Held from the 17th to the 21st of September, the 2019 iteration of the Adelaide International Youth Film Festival was a sweet, fun film festival for young people, featuring an eclectic mix of features and shorts from both local and international filmmakers. The films spanned a range of topics, locations, and tones, but commonalities amongst them included themes of coming of age, the importance of family, friendship, and diversity, and first confrontations with loss and death. These universal topics seemed to speak to the various crowds of young people who attended the screenings, ranging in age from junior primary students all the way up to high school seniors, with most of the films being received with rapturous applause.
Though every film in the festival had its share of strengths, the clear highlight in the feature category was My Extraordinary Summer with Tess, a beautiful Dutch film about the friendship forged between two young pre-teens by the beach during a summer holiday, as they confront some of life’s big questions. The film deals with admirably complex concepts, such as children’s first encounter with the concept of death. The real triumph is how well it straddles the line tonally between darkness and light. The film never trivialises its young protagonists’ existential wonderings, treating them with the seriousness that they are felt by said characters, but it never becomes bogged down in misery, retaining a light and breezy tone throughout, even as its characters confront hard truths.
My Extraordinary Summer with Tess should be mandatory viewing for any pre-teen as it addresses the questions that they will no doubt themselves be starting to ask. The film has just the right mixture of heart, thoughtfulness, and giddy fun, provided the audience can tolerate some minor coarse language and reading subtitles. But even if you’re not in that young age bracket, this is still a wonderful film. It is the platonic ideal of the term family film: a movie that can truly be enjoyed by anyone, no matter their age.
Other standouts from the festival came in the form of the many shorts that were screened. One of the top picks from this category included The Mannequin Man, an Australian film about elderly loneliness that featured just the right mix of good natured comedy and heartbreakingly human emotion. The French animated short Hors Piste, was also another highlight, which was a wordless, beautifully crafted black comedy of increasingly ridiculous human errors made by a two-man Search and Rescue Team in their attempts to bring an injured skier down from the top of a mountain. Other high points included an Adelaide-made short called Honey, that sensitively and warmly depicts the relationship between two sisters, one of whom has Down syndrome, over the course of their childhood, and the Norwegian short Bog Hole, which deals with childhood jealousy and abandonment issues in a striking realist style, to moving affect.
The Adelaide International Youth Film Festival’s variety of films from all over the globe should be thoroughly commended. It exposes many younger children to foreign films for what may have been the first time in their life, helping to break down the cultural assumption that foreign films are either boring or pretentious at an early age, and encouraging them to have a curiosity for cinema from non-English speaking countries. Combine this with the diverse and relevant themes covered by the films that eloquently speak to the festival’s intended audience, and you have a truly great festival on your hands, one with a welcoming atmosphere and a lot of value, both as a cultural force for educating young people about the value of film, and as a fun, exciting event in the quieter half of the Adelaide festival calendar.
– Daniel Tune