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Film festival this weekend focuses on family fare

You might not realize it by looking at the films currently in theaters, but Hollywood really is capable of producing movies the whole family can watch.

In fact, according to organizers for the Kids First! Film Festival, there are quite a few examples of "stimulating, creative, nurturing, age-appropriate films and videos" for children. And some of them will be shown during the two-day event, which runs this weekend in a few select cities around the United States, including Salt Lake City and Park City.

The festival will be the second such event held in behalf of the Coalition for Quality Children's Media, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Santa Fe, N.M. The coalition held mini-festivals in Santa Fe and St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, last year, and six additional cities (including Los Angeles, Cleveland and Oklahoma City) are planning to hold similar events in June.

Also, local organizers are hoping the festival will eventually spread throughout the state (Provo and Utah County are expected to hold their own festivals next year).

"The idea isn't to make one big festival. We've already got one Sundance. The idea is to replicate what we're doing this year in other communities around the state — to include as many families as possible," said Naomi Silverstone, the local festival director.

Silverstone, the faculty fellow for Outreach and Special Projects at the University of Utah, said the philosophy behind the festival is allowing kids themselves to be the judges of what constitutes the best "non-violent, diverse and empowering film" for them.

"We all know what's bad for kids that's out there," she said. "This is an opportunity for the kids to be able to speak out about what's out there that's actually good."

Consequently, those in attendance will be able to vote for their favorites. The films include five features deemed appropriate for kids ages 2-6 and five others for children ages 6-12.

Films to be screened include the theatrical movies "Chicken Run" and "My Dog Skip"; the made-for-television movie "The Loretta Claiborne Story"; short features "A Picture of Freedom (Dear America)" and "Winslow Homer: An American Original"; and video features based on the television shows "Blue's Clues" and "Bear in the Big Blue House."

Two other movies will be screened during the opening night fund-raiser on Friday, though they aren't in competition: the direct-to-video animated film "Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure" and "Trumpet of the Swan," an animated feature that will be released theatrically in May. (Another film being sneak-previewed, "The Little Bear Movie," will be shown on Saturday.)

In addition to the screenings, a panel discussion will focus on the role of the media in entertaining and educating children. The Junior Film Critics Forum will feature young "jurors" who will discuss the movies they've seen.

Another drastic departure from regular film festivals is the fact that there are no set admission prices for the screenings, though organizers are suggesting specific donations — $1 for the kids 2-6 films, $3 for the children 6-12 selections. Suggested admission for the sneak previews is $5; all-day passes will be available for a $10 donation.

Proceeds from the screenings and the opening-night fund-raiser will be used for student scholarships for "Sight, Sound and the Digital Age," a two-week, multimedia arts camp at the University of Utah this summer.

"We're hoping to have at least 10 slots open to low-income students," Silverstone said. "The idea is to have as much diversity as possible in the program — so these students can see things from each other's perspectives."

However, organizers are taking donations rather than charging firm admission prices because they don't want to discourage low-income families from attending the events.

"Again, the thought here is to try to include as many families as possible, not discourage them if they don't have a lot of money," Silverstone said. "We just ask that they give what they can."

Also, there are ways for children to participate even if they can't attend the festival. Information about festival films is available at the Kids First! Web site, and children who have already seen the movies can vote for their favorites online at the Yahooligans Web site

Screenings in Salt Lake City will be held at both the Olpin Union Building and Orson Spencer Hall on the University of Utah campus and in Park City at the Park City Library and Education Center, 1255 Park Ave.

The full rundown of events for the Kids First! Film Festival is available on the Web site. For further information on the Salt Lake screenings, call 581-6984. Information on the Park City screenings is available by calling 1-435-645-8638.