Sprockets Toronto Triumphs in Sixth Edition Despite the SARS-y Times
by Brian Brooks
The onset of the sixth Sprockets Toronto International Film Festival for Children must have been at least somewhat worrisome for organizers. To the south, the United States waged a war overseas and suffered through a sluggish economy, while the host city itself, Canada's largest with 5 million people, faced a psychological blow from the World Health Organization after the Geneva-based group issued a travel advisory against the city. Despite a little SAR-inspired apprehension, iW decided to go for it and check out Sprockets in Toronto, which is hosted by the Toronto International Film Festival Group, the same organization behind the world-renowned September festival.
As the event opened, it appeared all fears could be brushed aside. Crowds turned out to see the opening night film, "A Wrinkle in Time," by Canadian John Kent Harrison (adapted from the classical book by Madeleine L'Engle). The film, which took the festival's feature film award, is the story of a famous physicist and his friend who disappear after experimenting with fifth-dimension time travel, and the subsequent pursuit by the scientist's children and friends, accompanied by three celestial beings, on their quest to find the missing duo.
The first full day of Sprockets was a beautiful sunny Saturday. That's not always the perfect formula for luring audiences in a dark theater, especially since Toronto was coming out of a particularly cold winter. Nevertheless, Toronto is a city that loves film, and crowds packed theaters at the Famous Players Canada Square theaters. In fact, attendance increased nicely this year. "I'm euphoric about it [the festival] due to the circumstances leading up to it in the world and Toronto," Sprockets director Jane Schoettle told indieWIRE. "[We had] an 11 percent increase in attendance, and the audience and buyers were unanimous in their positive [assessment] about the program." Schoettle credited the Sprockets staff for the event's success.
The Sprockets team, including Susan Stafford, went to great lengths to insure iW's limited time in Toronto to take in as much of the festival as possible, with a full itinerary and taxi money on hand. Saturday morning began with a packed screening of "Catch that Girl" by Danish director Hans Gabian Wullenweber. The film screened in Danish with English subtitles with an additional English voiceover for "those too young to read," which took a little getting used to for those "old enough to read," but eventually worked fine. Children and adults alike sat surprisingly quiet through the movie about a mountain-climbing 12-year-old girl who organizes a bank heist to get money to pay for an operation to save her ailing father. According to Sprockets programmers, the film will be re-made by a large American studio in the near future.
The day could have easily been spent in screenings, but instead a little time was taken to check out the "Learn How to Make a Film in a Day" children's workshop in a quiet neighborhood of Toronto. The program allowed the children, ages 9-12, to mount a film production, divvying assignments for director, D.P., actors, and so forth among the group, while learning how to use provided equipment from advisers Brent Orr and Melanie Henrich from Never Too Short Productions.
Watching the process, one could not help but think a "making of..." video would have been hilarious, as the kids assumed their respective roles in the production. "Cut and rolling is the most important thing in film," said Jordan, one of the short's co-directors, while Robbie, an actor in the film snapped at one of his fellow participants, "Get away, I'm an actor! I'm Precious..." Co-directors Adam and Jordan decided they were both George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg respectively, but then Jordan chimed, "let's be some new director." The production's antics and insight into production took place in a large room at the Royal Canadian Legion, under the watchful glaze of a portrait of H.M. the Queen and H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh.
Although kids are the focus of Sprockets, the adults were welcome from out of town as well, including folks from PBS, Fox Kids International in London, and the Norwegian Film Institute, according to Schoettle. "The thing I do every year is to maintain the standard of programming, because it what keeps our audience and industry people coming," said Schoettle. Still, nurturing a budding Lucas, Spielberg, or Egoyan for that matter is a primary function.
The festival's Jump Cuts: Young Filmmakers Showcase featured a compilation of shorts made by young filmmakers as young as third grade, including one by 11-year-old Marcello Sperandeo. His film, "Getting to Know Charlie," about a baby-sitting session with young brother, was one of three winners in the section, in the Grades 3 to 6 category. "I think it's a very cool concept to do a film you made [and see it] on a big screen," said Sperandeo in a conversation with indieWIRE. Sperandeo also mentioned fellow winner David Rendall's "Birthday Monkey," which took the prize in the section's Grades 10 to OAC (equivalent to 12th grade in the U.S.) as a favorite of his in the program. In June, Sperandeo will travel to Bologna, Italy as a finalist in an international children's film event. "We hope to achieve these things, to promote [their work]. He's ecstatic," said Schoettle of Sperandeo, who first participated in Sprockets last year after receiving a brochure from a friend of his parents.
Additional winners in Sprockets include Swedish director Klaus Haro's "Elina," which took the Young People Jury's award (ages 8 and 9), about a young Finnish girl in Sweden who battles with her teacher over speaking her native language. The winner of the Young People's Jury award (ages 9-12) was Morton Kohlert's "Little Big Girl", based on the book "The Famished Child" by Cecil Bodker, while the short film award (ages 9-12) went to U.K. director Angela M. Murray's "Divine." "Bob the Builder: A Christmas to Remember" (U.K.) by Sarah Ball won the animation award, chosen by Sprockets audiences. In all, Sprockets showcased 17 features and 54 shorts from 21 countries.