Engage your sprockets
"The sprocket," explains Sprockets Toronto International Film Festival for Children director Jane Schoettle, "is the piece of projection machinery that engages the holes in a film." The metaphor here is that in the same way, the 10-day festival will be a point of interaction between the world of children's films and the people who attend the festival.
So, don't take your family to Sprockets expecting to sit on your bum for a week of films (though you could). Rather, plan on workshops like "From Dream to Screen," at which screenwriter Murray McRae will guide 10- to 13-year-olds through the process of writing screenplays (April 30). Or check out "Learn to Make a Film --- in a Day," offered twice each weekend, once for 9- to 12-year-olds, once for older kids.
The big draw, of course, is the opportunity to see 87 films from 26 countries, all geared toward children and families. Lila (age 8) and I just watched the opening night film, Sweden's Max and Josef --- Double Trouble. Poor Max has just gone from baby to middle child, and his parents won't even get him a dog. No, he gets Josef the wiseacre turtle instead, who encourages Max to take action against "the midget." "The turtle can't really talk," Lila explains, "it's Max's jealousy of his little sister. When Iris and Oscar were born, I felt a little like they got all the attention, and I was invisible, too." Invisibility seems sort of cool to Max until he realizes, no, he can't walk through walls.
Laura's Star, from Germany but dubbed into English, shows how powerfully Hiyao Miyazaki is influencing the world's animators. From the stunning realism of a European opera house, to the bold surreal magic of fluffy-looking fantasy playmates, it's full of Miyazakian flourishes. The dubbing isn't perfect, but Lila loved the characters' British accents. Like Max and Josef, this is also about a child dealing with change, and it's very moving.
Bibi Blocksberg and the Secret of the Blue Owls, something of a German Harry Potter story (with a girl hero), isn't dubbed. But don't let subtitles scare you; Sprockets has expert readers for the pre-readers in the audience. Until we saw Max, this was Lila's favorite. It didn't hit me as hard, but maybe that just means it's aimed more squarely at kids. Lila says, "Some moments made you feel scared, some made you laugh... they really gave you feelings." And it was flat-out silly at times, which can't be that bad.
Spirit Bear: the Simon Jackson Story was a tad pedantic, but the based-on-a-true-story teen eco-warrior drama worked for Lila. Simon Jackson is a real Canadian kid who successfully fought lumber companies and the Canadian government to preserve the habitat of the rare, white, Kermode bear. It's all very uplifting. Plus it's got a goofy scientist, Graham Greene, and Ed Begley Jr.
In addition to 25 feature-length films, there are also threescore shorts, where you'll see some of the most unbridled creativity. Keep an eye out for Co Heodeman's Marianne's Theatre, a stunningly imaginative play within a puppet show within a film. The cutout acrobats entertain, an emcee intrudes, and wonderful music moves it along for 16 of the shortest minutes of your life.
This year's festival, the eighth, runs from April 29 to May 8. Ten-ticket packs cost $77 Canadian (that's about a buck given the favorable exchange rate). For information about Sprockets, check out the website (www.bell.ca/sprockets), or call 416-968-FILM. They'll even help you find accommodations in Toronto.
--- Adam Wilcox
This week for families
Brighton Memorial Library storytimes: Mondays 10 a.m. (ages 3-4), 10:30 a.m. (ages 1-2.5); Thursdays 7 p.m. | Thurs, Apr 21, Little Science Wizards: Slimy Chemistry, 10:30 a.m. | 2300 Elmwood Avenue. 784-5300, www.brightonlibrary.org
Chickerella Thurs, Apr 21. storytime, Barnes & Noble, 3349 Monroe Ave, 10 a.m. Free. 586-6020
Experience Your Future Day Wed, Apr 27. for high-school seniors, Bryant and Stratton College, 1225 Jefferson Rd, 9 a.m.-12 p.m. 292-5627
Finding Out About Food Thurs, Apr 21. hearthside cooking program for kids ages 6-12, Rose Hill Mansion, Rte 96A, Geneva, 1-3 p.m. $3. 315-789-5151
Girl Scout Summer Camp Meeting Tues, Apr 26. girls ages 6-18 and parents, Chili Senior Center, 3235 Chili Ave, 6 p.m. 292-5160
Henrietta Public Library storytimes: Tuesdays 11-11:30 a.m., Wednesdays 10:15-10:45 a.m. | Wed, Apr 20, family bingo, 7-8 p.m. | Thurs, Apr 21, origami basics, 2-4 p.m. | Fri, Apr 22, Red Cross Babysitter's Training, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. $30. | Sat, Apr 23, comic book program, 10-11 a.m. | 455 Calkins Rd. 359-7092, www.hpl.org
Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge Open House Sat, Apr 23. kids' activities, exhibits, nature trails, birding, 1101 Casey Rd, Basom, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. 948-5445, iroquoisnwr.fws.gov
The Joke Shop Thurs, Apr 21. Cool Kids, The Forum, Genesee Community College, Batavia, 7-8 p.m. Free. 637-3984
Music, Danger, Suspense, and Silliness Thurs, Apr 21. Theatre Young Kids Enjoy, UpStage3, Auditorium Center, 875 E Main St, 1 p.m. 723-6080
Penfield Public Library Wed, Apr 20. teen poetry café, open mic, 1985 Baird Rd, Penfield, 7-9 p.m. 340-8720, www.penfieldlibrary.org
Peter Stewart Sat, Apr 23. family concert, Gothic Theater, Auditorium Center, 875 E Main St, 1 p.m. 244-3380, www.raeyc.org
Preschool Workshop Thurs, Apr 21. Ages 2.5-5, story, art project, Gallery tour, Memorial Art Gallery, 500 University Ave, 10:30 a.m.-12 p.m. $17. 473-7720 ext 3056
YOHP Summer Musical Auditions Wed, Apr 27. Penfield Recreation, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat audition for ages 12-18. 340-8664
The Yuqwa Sat, Apr 23. Zambian gospel quartet, Rochester Leadership Academy, 1020 Maple St, 7 p.m. Free for middle-school, high-school, and college students. 235-8735