Basic Joy Children's Film Festival

If I could, I would pitch a fantastic open tent in a wide grassy field and, once a week or so, show children's films during the summer. And I'd invite you. Non-Disney, out-of-the-mainstream, old and new treasures that the whole family can love. With snow cones and fresh popcorn and lemonade amidst the fireflies. I don't know, maybe someday I really will do it.

But in the meantime....I'll dream about it right here + share my picks in internet land, a kind of virtual Basic Joy Children's Film Festival. Who knows? Maybe it will be a fairly regular feature here {"fairly regular" gives all sorts of leeway, really, doesn't it?).

You come, too--it's not the same as gathering under a tent together in the twilight, but you could rent one of these when your family is ready for a quiet break this summer (libraries have great DVD libraries and NetFlix pretty much has everything you could want). And shoot me an email if you have a favorite children's movie you'd like to recommend (Matt? Mom & Dad?).

So, for our first premiere pick, I've chosen one that the kids and I watched recently and loved:

A nine-year-old Iranian boy accidentally loses his sister's only pair of shoes on the way home from the shoe repair shop. In order to avoid getting in trouble (or cause more expense for their poor family), Ali and his sister, Zohre, decide to keep it a secret and come up with a solution of their own. They share his sneakers: she wears them to school in the morning, he wears them to school in the afternoon. When a race is announced, Ali decides to enter in order to win one of the prizes, a pair of sneakers.

Set aside any reservations you might have about your kids reading subtitles or being able to identify with a brother and sister in Iran. The director Majid Majidi manages to create a magical, engaging, simple story that is universal. Love between brother and sister. Joy in daily life. Wanting something really badly. Seeing needs beyond your own. Plus, in his review of Children of Heaven, Roger Ebert said, "My guess is that the race and its outcome will be as exciting for many kids as anything they've seen at the movies."

One of my favorite things about this movie is that it is about childhood. Not about kids doing adult things or about animals talking or about's about children navigating their childhoods. This is a great springboard to discussions in your family about comparing your own life with another culture (both similarities and differences), responsibility, family relationships, compassions, and caring for others.

Good for:
about seven and up (or younger, if you don't mind reading the subtitles out loud for non-readers)

Not for:
I honestly can't think of anyone this isn't for.

Questions to get you started talking:
What do the shoes symbolize? What do you think happened after the end? What would you have done if you lost the shoes?

~The cinematography has the feel of a 1960s or 1970s film.
~It was nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign film in 1998 but lost to Life is Beautiful.
~ The movie had a budget of less than $200,000. Amazing!

[edited to say: sorry for the re-posting...technical difficulties on my end]