Founded in 1997, the New York International Children’s Film Festival (NYICFF) has become a staple of the NYC animation scene. What started as a single weekend with a few screenings has blossomed into a massive, weeks long event featuring sold-out screenings of films both old and new, short and feature length, and animated and live-action, as well as workshops, Q&As with filmmakers, awards, and parties. They’ve just posted their full 2017 festival line-up, and I’m so excited for their animation offerings! I’ll be highlighting a few below.
I’ve only been attending programming at this festival since 2013, when I started taking computer animation classes at SVA, a school in NYC and one of the locations where many screenings are hosted. The first review I posted on this site was about a film–Kahil Gibran’s The Prophet–that I first saw at NYICFF! How I wish I knew about this fest when I was younger! This festival is one of the best ways (sometimes even the only way) to see amazing animated films from around the world that may otherwise not have had the chance at leaving their original territories. (This is the main reason that I don’t mind that these animated films are screened at a festival focussed mainly on children–the work they do contributes so much for global animated exposure.) Many of the films that get screened at NYICFF later become available for DVD purchases and even slightly wider (though still limited) theatrical releases thanks to companies like GKids. So even if you cannot attend, you may be able to track down the films.
It may sound biased, but you can’t talk about NYICFF without highlighting the company GKids, which was founded in 2008 by Eric Beckman, who is also one of the founders of the festival and still serves on its board of directors. Clearly Mr. Beckman saw a niche that we were lacking in terms of international animated films, and has done two-fold to fill that. Currently, GKids is likely most known for taking over the North American catalog of Studio Ghibli films (which was previously held by The Walt Disney Company at Pixar CCO John Lasseter’s encouragement), and they have amassed eight Academy Awards nominations as well. The films they find and add to their ever-growing, ever-impressive list continues to uphold amazing standards of artistry, quality, and content, often tackling issues, themes, and styles that many US companies shy away from.
Animated films to highlight
The clear highlights of this year’s festival are two dark horses in the awards circuit: My Life as a Zucchini, a Swiss/French co-production directed by Claude Barras featuring a wonderful and well-rounded cast of stop-motion foster children, and Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name, a film that I am avoiding all spoilers for–even the trailers and plot synopsis!
I was fortunate enough to have seen My Life as a Zucchini when it was screened at my work last year. Initially, I was skeptical about the film, but it quickly became my favorite animated feature film of 2016. Feel free to read what I wrote about it! Zucchini has been picked up by GKids and will be available for wider distribution starting in February–so check the list of screenings all over the US. I initially was a little concerned when the English voice cast was announced with so many adult celebrities, as I felt one of the strengths of the French film were the sincere, untrained voices of the children. But I finally saw the English-voice trailer and it sounds fantastic!
I’m familiar with Makoto Shinkai’s past films, having seen 3/4 of his previous releases, and I even own his gorgeous art book from 2015, called “A Sky Longing for Memories: The Art of Makoto Shinkai.” Unfortunately for me, I will be out of town the weekend of the screening, so I won’t be seeing it then. I’ll have to wait until Funimation releases it in April. Thankfully, these limited screenings will give lots of people across the US a chance to see and support this film in theaters too.
Another major and unexpected highlight is an older film by Studio Ghibli co-founder, Isao Takahata, Panda! Go Panda! from 1972. I have never seen nor even heard of this one before! The panda character looks very Totoro-like, which is amusing, and Hayao Miyazaki served as one of the key (or lead) animators on this film. It is actually two short filmed released together, and was initially made when China loaned Japan two of their pandas to a Japanese zoo. Yoshifumi Kondo, who later went on to direct Whisper of the Heart (which is my favorite Studio Ghibli film) before his unexpected passing, was also a key animator on this film; it is very nice to see more of his work. Takahata, largely considered Miyazaki’s rival (though was initially his mentor), is known for releasing some of Ghibli’s more grounded works, such as Grave of the Fireflies, Only Yesterday, Pom Poko, My Neighbors The Yamadas, and recent Academy Award nominated The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.
The film I am the most excited for that I can and will actually go see is Ancien and the Magic Tablet, a Japanese 2D animated film by director Kenji Kamiyama. Kamiyama is a director I’ve never heard of. It seems he’s had one other feature released (009 Re:Cyborg) in 2012, but I am very familiar with a number of shows from his extensive TV credits, such as Ghost in the Shell, Eden of the East, and a childhood favorite, Medabots.
A film whose still image on the site caught my eye was quite a mouthful: Van Tsarevitch and the Changing Princess: Four Enchanting Tales, which is a French film by director Michel Ocelot. Seeing the silhouette style of the film, I of course immediately thought of Lotte Reiniger’s films. Excited that maybe this director has some connection to her, searched him and found a quote from him where he spoke unfavorably about the look of Reiniger’s films, which rubbed me the wrong way. Watching a trailer for his film, I perplexed at his comment, as his film really does look like a digitally done version of a Reiniger film, with the animation itself at times looking weak. Nonetheless, I do really love this style of animation, and am excited to see it and the stories presented in it.
The film Rudolf the Black Cat, which is directed by Kunihiko Yuyama and Motonori Sakakibara, caught my eye because I don’t often see CG animated features out of Japan, where 2D (with CG usage to augment it) is still king. We’ve been seeing a few more CG films out of China lately, so I am excited to start seeing some out of Japan and just other countries in general. Hopefully then can all bring new styles and techniques to the table! Yuyama has a long list of director credits (and other roles leading to that), but his work is mostly in the Pokemon franchise’s feature films. Sakakibara’s credits are pretty small, with the only really notable work being the director of the early CG film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. This film, along with Your Name are both films nominated for the Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year (basically the Japanese Academy Awards/Oscars). Unfortunately, I cannot find neither an English dub nor subbed trailer, but you can get the gist of the story with just the visuals:
Another feature animated film is Window Horses, a film I’ve never heard of, but is a 2D animated film made in Canada, by a director named Ann Marie Fleming. Upon further research, it is based off a graphic novel by the director herself, about her experience as a half Chinese, half Iranian girl living in Canada, and her discovery of her Iranian culture when attending a poetry festival there. The trailer has so many different looks to it, from the character design (particularly how different the main girl’s design is from everyone else), the backgrounds, and some of the more whimsical moments. I am immediately getting Persepolis vibes, which was another graphic novel about a girl in a new place that was turned into a wonderful and stylized film. I could see this being a very underestimated but surprising dark horse at the festival. It was crowd-funded via Ingigogo and seemed to have much support from the Canadian indie animation scene, as well as Asian-American actress Sandra Oh (who voices the main character, Rosie), best known from her role on Grey’s Anatomy.
The last feature film on the roster is Revolting Rhymes, one that at first I was pretty indifferent to. Initially, it seemed like yet another attempt at remixing classic fairy tales. To be fair, that’s exactly what it is. But the style of the animation pulled me in, as did the narrator’s rhymes in the trailer. Towards the end, they revealed that they are the words of Roald Dahl, an author most famous for books like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Matilda,” and “BFG.” In this film, Dahl re-imagines six classic fairy tales in two featurettes. Familiar with Dahl’s darker humor, I know that this will be wonderfully twisted. And I just love the character design.
Above, I listed some of but not all of the animated films on offer at NYICFF–remember that there are also shorts that you can see in blocks of around 1-1.5 hours. This year there are around 5-6 different blocks of shorts, which often vary slightly based on a theme (i.e. spooky shorts) or suitable age group. And there are also live-action short and feature films as well!
For the complete list of screenings, and to get tickets, go here.
Please help celebrate this festival’s 20th Anniversary by supporting global animation!
This post was not sponsored by anyone. I just really love this festival! There are a couple of Amazon affiliate links to products listed in this article. If a purchase is made with one, I get a small commission which goes towards maintaining this site. This information is always available on my Disclosure located at the bottom of every page on this site.