By G. Allen Johnson | July 18, 2003

SAN FRANCISCO – Catapult Productions founder Katy Kavanaugh is gambling that children are smarter than Hollywood studios – indeed, American filmmakers in general, think they are.
A former dance artist and children’s programmer at film festivals in San Francisco and Chicago, she served on juries at a respected international children’s film festival in the Czech Republic, and at the Berlin Film Festival’s famed Kinderfilmfest section. She says she noticed that elsewhere in the world, children are trusted to grasp somewhat complicated concepts, deal with serious issues, and even read subtitles.
When was the last serious effort produced by Disney or Pixar?
“At the Kinderfilmfest they pack a 900-seat theater for 15 days of subtitled films,” said Kavanaugh, who claims on her website to have seen her first foreign film on one of those ABC Afterschool Specials in the 1970s (remember those?).
Catapult Productions opens its two-day festival, “Films for Children of the World” on Saturday, July 19, at the Balboa Theater in San Francisco. The festival moves on to the Sebastiani Theatre in Sonoma, Calif., on July 26; the Multnomah County Library in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 10; and the Rex Theater in Vale, Ore., on Aug. 12.
The programs are in two-hour blocks; the first block is a collection of short films of all kinds, from live action to animated, European to North American and tell many types of stories, both serious and comic.
Among the features are Denijal Hasanovic’s “The Letter” (Bosnia/Poland 2001), an absorbing, heart-rending story of a boy in a Bosnian refugee camp who tries to send a letter to NATO requesting a pair of new crutches for his best friend, who is an amputee; “Dong Sung” (“Little Monk,” Joo Kyung Jung, South Korea 2003), about a 9-year-old boy who lives in a remote monastery suddenly coming in contact with the big city and earthly temptations; and a classic, 1977 German film, “Ein Schneeman fur Afrika,” about a Northern European sailor who brings a little girl living in an African port city something she has never seen before – snow.
“Dong Sung” was part of the 2003 Berlin festival’s “toward tolerance” theme, and as an example of Kavanaugh’s ambitious plan, she lists the 104-minute subtitled program as acceptable for ages 8 and up.
“The Letter,” only 49 minutes long, does an outstanding job of communicating the aftermath of war in a way children can grasp. The star of the film, 10-year-old Aldin Bakal, has an extremely expressive face that children (and adults) can relate to, and through his encounter with villagers on his journey, it is obvious that these are a people whose lives have been altered permanently. A nice fantasy sequence at the end sees a village reborn, with no more fear of war.
Strong stuff for children, and that’s exactly the point. They can handle it, much more than we think.
For more information, visit the Catapult Productions website.

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