Ben Laden, director of the kid-focused Little Big Shots International Film Festival, admits it might be easier for him to slip into a child’s mindset than for most. “I’m certainly a proud representative of the ‘kidult’ generation,” he says. “I’ve never really grown up. Every year, there are films that make me think: that’s going to infuriate the parents… but the kids will love it!”
There are other festivals of films made by kids, or featuring child-friendly sections in their programming, but Little Big Shots takes an international film festival model and aims it squarely at children and their families. “The inspiration goes back to the founder, Nick Place, wanting to bring the best short films to Australia. Initially, it was just so his own kids could see them.”
Laden joined the team in 2011 and took over the programming last year. Was it easier the second time round? “I describe Little Big Shots as a runaway horse. Each year it gets more popular, so while I’ve picked up an enormous amount of knowledge about how the festival runs there are always more demands. But it’s balanced by the love we have for it. That’s the glue that makes it stick.”
Right from the beginning of Little Big Shots, movies from around the globe were selected not just to entertain, but to get kids thinking – and creating. “Kids will come and see movies at the festival,” says Laden. “Then they’ll go to their teacher and say they want to make a film, they’ll get their mum and dad involved… and they’ll come back the next year with their own films! They just need the spark, and they’re off and running.”
The Fantastic Flying Books Of Mr. Morris Lessmore, directed by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg.
“It was a coup for us getting last year’s Academy Award winner. It’s a real gem. A heartfelt story about books and learning – and the central character is based on Buster Keaton, a favourite of mine when I was growing up.”
Julian, directed by Matthew Moore.
“Julian is a fantastic Australian short film. It’s a perhaps-truthful, perhaps-fictitious tale about Julian Assange back when he was at primary school – and it’s very funny.”
Bumper, directed by Ben McCarthy.
“This is a Claymation film by an amazing kid called Ben McCarthy. He and his family came down to the festival from Sydney last year, and he showed his first film with us: Lightbulb. His second film, Bumper, won the top award at Tropfest’s Trop Jr, and will be showing in the festival. It’s a great success story for us. He’s a young kid with mild Aspergers, and he and his family used filmmaking to focus his talents. He’s really one to watch.”