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Tumbleweeds Festival appeals to family audiences

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Award-winning films from Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands and the United States were recently screened to enthusiastic audiences at the second annual Tumbleweeds Film Festival for Children and Youth held March 23-25.

Over two-and-a-half days, a total of 11 feature films and 14 short films were screened — many of them in their original languages with English subtitles. Film genres included documentary, animation and live action/adventure.

Chimpanzee,” a Disneynature film, opened the festival Friday evening at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. Shot in the African rainforest, the film follows the story of how a chimpanzee survives after being orphaned.

“It was a great night,” said Patrick Hubley, artistic director of the Utah Film Center and director of Tumbleweeds. “There was a full house, and the audience loved the film. In general, kids and parents are giving me a thumbs up as they leave the screenings.”

Over the past year, Hubley and a team of educators and parents as well as a program consultant in Toronto selected this year’s lineup. The festival’s goal, according to Hubley, is “to inspire, engage, and connect the children and youth of our community through international and independent film screenings.”

“We try to select strong films that will appeal to each age category included in the festival,” said Hubley.

And that’s exactly what audiences got: family-friendly films that met the festival goal of providing opportunities for “film lovers of all ages to engage their creative spirit, and bridge cultures by experiencing films whose stories transcend geographic, cultural and political boundaries.”

Friends Forever” and “Moonbeam Bear” — both produced in Germany — were perfect for the 4-years-old-and-up audience. Because many 4-year-olds don’t read subtitles, these two films were dubbed in English for the festival.

Films for the 9- to 10-year-old-and-up audience included “Balacar,” produced and shot in Mexico. The film was screened once with English subtitles, and again with no subtitles.

“We wanted to include a Spanish-language film as part of the program,” Hubley said, “because of the number of Spanish speakers in our audience.”

The action-packed docudrama calls attention to the problem of international animal trafficking. But it also tells the story of how Santiago (a 10- or 12-year-old boy) comes to terms with his mother’s recent death, and how his peer and best friend, Mariana, discovers her strengths in spite of her deafness.

A Cat in Paris,” animated in 2D and 3D, is a detective story produced in French with English subtitles. A young girl’s mother who works for the police force successfully tracks down the gangsters who shot her policeman husband. Their cat, the real star of the story, plays a key role in bringing the gangsters to justice.

The Magicians,” a movie produced in the Netherlands intended for ages 8 and up, also focused on the importance and value of families. It’s a heartwarming story about the challenges faced by a father and son who aspire to become magicians.

Films for teens included two documentaries: “Louder Than a Bomb” and “Circus Dreams,” both produced in the United States.

Louder Than a Bomb” documents a successful poetry slam for teens in the Chicago area. Novana Venerable, one of the poets featured in the film, attended the Tumbleweeds festival and participated in a question-and-answer session after the screening.

The festival concluded Sunday evening with a screening of “David,” a film intended for audiences ages 10 and up. It’s a story set in Brooklyn, New York, about a friendship that grows between an 11-year-old Muslim boy, Daud/David, and Yoav, a Jewish boy. Mostly non-professional actors were cast in the film. Executive producer Stephanie Levy and Muatasem Mishal, who played David, were both on hand after the screening for a question-and-answer session.

Based on the audience response in its first two years, the Tumbleweeds Film Festival is also a success with local audiences.

“We are a young and growing festival,” Hubley said.

Throughout the year, the Utah Film Center sponsors Tumbleweeds film screenings for children and youths at a variety of locations along the Wasatch Front. For more information, go to utahfilmcenter.org/tumbleweeds/

Rosemarie Howard lives in a 100-year-old house on Main Street, Springville, Utah. She enjoys creating multimedia projects. Her website is at www.dramaticdimensions.com.