994, was then the co-director of the section, which has become one of the most exciting collections of youth-themed films to screen at a major festival anywhere.  The section now has two sections:  Generation Kplus and Generation 14plus, the latter for more mature youth-centered films. 

Generation is more than just Disney wannabes and cheery stories of children and their pets.  Redpath and her team do not shy away from controversy or the realities of children across the globe.  Included in her programming over the past few years has been David Lee Miller's "Archie's Final Project" (named "My Suicide" at the time), 2012 Oscar nominee Phillipe Falerdeau's 2008 dark comedy "C'est pas moi, je le jure," and Andrew Okpeaha Maclean's 2011 "On the Ice" (which just hit American theaters last week).

Indiewire sat down with Redpath to talk to her about the section as it begins to gain a bigger reputation. 

You say that the Generation section has been called the "kid's ghetto," a place where no one will notice films.  But every time I go to a film, there's a mix of people in the audience, people are nearly always happy, and the theaters are packed.  What are you dealing with in the industry, doing what you're doing?

People in the film industry have a lot of preconceptions and misconceptions about the young audience.  It's like you make a film for kids and it doesn't have to necessarily be a great film because it's an easy audience.  It's a little derogatory even for a filmmaker to even make a film for children.  That's the area that we're dealing with a lot.  In terms of marketing, calling a film a "children's film" gives people all sorts of ideas:  standardization, fairy tales, happy endings, not dealing with any issues that are important to children.  It's about pulling the wool over their eyes and telling them "It's okay; life is beautiful!  LIfe will be okay!  There are no problems in the world!" 

That's a problem for the market; how do you sell these films we screen?  We go quite far in terms of challenging our target audience.  We deal with films about children with dysfunctional families, war situations in different countries, windows into cultural straitjackets, films that look at how people come of age in different contexts.  How do you grow up when you start working at the age of 7 or 8 collecting rubbish on a Filipino rubbish mountain?  That's an example of what one of our films dealt with. 

We make age recommendations in Kplus.  If we make a recommendation of twelve years and above, there are many things that you can deal with at twelve years of age that are not this classic idea of what is childish.  If a twelve year old boy in a film is contemplating suicide, surely there will be other twelve year olds in the audience who have the same feelings.  The young audiences tell us, "Thank you for that film; I know exactly what that character is going through.  I feel exactly the same."

Why is it important to you that exists -- and thrives?

It's important to acknowledge children and adolescents in society, to give them that which they deserve in terms of quality and to challenge them.  Many of the films we show unfortunately don't get into the cinemas, and so it's a problem of marketing again.  Year after year, we've been breaking it down.  I think people in the film industry are becoming more and more aware of the young audience.  A director for a film will come and say "I didn't make a children's film."  And I say, "I know you didn't, but let's see what happens!"  And after the screening, I've had directors say "I didn't realize...I just made a film!"  That's something I love:  the discovery of a young audience for someone who "just makes films." 

Do you like to champion any sort of film in particular?

A lot of the films we screen are not that commercial.  It would be nice if we had an industry that would take them on.  They're great.  They've got great production values. 

Children love to cry, they love to laugh, and they love to be frightened at films.  Sometimes they hate our films, and sometimes they love them.  It's just the same as the films in competition at the Berlinale.  There are people that are just enraptured by the film they've just seen, and people who think it's just rubbish. 

Children are very direct at telling you if they don't like a film.  if they do like a film, they tell you as well.  There are children who tell me, "Oh, I really love that really slow Japanese film where nothing much happened.  It should be slower!  There should be less happening!" 

Do you encounter a lot of resistance from people saying you're challenging younger audiences too much?

It's usually the parents, teachers, and educators who attack us for our programming.  They'll say "You can't show children that!  It's not for children!"  And I say ask the young people, and they can handle it.  They understand it much better than the adults.  All of the trauma of the adult world is often projected onto young spectators because they had a bad experience when they were young or they didn't do their own coming-of-age yet. 

The attack from such people is quite aggressive sometimes.  I sometimes have a mother and a nine-year-old boy in front of me, and the mother is crying, asking "What is that film about?  Can you tell me what happens in the end?"  And the boy turns to her and says, "Oh, don't worry about it.  Let's go home, and I'll tell you about it."  So many experiences on that level where the young people have it in their head to tell the adult generation what's going on.

Many of our films are young people in situations which they didn't create, that they can't control, and doing the best they can, and that's worldwide.  This is something our audiences really relate to.  The adults are often upset sometimes, because they're the ones who have created these often awful situations!

Have there been any moments when you've really been validated, that you're doing the right thing?

There's the film, "My Suicide"...What was interesting about that was after the screenings, young people came up to the director, thanked him for it.  They were really in danger of committing suicide around that time themselves.   This film helped give the ability to speak about what they were feeling.  It's extraordinary. 

Another film from the same year, a young child soldier from Sudan, "War Child," is about the life of Emmanuel Jal who finally found his way to the states, but he was a child soldier, he was stolen from his village.  He tells his story on film.  He's a rapper, and he sings his songs about life as a child soldier.  Him telling his story in rap on stage.  It was also a turning point because we had young people in Berlin who were also ex-soldiers in an institution where htey seek asylum, and we had contact with this place and we give them tickets to see these screenings.  The woman who's looking after these children from troubled and war-torn places in the world.  I told her, you've got all these tickets.  Should I give them the easy, soft, fluffy stuff?  And she said, "No! Give them the hard stuff!  Let them see themselves, even if they can't understand the language."

This article is related to: Berlin International Film Festival, Interviews, Filmmaker Toolkit