Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How I discovered the Centre for Youth Literature

In a recent blog entry when I was giving a brief description of how I became a judge, I rather flippantly said that “I’m not anything really”. So who am I? Existential angst aside, I work in what is broadly called the financial industry. How I came across the Centre for Youth Literature is no little story and one of my most serendipitous discoveries. It needs its own post, rather than hijacking the previous posts about the Inky Awards.

As long as I can remember, I have loved reading. Even now though, I wouldn’t call myself a great reader. There are so many gaps, nay chasms, in my reading that I want to fill. As I’ve grown older, I have never seen the need or had the desire to stop reading children’s and young adult literature. My parents might say that it’s a sign that I’ve never really grown up! These are the books that I loved first, so why should I ever stop reading them? Of course, I read books for adults too, but children’s and young adult literature are and (most likely) always will be a large part of my reading.

Agnes Nieuwenhuizen
Working outside the book/library industry, and not having any particular connections to it, apart from reading, I wasn’t otherwise all that well informed about what was going on in the children/young adult literature world. In late 2007, I came across, perhaps while reading the newspaper, a mention of Agnes Nieuwenhuizen’s book Right Book, Right Time. It was a comprehensive guide to the great books of young adult literature – just the thing I was after. Agnes is one of the great driving forces behind youth literature in Australia, and was paramount in establishing the Centre for Youth Literature. While I was googling for some reviews on Agnes’s book I came across the following link. Exploring the Read Alert blog further, I saw this event advertised: a discussion on fantasy books following the end of the Harry Potter series. I emailed the Centre for Youth Literature for details, and Mike Shuttleworth, the then Program Co-ordinator replied.

The next week, I attended the event, had a ball, met Mike Shuttleworth, and heard some marvellous authors such as Carole Wilkinson, Penni Russon and Michael Pryor speak. Over the next few years, I regularly attended the Centre for Youth Literature events and attended their Reading Matters conferences. To put it mildly, I’m not a natural networker or extrovert, so when I attended first these events I was just happy to be there learning about books, and taking as much in as I could. Although I wasn’t involved in the industry and knew nobody at the start, throughout my time, I’ve been made to feel welcome at the CYL events by the great staff over the years. These include Mike Shuttleworth, Lili Wilkinson, Paula Kelly, Susan McLaine, Erin Ritchie, Cordelia Rice, Pam Saunders and Adele Walsh (apologies if I’ve missed anyone). As well as the CYL staff, the various attendees at CYL events have also made me feel at home. Saying thank you doesn’t begin to describe the gratitude I feel.

Mike Shuttleworth
As a result, the range and variety of my reading improved immensely. I got to meet librarians and authors at CYL events, I went to book launches and talks by authors, and I started following blogs on children’s and young adult literature. Of the latter, one of the many I read was Adele Walsh’s blog. Before she became Program Co-ordinator, she was known as a prolific and highly regarded reviewer and writer on YA literature. However, in a matter of weeks, she went from being a teacher/blogger/review to running the CYL. So after reading so many of her thoughts on YA literature, I was able to meet her when she started at the CYL this year. Most recently she asked me to be an Inky Awards judge, which forms the latest chapter in how the CYL has enriched my reading life beyond measure.
Adele Walsh
Borges once wrote something along the lines that “the crystallisation of a ruby will change the course of a river”. For me, the ruby was spawned by a Google search – on such small incidents life can change. To be less fanciful though, I  probably would have discovered the CYL at some later stage: they are not an obscure organisation, and my love of reading was likely to have led me to them. But the ruby (the CYL) crystallised in my life at that moment, and the course of my river irrevocably changed.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Inky Awards Creative Reading Prize 2011 is now open

A couple of short updates:

On Friday, the details of the Creative Reading Prize for the Inky Awards were released. That post says all you need to know, but I'd like to emphasise that it can be on any book (not just the Inky Award longlist books), in any format, and for any age, although only those under 20 can win the Grand Prize (a Sony Reader Touch).

Throughout the week, the profiles of all the judges, who will also judge the Creative Reading Prize have been put on the Inside a Dog blog. I have also updated one of my previous posts to include links to all the judges' profiles (including my own).

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I am a 2011 Inky Awards Judge! (Part 2)

Who are the Inky Award judges?

Yesterday, I gave some information on the Inky Awards. Today, I will talk about the judging. There are six judges. One member is always the previous year’s Gold Inky winner, who is currently Lucy Christopher. There are four teenage judges, Stacey, Iain, Stefanie and Jack selected by the Centre for Youth Literature. You can see the excited reactions of Tye Cattanach, Iain's teacher-librarian and at Mentone Grammar (Jack's school). 

Finally, there is one other adult judge, also selected by the Centre for Youth Literature, and is someone who has an interest in young adult literature. This year, that judge is me! You can see I went for what might be politely described as a “corporate look” in my profile photo – I need lots of help just to be halfway photogenic! Previous such judges included Ryan Paine in 2007, an editor of Voiceworks magazine, Andrew Finegan (2008), Adele Walsh (2009), and Andrew McDonald (2010). 

Three weeks ago, when I received the email invitation from Adele Walsh, the Program Co-ordinator at the Centre for Youth Literature, I couldn't quite believe it. Still can't. I thought about it for all of two seconds. I also did a (metaphorical) mad dance of celebration, then graciously and soberly (my interpretation) accepted the invitation.

What does being an Inky Award judge involve?

  1. Read the 20 young adult books on the Gold and Silver Inky longlists.
  2. Decide with my fellow judges which 5 books from each of the longlists will form the shortlist. These are the books that will be voted on by teenagers.
  3. Decide the winners of the Creative Reading Prize.
 How do you become an Inky Awards judge?

The surest way to become an Inky Awards judge is to win the Gold Inky. You will then be guaranteed a spot on next year’s judging panel.

If that sounds too much like hard work, don’t despair. The second way is to be an Australian teenager (which is not all that easy either!), and love reading (which is very easy). There are four spots on the judging panel for teenagers, as the Inky Awards are voted on by teenagers, and so if you are really interested, you should keep an eye out on the Inside a Dog website for when applications open next year (usually around May-June). See this year’s call out for judges as an example. Basically, you should impress the CYL staff with your enthusiasm for reading. Having your school librarian to recommend you wouldn’t hurt your chances either.

Finally, if you are no longer a teenager, and are not in contention for a Gold Inky, then it gets a bit tricky. There is one position for an adult and there is no application process. Since I was appointed without any inkling (ahem) of what was going to happen, it’s a bit hard for me to give tips, but I’ll try.

  1. You must love reading young adult literature (obvious).
  2. Attend the activities of the Centre for Youth Literature (it's one way for them to know who you are).
  3. Be extremely nice to the folk at the Centre for Youth Literature. A sum of money or a donation of many books wouldn’t go astray.
  4. Drop subtle hints that you might want to be an Inky Awards judge.
I only did the first two, and I did the second one not because I had some grand schemes of becoming a judge, but because it was fun (what a cunning move!). The last two are of dubious morality, and the Centre for Youth Literature staff have most incorruptible characters. So my tips are utterly useless. Sorry.
So how did I get to be a judge?

The stars aligned and fortune smiled upon me. Oh and I like reading young adult literature too. I have no special qualifications: I have never been an author, publisher, bookseller, teacher, librarian, teacher-librarian, book reviewer etc. I’m not anything really! Truthfully, it wasn’t an “in my wildest dreams, I might be an Inky Awards judge” scenario; it never crossed my mind as a possibility. If I hadn’t been asked, I’d be doing my usual preparation for the Inky Awards i.e. read as much of the longlist as possible and attend the awards ceremony. Now I’m in the thick of it!

The short version is that I’ve attended the Centre for Youth Literature events for some years and I really enjoy it. Also, since my occupation is not anything related to typical attendees at these events, I suppose I am a bit of a novelty.  When I get asked the usual question so what library/school do you work for, I then reply "well actually, I work in...etc.". The longer version of how I encountered the Centre for Youth Literature will be told, but because I want to focus on the Inky Awards in this post, then “that’s another story to be told another time” (as it goes in The Neverending Story).

 How else can I get involved in the Inky Awards?

Being a judge is not the be all and end all. It’s not predominantly about judging; it’s about the authors, their books, and the readers. The Inky Awards are nothing without them. So how can you get involved?

  1. If you are between the ages of 12 to 20, vote for your choice of the Gold and Silver Inky once the two shortlists are announced on 1 September.
  2. Participate in the Creative Reading Prize. It’s open to anyone (with the exception of the Grand Prize) and can be about any book.
  3. If you have the opportunity to interact with young readers in any way (work, parent, friends), raise awareness of these awards, and the Inside a Dog website, and encourage them to vote.
  4. Read the books. The books on the lists invariably are of a high quality, and will give you great pleasure – and isn’t enjoyment of reading what it’s all about?
  5. Attend the Inky Awards announcement on 25 October. See details here. 
That’s it on the 2011 Inky Awards for now. I won’t publicly review any of the books on the longlist before the awards are over, so as not to prejudice or pre-empt the outcome. Also, I won’t be saying anything about the content of  the discussions with the other judges. However, it is my hope that after the awards are over, I will have time to discuss my views of some of the longlist books.

Monday, July 4, 2011

I am a 2011 Inky Awards Judge! (Part 1)

As announced in this Read Alert blog post, I have been appointed a 2011 Inky Awards judge. As you might imagine, I’m very chuffed – I get to read stacks of young adult books and talk shop about YA literature with other enthusiastic judges. For the uninitiated, I’ll provide a little background on the Inky Awards.

What are the Inky Awards?

The Inside a Dog website says: “The Inkys are international awards for teenage literature that are voted for online by the readers of insideadog.com.au.  It recognises the fantastic home grown writing talent from Australia with the Gold Inky and also titles that come from across the ocean with the Silver Inky.”
The award was first given in 2007, and this is the fifth annual award. It is run by the Centre for Youth Literature (who run the Inside a Dog website), at the State of Library of Victoria. You can view the past winners in the sidebar of this page. More detailed award guidelines are provided are also provided on the website.
In addition to the prizes for books, there’s a Creative Reading Prize. It is open to anyone and it is a creative response in any format for any book that you love (it doesn’t have to be an Inky Awards longlist book). Note, however, that the Grand prize can only be won by someone under the age of 20.

If you want to get an idea how happy the winning authors can be have a look at John Green after Looking for Alaska won the 2007 Silver Inky:

Or see this lovely one by Lucy Christopher, the author of 2010 Gold Inky winner Stolen, and who will be one of my fellow judges for the 2011 Inky Awards:

 What is happening with the 2011 Inky Awards?

Now: The Centre for Youth Literature staff have just selected the 20 books for the 2011 Inky Awards longlist. The longlist consists of 10 books by Australian writers (for the Gold Inky) and 10 books by non-Australian writers (for the Silver Inky) that fit the award guidelines.

1 September 2011: The shortlist is announced. Five books from each of the Gold and Silver Inky longlists are selected by the judging panel, and they form the shortlist. From the announcement of the shortlist, voting is open to anyone between the ages of 12 and 20. Voting will close on 18 October.

25 October 2011: The Inky Award winners and the winners of the Creative Reading Prize will be announced during a day of activities called “Inkyfest”.

So that’s a background on the Inky Awards. Later, I will talk about the judging panel and their role.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Little Big Shots 2011

After posting about the festival’s background, the 2011 launch and the jury screening it is finally time to talk about the 2011 festival itself!

The festival is always centred around the Queen’s Birthday weekend. This year it commenced on Thursday, 9 June and finished on Monday, 13 June. The programming is structured to be family friendly and also school-friendly. The screenings on Thursday and Friday are during school hours. All screenings are during the daytime, with none finishing after 6pm, and sessions generally commencing around 9:30-10:00am. The Melbourne program for 2011 can be found here.

There were over 80 short films in this year’s festival. Films are put into various packages of around an hour each. There are 10 film packages, including one that consists entirely of Australian child-made films. Each package contains at least one Australian film and one child-made film, and the packages are designed to accommodate children of various ages. There are film packages for children as young as 2 or as old as 15, or if you’re an adult who hasn’t really grown up like me, then I suppose there’s no real age limit!

Alongside the film program, there were a couple of workshops: Kaleidoscope, which allowed children to make a short documentary about Melbourne’s multiculturalism and the Splash! Animation workshop, which let children star in animation. You can see the results of this year’s Splash! workshops on Youtube. I’ve also embedded one of the videos below. Also, there is the Little Big Shots Festival Club, which is down in The Cube on ACMI's ground floor level.

 Films Made by Aussie Kids

I attended sessions on Saturday and Sunday. The highlight is always the package of films made by Australian kids. I’ve already discussed at length about what I thought were the best films in this package. After this package is shown, any children in the audience involved in making one of the films gets to come down and take any questions from the audience or the festival director. In attendance were Reuben Morgan (Searching for Nessie), Asher Karahasan (Wally the Watcher), Lucas Haynes (Nothing More, Nothing Less), some of the Yarraville West Primary School students (A Duck out of Water), and Miranda Rose, Noah Maxwell, Oliverio Perry y Fufori, Lucas Austin and Alexandra Kraus (Wizard Still and the Haunted House).

Some of my memories of the Q&A session included:
  • Asher Karahasan brought along the bus prop he made for his film. The hardest part to shoot was the bus going over the hill.
  • One of the Yarraville West Primary School students said that several copies of each claymation model had to be made, because they would eventually fall apart after shooting.
  • Each frame in the claymation films has to be photographed individually.
  • Lucas Haynes spoke most precociously (he’s 13 years old). I can’t remember exactly what he said, but when he starts talking about his next film examining the subconscious etc., you know that you’re not listening to an average 13 year old.
  • Reuben Morgan quite likes working by himself – no siblings involved!
  • The youngest child involved in making a film was 5 years old – one of the filmmakers of Wizard Still and the Haunted House.
  • Festival director Chloe Boulton handled the session with aplomb, especially those awkward silences where a child doesn’t quite know how to respond to a question.
Post-screening Q&A with children filmmakers
Other Packages

On Saturday, I also saw Package 3. Ormie was an obvious highlight, as described in my post on the festival’s launch. However, the true highpoint was The Gruffalo based on the classic eponymous book. It was a delight, and worth the price of the ticket alone.

The Gruffalo
On Sunday, I saw Package 8 first, which consisted of The Lost Thing and Superhuman as its highlights, as discussed in my post on the children’s jury screening. Also worthy of mention was the German animated film The Little Boy and the Beast, which uses the transformation of a boy’s parents into beasts as a metaphor for their character transformation after a divorce.

The Little Boy and the Beast
Package 7 highlights included Minnie Loves Junior and A Duck Out of Water, already discussed in previous posts. Gorilla from Finland – a typical setting of a younger sister wanting to play with her older sister, which in turn leads to an atypical resolution was also worth watching. This package was followed by a Q&A session with Andy Mullins, the co-director of Minnie Loves Junior. He talked about underwater shooting and the universal love theme of the film, and the difficulties in getting the children to spend so much time in the cold sea. As mentioned previously, I found this film most endearing, so I was keen to have a short chat with Andy Mullins afterwards, particularly about how he cast the film, and his future projects. His answers proved most enlightening.

Following my chat with Andy, I made myself slightly late for my final package, Package 4. So I missed out on a couple of films, Mobile (which was reputed to be a festival highlight), Mira, Small Being’s Life, and part of Tiger. Oh well, I suppose I’ll have to try to catch them when I volunteer at Little Big Shots some time. I saw Ormie again, which I never cease to tire of. Apart from that Marcel the Shell with Shoes On which had a very wry and cute sense of humour, while the story of The Yellow Balloon, held the audience spellbound, and is a perfect example of how small moments can make for big stories.

The Yellow Balloon
So that’s it for Little Big Shots 2011 in Melbourne. Chloe Boulton has finished her fourth and final festival as director, and the reins are now passed onto Ben Laden. Little Big Shots now goes on tour nationally and perhaps internationally too. Whether you are a filmwatcher, a filmmaker (child or adult), or thinking about volunteering or donating, if my posts on the festival have interested you, please ensure you get involved in Little Big Shots 2012!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Today Tonight: Burqa Rage (27 June 2011)

Last night, on Channel 7’s Today Tonight, a slightly provocatively titled story called Burqa Rage was broadcast. The video can still be seen here. I was informed of this broadcast via an email from Amra Pajalic. Before going further, I should say that I have met Amra Pajalic before and have very favourable views of her novel The Good Daughter, but these factors have no bearing on my opinion of Burqa Rage.

Three non-Muslim women in burqas

The premise of the story was to examine non-Muslim Australians’ reactions to Muslim women wearing the burqa. The focus was three non-Muslim women having the experience of wearing the burqa for a day. Although the story was only six minutes long, some light was shed. The women went to various public places such as a shopping strip, a bank, and driving a car. The response was sometimes vocal and hostile, although in the bank, neither security nor the bank staff treated the women in a noticeably different manner, which they found surprising, given that motorcycle helmets, for example, are banned in bank branches.

It is hard to infer too much in a short story like this. However, the impression I got from those who were vocal in their abuse, wasn’t so much blatant racism, but more the fear of difference. Dare I say it, while I would like to think that I wouldn’t descend to open hostility in an equivalent situation, I have to admit that I have some fears about difference too. Of course, for all I know Today Tonight may have only chosen the most atypical and hostile reactions to the burqa, and perhaps most of the time the three women were treated like anyone else. On the other hand, the three women did say they were distressed by some of the reactions. One even said that she was ashamed that people could be so intolerant, even racist. In turn they hope they will be more respectful of difference in future.

The story ended with a short studio interview conducted with some of the co-authors of the book What a Muslim Woman Looks Like. The book aims to break down stereotypes of what a Muslim woman looks like, through presenting a diverse series of profiles. In the studio interview, they advocated that people need to be less judgemental and see beyond the burqa, and that it is used as an expression of belief and spirituality.

Having long since switched off from the sensationalist style of tabloid TV current affairs, I was quite impressed at the reasonable even-handedness of the story. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

And if I was giving the prizes: Little Big Shots 2011 Jury screening (Part 2)

Following the previous entry on the child-made films, I will discuss how I would have voted for the adult-made films.

My 1st prize: The Lost Thing
My 2nd prize: Superhuman
My 3rd prize: Franswa Sharl
The Lost Thing
Having won the Best Animated Short Film at the 2011 Oscars I’ll add my voice to the general acclaim for The Lost Thing. I first saw it at the Melbourne International Film Festival last year where it also won an award. Shaun Tan, who was one of the co-directors, and whose book the film is based on, has gone onto an even higher honour, being the 2011 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award winner, the world’s richest children and young adult literature prize. As for the film, I doubt I can add much more. I’ve been a big fan of Shaun Tan’s work for many years, and this film goes very close to doing justice to his astounding drawings. The story speaks of alienation, and how we tend to ignore the unusual in our lives, even if it’s right in front of us. Yet, the penultimate scene gives hope that lost things can find their place in the world. 
Youtube video of entire film with Russian subtitles. It is also available on DVD, with plenty of special features.

Superhuman is a gem. It deals with tragedy with humour, but is neither flippant nor heavy-handed in doing so. Drawing upon a child’s view of the world with precision, it cleverly depicts their outsized imaginations of what their parents are capable, and what happens when their illusions are corrected by reality.

Franswa Sharl was hilarious even after having seen it several times. I also first saw this at the Melbourne International Film Festival. It won the 1st prize for the adult made film at Little Big Shots, which it can add it to its prestigious awards collection, which includes a Crystal Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. Callan McAuliffe carries off the cheeky role with ease, and provides a wry voiceover and the supporting actors play their limited roles to perfection.
Youtube clips here and here.

Minnie Loves Junior
It was hard not to put this film in my top three because Minnie Loves Junior was the most endearing film in the competition, and the film I enjoyed the most. It won a special mention in the Generation Kplus section at the Berlin International Film Festival. This film first came to my attention when I saw it listed as part of the Giffoni Experience 2010 in the Generator + 10 short film section. This is such a tender and touching film, yet it has its lighter moments. Languidly paced, it never feels like the story is in a hurry to be told, and with a beautiful ocean backdrop, why not? Yet it still builds to a substantial climax. This a simple story of young love: Minnie is in love with Junior, but Junior pays no notice because he loves the sea. So how can Minnie get Junior’s attention? It’s certainly not with words! Only eight words are uttered – a most commendable economy of dialogue. See this article on the background of the filmmakers.

Mandarin Peel
Mandarins have never looked so juicy and sticky as in Anna McGrath’s Mandarin Peel. With no dialogue, it is a poetic vignette of the friendship of two girls, set against the dry Australian landscape. The contrast between the girls, the landscape and the mandarin is remarkable. I first saw one of Anna McGrath’s films, Small Change, at last year’s Little Big Shots, which focuses, in not quite as concentrated a manner, on the small yet special moments in life.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

And if I was giving the prizes: Little Big Shots 2011 Jury screening (Part 1)

The prize winning films at Little Big Shots are decided entirely by a jury of 10 children. The jury is selected from the film reviewing competition held during and after the previous year’s competition. This year, kids under 15 can review any film at Little Big Shots 2011, and those writing the best ones will win a spot on next year’s jury. Not only do they get to decide the Little Big Shots 2012 winner, they also get a pass to all the films.  The competition for the 2012 jury closes on 4 July, so see here for details.

Nothing More, Nothing Less
On Sunday 1 May, I had the great privilege of watching all the films in contention for prizes at Little Big Shots 2011. The screening took place at Studio 1 at ACMI. I was present in a supervisory capacity, along with festival director, Chloe Boulton. I didn’t have any voting rights, but it was interesting not only watching the films, but also watching the children watching the films. While the films were screening, it is quite easy to notice how well the children are engaged with the films. Children have fewer inhibitions about appearing engaged or bored.

There are two categories of prizes. One for Australian adult-made films, and one for Australian child-made films. The voting process is reasonably simple – each juror is given a sheet with all the shortlisted films and gives each film marks out of 10. The scores are then tallied. This year, 10 child-made films were shortlisted and 13 adult-made films. The 10 child-made films also get their own standalone film package at the Little Big Shots festival, which for me, is a perennial highlight.

Director Reuben Morgan with
a Searching for Nessie actor
In my previous post, I’ve already listed the jury prize winners. I will give my own views on which films I would have given the prizes to, and begin with the child-made films.

My 1st Prize: Searching for Nessie
My 2nd Prize: A Duck out of Water
My 3rd Prize: Shark Pool

Searching for Nessie undoubtedly showed the highest level of artistry of all the child-made films. Parental involvement, Chloe Boulton had been assured, was minimal. The music was atmospheric, the sets were beautifully designed and the fog was a fine touch. I did have some slight reservations over the morality of the film – essentially the Scottish teddy bears were running a Loch Ness monster scam, but apart from that it was a clear winner. An article from The Courier-Mail is here.

A Duck out of Water filmmakers
A Duck out of Water was a claymation film made by Grade 5 and 6 students at Yarraville West Primary School. They have a great film program, in which all Grade 5 and 6 students get involved. In Little Big Shots 2010, the students made Anna’s Doll, a claymation film about the 2009 Black Saturday Victorian bushfires, which deservedly won first prize. Coincidentally, I work with the mother of one of the children who was involved in this year’s film. I found this out when I was promoting Little Big Shots at my workplace by handing out brochures, and so she was able to tell me what an innovative film program the school has. This year’s effort, A Duck out of Water was a very humorous affair, and the claymation showed some painstaking effort. The swimming race, and its aftermath was a quite a hoot.

Animation sequence from Shark Pool
Shark Pool was a live-action documentary made by students from Lithgow High School. It was a engaging and well-made with some decent shark footage and informative interviews.

Of the other films, How Not to Get a Girl was a close contender for my top three. This was a humorous and well-executed simple idea. The main issue I had was the location – it was shot near a main road, and the passing traffic meant that some of the sound lacked clarity.

Lucas Haynes, director of Nothing More, Nothing Less
I think Nothing More, Nothing Less, although not nearly as accomplished as Searching for Nessie, was the most original of all the child-made films. The first time I saw it, I have to admit I was nonplussed. I grasped the film much better when I saw it a second time at the festival itself. The fault was definitely with me, and not director Lucas Haynes. The premise is moving: a 12 year old boy with dyslexia contemplates whether taking a magic pill to cure him. However, he needs to decide whether to do so will kill his creative abilities in the process. While some of the script is a little simplistic, there are some extraordinary visual sequences, which show a true cinematic mentality. I was particularly struck by the final scene where Lucas makes his fateful decision. This film easily has the greatest emotional impact of the child-made films. There a couple of good news articles on Lucas in a The Age and also a local paper. In these articles, Lucas, who is dyslexic, says that he is determined to make his career in film, and in his case there are no other options. Along with Reuben Morgan, these two are definitely filmmakers to watch.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Little Big Shots 2011 Launch

Outside The Cube at ACMI
Yes, I know that the internet is for up-to-the-minute events, and I should be blogging about things the day they happens - but I like to reflect a bit first. Otherwise, I will write rubbish. At least if I have time to think, it will be slightly higher quality rubbish.

Little Big Shots launch at The Cube, ACMI
As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the unexpected benefits of volunteering for Little Big Shots was getting invited to the 2011 festival launch. So at 11am on Saturday, 4 June I went to the launch at ACMI in Federation Square. The launch began in the Gallery level of ACMI in The Cube. I turned up just after 11, but already there was a crowd of excited children and parents. Plenty of food was to be had, but the colourful cupcakes went in a flash, as you might expect. with so many kids around. You can see plenty of launch photos on the festival's Facebook page.

A cupcake, shortly before being eaten!
At 11:30am we headed upstairs to Cinema 2 for the launch. The Master of Ceremonies was Hilary Harper from 774 ABC Melbourne, who hosts the Saturday morning slot. After giving a lively introduction, there was a word from a City of Melbourne councilor and then from Chloe Boulton, the festival’s director. You can see that I took an atrocious photo of her, where she looks like two people. I don’t have steady hands, and my camera is showing its age – it is over seven years old. I’ll excuse myself by saying that Chloe does so much work, that I wouldn’t be surprised if there were really two of her! She also gave me a little mention during her speech when going through her list of thank yous. Since this was Chloe Boulton’s last festival, Nick Place, the festival’s founder and who is on the festival’s board, gave Chloe some much deserved kudos.

Chloe Boulton (Little Big Shots Festival Director)
Then we got to the announcement of the prize winners. Bella Noonan, one of the 2011 Little Big Shots children’s jury got to do the honours. There were two categories for Australian films – one for child-made films, and one for adult-made films.

Australian Child-made films

Australian adult-made films
1st Prize: Franswa Sharl
3rd Prize: The Lost Thing

My memory has failed me, but I think one other film might have finished as an equal place getter in the adult-made films category. That’s probably a good reason to blog about these things in a timely manner! I will have more to say about the films themselves, when I do my next post on the Little Big Shots 2011 jury screening. 
The filmmakers of How Not to Get a Girl
After the prizes, there was a brief Q&A session conducted by Hilary Harper with the children filmmakers. One of the more insightful comments came from Reuben Morgan, who directed Searching for Nessie. Apart from his mother making the costumes for the teddy bears, pretty much none of the names in the film credits were real. Naturally, I suspected that some were made up – names like “William Tiddlywinks” and “Jack Rosebud” did cause some raised eyebrows, but it was amazing how much work he’d done. Voices, music, script, shooting were all done by Reuben. He said that he had at least 60 teddy bears, and had chosen them for their likeness to humans!

Franswa Sharl
The launch was rounded off by screening of all three child-made prize winning films as well as the 1st and 2nd prize winners for the adult-made films. I had seen all the films at least once, and Lola the Magnificent was a film that I definitely formed a higher opinion about on a second viewing. Finally, a short animated film from Canada, Ormie the Pig, was screened. I originally saw it several months before, when I was writing the synopsis for the Office of Film and Literature Classification, whilst volunteering for Little Big Shots. It is absolutely hilarious, and a great way to finish.

On that evening’s ABC news bulletin, there was a brief story on the Little Big Shots launch which included an excerpt from the interview with one of the actors in How not to Get a Girl. James Mathias, the actor who plays the hapless boy whose advances are repeatedly spurned, said tongue in cheek, I hope, that acting was excellent preparation for being a politician! James is a member of the Young Liberals, and has pre-selection ambitions at the next election. I overheard one of James’s teachers saying to James that since the school’s student council (which James is a member of), had recently incorporated the word “Union” in its title, that he had better expunge that from his resume. Using the word “Union” is not a good look for a Young Liberal! During the prize ceremony Q&A he also gave some behind the scenes insight into his shirt-ripping scene.

Little Big Shots also got some good coverage in The Age, and ABC Radio here and here. You can see the other press coverage here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Little Big Shots: International Film Festival for Kids

Little Big Shots is Australia’s only major film festival that exclusively screens children’s films. Beginning in 2005, it is now in its seventh year. It specialises in screening short films, and every year it includes a significant selection of films made my children. Another unique feature is that the prizes are decided by a jury entirely made up of children. The festival occurs in the days up to and including the Queen’s Birthday weekend i.e. early-mid June. It operates out of an office based in Richmond, Melbourne.

Although non-profit, Little Big Shots of course must remain commercially viable, which it is doing a very good job of according to this article, Since 2007, the festival would have continued to grow stronger if I am any judge. To see how far it’s come just take a look at this article from the festival’s first year where 21 films were screened (now the total is around 80). 

The current director is Chloe Boulton, who just finished running her fourth festival (the first three were run by Marcella Bidinost). The new festival director is Ben Laden, who was being shown the ropes at this year’s festival. The title “director” doesn’t really do justice to the work involved. The director is the sole paid employee of the festival, and has to do nearly everything. It is a stupendous amount of work involving artistic judgement, budget management, high levels of organisation, public speaking, sponsorship and grant management, venue management and not least of all, dealing with children. Just see this description when the job was advertised earlier this year. 

If I manage to keep this blog going, it will become obvious to whatever readers there are that I love film, and have a particular interest in children’s cinema. I have attending Little Big Shots since 2008, and last year I decided to do a little volunteering for the festival. It should be clear from the foregoing that Little Big Shots can always do with some extra help. I’m proof that no special skills are required – I don’t work in a film or even an arts related occupation. All you need is enthusiasm and interest in the aims of Little Big Shots.

With full-time employment, I am limited to helping out on whatever annual leave days I can spare. Since I only get 20 annual leave days per year, then I have been able to volunteer once every 1-2 months, which is not as much as I would like, but I’m still glad to help out when I can. At various times I’ve done tasks such as: helping to upload the archive of previous years’ festival programs onto the website, sending out letters and emails, writing film synopses to submit for the film classification authorities, uploading film images onto the website, researching children’s films at other festivals that might be potentially screened at Little Big Shots, giving my opinion on various films submitted by filmmakers etc.

In return, I get a few benefits. Firstly there is the intrinsic benefit of volunteering. Secondly, I get some insight as to how a non-profit film festival operates and the challenges involved in putting together a film festival. Plus, I get to watch plenty of children’s films! I see some of the films that will be included in the festival or films under consideration for screening, and when I get time I like to dig through the video archive of previous years’ film festivals. There’s some top films there.

Minnie Loves Junior - One of the Little Big Shots 2011 films
Because I am one of the more regular volunteers, I got a couple of other unexpected benefits from the nice folk at Little Big Shots. This year I got invited to the launch and got a free pass to the festival itself! I will blog about the launch and the festival in a future post.

Although the festival has just finished in Melbourne for 2011, it does tour nationally and even internationally. Do try to see it and please give consideration to volunteering. You will have great fun!