Little Big Shots - Kids Creating the Stories

In less than a month, Melbourne will once again be treated to the Little Big Shots International Film Festival. This is not just a festival of films for young people and families, but it includes films made by the young people themselves. Here's to kids telling their own stories!


I spoke to Ben Laden, the Festival Director and CEO of Little Big Shots International Film Festival, to get a bit of insight into what this festival is all about...



So, what is the Little Big Shots International Film Festival?

We’re Australia’s international film festival for children and families. We have an age range of 2 to 15, so we screen age specific packages across that spectrum. We have our main festival in Melbourne which starts on May the 30th and goes through to June 8th, and then we tour around the country and go to some of the biggest venues in the country including the Opera House and the Adelaide Festival Centre and lots of other big venues like that. It’s a national event. We go to a number of regional areas across the country too, and this coming year we’ll also be touring to Auckland, New Zealand … I’ve been on board for five years, and last year we had our tenth birthday.


If I went along to one of the screenings, what kind of things should I expect to see?

We screen, each year, many of the most awarded or celebrated short films from the last two years. The program is divided into age-specific packages, so each package will have a mixture of award-winning international films, and it’ll have Australian made films, and then it’ll have at least one film made by a young person. In the main body of the program, there’s at least one [kids’ film] in every package, and then we have this package - Number Ten - which is just films made by kids.


Are there any other ways that kids can get involved in the festival?

Yes, we work very specifically with a number of child filmmakers every year, to support them and encourage their practice. Each year now we get hundreds of entries from young people, so the young filmmakers who actually get their films into the festival tend to be quite remarkable young people and young emerging artists. We take our responsibility very seriously now in terms of helping these young people, not only as they screen with us but the next steps they take. We do workshops and special film projects, where funding is available. We also do a lot of work with schools and specific school screenings and I go out and visit a lot of schools during the year and chat with the kids about filmmaking. It often starts with a young person coming to see one of the screenings and then they’ll be inspired and then go off and create their own films and submit it in future years. I’ve seen that quite a bit in the history of the festival, how somebody can come along and see it, particularly when they see a film made by a child on the screen, that’s why it’s so important for us to program into this mix, films made by children… because when a young person sees a film on screen made by another young person, they see it and say “Oh, I could do that.”


Do you find the movies that are made by kids are different to the ones that are made by adults?

Yes, for sure, in all sorts of different ways. They look at the world differently. Sometimes it’s really interesting, where a film made by a young person, if you like, competes on a level with something made by an adult. With some of the films in this years festival which were submitted and I saw, I was completely astounded, that somebody at the age of 13 or 14 could have mastered the techniques of filmmaking and editing and animation, [in the way] that they have. I should also mention we have a jury. There are three awards that are available: best international, best Australian-made adult film and best child-made film. And that jury, they’re all kids, the jury is young people. That’s a really important part of our approach.  A lot of festivals have adult juries or industry peers, but we feel in terms of the way our festival is structured, that the most important people to judge the films are the kids themselves.


On your website it says that the films inspire discussions about world languages and cultural diversity. Can you talk about how they do that?

The spectrum of films that are shown in the festival, they’re not solely there for entertainment, although many of the films will be very entertaining for young people and their families. You have films in there which are documentaries: we have one this year about a young girl from Nicaragua, (‘Yang Paradaiski’, part of package 6) and it’s really a tale about what is important in life, and her and her family don’t have very much money but they live a very happy life. In that instance it’s a message that’s going directly to the kids about looking beyond the material, and many of the films in the festival have important messages, like they might be environmental messages, or anti bullying messages, or in the case of this one, ‘Yang Paradaiski’, about world culture. And importantly, many of these films, even the ones which are major award winners, the audience would never have the chance to see them other than through the means of our festival because short films aren’t generally screened in cinemas. For a lot of kids, their only access to cinema will be through major cinema chains, seeing large studio pics like Disney and Pixar. They see these films with important cultural messages, but they’re also, I think, really importantly, made in a variety of different techniques, even animation styles. Kids will see that there’s an amazing number, an infinite number of ways people can make animated films, not just in one or two styles.


Do you also think about having a diversity of characters on screen? Like, making sure that kids actually see people that look different to them, and are different genders?

Yes, yes, and also a diversity in the type of filmmaker. It’s probably no surprise in some ways that the majority of entries by young people tend to be from young boys, and we can expand upon all the reasons for why that might be, but when you actually break it down it becomes really important to us to look for young female filmmakers. For all sorts of reasons they find it particularly challenging to enter or use this medium, and then what is extraordinary, is when we actively do look and search for young female filmmakers, what they produce is strikingly different compared with what is produced by young male filmmakers, who seem to have a lower threshold or barrier to embracing the technology to make the films. There’s a fantastic film made by this young 17 year old called Georgia Fitzroy, (‘Boddah’, part of package 5) which we’ve programmed, which I think is probably one of the standout films in the festival, and its sort of a meditation on her childhood and dreaming. In a million years you would not get a young teenage boy making a film like this. That’s why its so important. There’s a lot of different social themes in the festival, we program about 80 films a year, selected from roughly 1000 entries. 


Wow, that’s got to be a big job in itself, watching all of those films!

Those are only the entries as well, over the course of a year, I probably watch something in the order of three, to three and a half thousand films. Nearly 800 of those I watch just in three weeks, when I attend several festivals in the latter half of the year, I go to two particular festivals, one in Amsterdam and one in Chicago.  The two biggest events in the year, and I watch a lot of films! But I have dedication to this format, and in general I’ve always been a bit of a film nerd.


Do you have a favourite film from all of the years that you’ve been programming this festival? Is there one that stands out?

Well, it’s difficult to say, certainly it changes… because when I program a film I know I will personally view that film probably hundreds of times, so most films over time tend to lose their lustre when you see them that many times, but then every now and again there’ll be a film which no matter how many times you watch it, you just…

 I suppose in the first year that I came on board, there was a film that was programmed by my predecessor, called ‘Ormie’. It was about a pig who wanted to get some biscuits off the top of the fridge. It was a really simple story, but every time I saw it, it just got the same reaction out of me, and that’s quite extraordinary. There was a film that we programmed 2 years ago by a New Zealand filmmaker, called ‘Abiogenesis’ which has a similar effect on me, about a machine going to a distant planet and basically bringing it to life, but it was a very different sort of film to ‘Ormie’, but the similarity is that I don’t ever get tired of it, I’ll watch it and see how incredible, not only the style of film but the story underneath it.

It’s a rare thing. Many films can be incredible when you first see them, but not after you watch them a hundred times… when a film can still do that, there’s something extraordinary about it.


Little Big Shots International Film Festival

Saturday, 30th May - Monday 8th June 2015

ACMI Cinemas, Melbourne (and then travelling to other venues around Australia) 


Tickets to Little Big Shots International Film Festival are selling now, through the ACMI website, starting from $9, with special discounts for families and multi-pass tickets. 


Also, if you’d like a taste of one of Ben’s favourite films, ‘Ormie’ can be seen here: 


And ‘Abiogenesis’ can be seen here: 

60,000 years worth of stories

I’ve been thinking about something for a while. Something that bugs me about our history and our stories.


I’ve been thinking for a while about the history of our Indigenous people, and why this isn’t really taught or embraced as ‘our’ history. The reason I’ve been thinking about this may be partly due to recently teaching at a primary school with a relatively high number (for Melbourne) of Aboriginal students, or indulging in the wonderful ‘Black Comedy’ on ABC. Then I started reading “7 Stages of Grieving” by Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman, and I was struck again by this idea. Wesley Enoch even talks about how Aboriginal culture isn’t relegated to the past, it’s not a “museum piece” that is dead and gone, but the culture and stories are still thriving. Why isn’t it seen as Australian culture - something that we all have a responsibility to protect and allow to develop?

A week ago, I marched in the city with 5000 others, protesting the closure of Aboriginal communities in WA. At the end of the march, as we all sat in an enormous circle in the middle of the street, Aboriginal speakers - loud, articulate and furious - reminded us that these closures of communities were not isolated events. They were another example of the attempted destruction of the oldest living culture on earth. There was so much pain and frustration that felt like it should be exorcised with screaming and violence, but instead was translated into passionate speeches.

But the march wasn’t just about tragedy. Among the pain and yelling were reminders that this is about a connection to land and country. It was about ancestry and spirituality, and it actually made my skin tingle. I don’t know how to describe the feeling that the speakers were evoking, because they were sharing this enormous pride in being part of a 60,000 year old culture. There was pride in being responsible for this land; of having that responsibility passed down from generations. There was pride in having a culture rich in stories that have lasted and lasted. And while this made me pretty emotional, it also made me angry that we don’t embrace it. ‘We’ being all Australians. This is Australia’s history and culture.

Like most Australians, I spent many years at school learning about the first fleet and the convicts and all those early explorers. This is taught as Australian History. Like Australians born after about 1980, I also learned about Aboriginal Dreamtime stories and boomerangs and bush tucker. This is taught as Aboriginal History. Something separate. Yes, it appears that some very specific parts of Aboriginal culture are included in the curriculum, but they always appear to be framed as someone else’s history. Not ‘ours’.  Considering that the modern classroom includes many children who are only first, second or third generation Australian, as well as kids from a mix of backgrounds, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, I think if we’re going to teach Australian history (and culture) then we need to teach the history and culture of this land. And that goes back at least 60,000 years.

I want to know more about the different Indigenous groups across Australia, and how their cultures differ. I want a better understanding of the stories and how they are passed down. Why is it that I can speak a few words of French, Italian, Mandarin, Japanese, Spanish and German but not a single word of even one of the hundreds of Indigenous languages from my own country?

I recognise that there are many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups, and the stories and cultures belong to the members of each group. I’m not advocating some kind of ignorant, offensive appropriation where white people get to own and take over Aboriginal cultures. I’m saying that Australia has thousands of living experts who should be viewed as the holders of rich and rare stories. Perhaps if non-black Australians had a greater understanding of the history and culture of their own country, we wouldn’t even consider such a heartless act as removing people from their own homes. 

We, the rest of Australia, need to start learning.