The Kids Stay in the Picture
Remember when you were a child? All of its confusion, complexity and charm? This month we take you back to that rarefied place with a diverse programme of films dedicated to all things relating to childhood.
The focus is in celebration of Mark Cousin's landmark documentary A Story of Children and Film (Fri 4 April for at least one week - and Mark joins us for a Q&A after its Thu 10 April 18:00 screening), which is essential viewing for anyone who loves film - or indeed who has ever been a child!
An odyssey through the adventure of childhood, Mark's latest was the only British film in the official selection at Cannes last year, where it was the toast of the town, receiving five star reviews across the board (the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw called it 'one of the most beguiling events' at the festival, 'as refreshing as a glass of iced water').
Mark used footage of his niece and nephew Laura and Ben mucking about in his Edinburgh flat as a springboard for looking at childhood in film. Their arguments, shyness, goofing off, uncomfortableness and more are the start of a lovely free-associative journey through many of the themes of childhood.
Cinema is a young art form, and Mark believes that children and film are, in some essential ways, similar. Film can capture fundamental truths about childhood that other methods can't, since cinema scenes are "co-authored in some ways by the kids. They bring their own agency. It's true of even very controlling directors like Steven Spielberg: you see him going with what the child is doing in ET."
ET is one of very few recognisable titles in A Story of Children and Film, which uses scenes from 53 movies from 26 countries, across 11 decades. Many will be new discoveries, and the good news is, you can experience some of them in their entirety at the accompanying Cinema of Childhood Season, which has been curated by Mark Cousins (ticket holders to A Story of Children and Film get £1 off the films in the season too!).
These 12 films have rarely, if ever, been shown in the UK. It's an international journey from Sweden to Japan, Senegal to Albania and back again. Mark was particularly struck by Iranian cinema, he says:
"Because they don't sentimentalise children, unlike the American films where children are heroic in some way. In Iranian culture children are often quite nasty. Iran doesn't have that sense of determined optimism you get in American life. You don't get a Shirley Temple in Iranian films." It is this 'adult fantasy of childhood' that Mark successfully sought to avoid.
His personal favourite in the season is Iranian film Willow and Wind, a gripping film written by Abbas Kiarostami and directed by Mohammad-Ali Talebi, who Mark calls one of the world's greatest directors of children. Talebi will be making his first ever visit to the UK to take part in a Director's Q&A after Willow and Wind (Thu 17 April, 18:10), and we'll be screening two more of his films as part of the Cinema of Childhood Season - Bag of Rice (Tue 22 April at 18:10) and The Boot (Thu 24 April at 18:10).
Hear Mark talk a bit more the 'perilous masterpiece' Willow and Wind in this short trailer:
The Cinema of Childhood website has some great background articles on these little-known gems, including one from our own Mark, Mark Cosgrove, Watershed's Cinema Curator. He has contributed a piece on the luminous The Little Girl Who Sold The Sun (Thu 10 April at 21:00), and you can read a bit more about the film's director Djibril Diop Mambety and Senegalese cinema here.
Mark Cousins has been whizzing around the country doing press interviews, and kindly took some time to sit down with Watershed for our April Podcast. Listen now to hear him talk about what got him interested in exploring childhood, how he picked the films, how he first discovered Talebi, more about the 8 ½ Foundation (Mark and Tilda Swinton's foundation that brings kids the gift of cinema on their - what else? - 8 1/2th birthday) and more.
Cousins says that he loved what Picasso said, that all children are artists.
"Something happens as we grow up and try to become cool, or think of ourselves as professionals. We start to mask a lot of that basic creative sense that we have as kids. Children are a kind of raw, less censored type of human being."
So join us - let's forget the professionalism and the censoring, the seriousness and the caution - see the world, and cinema, through the eyes of a child once more. A Story of Children and Film will screen until at least Thu 11 April, the films from the Cinema of Childhood Season screen from Tue 1 - Tue 29 April, and our Sunday Brunch season also inserts some youthful joie de vivre every Sunday in April at noon.