Initially our headline here probably makes absolutely no sense, because the Sprockets Film Festival is the Toronto International Film Festival for Children. In general, “movie theatres filled with children” aren’t anywhere you could take refuge from anything (other than possibly peace and quiet) but we’d like to spotlight some of the films that Sprockets is showing this year that deal with the refugee experience.
After all, with over 50% of Toronto a visible “minority” and many of us immigrants to the city, there are few of us here that don’t recognize the pain of being somewhere new and being something different, and the refugee experience is, if anything, the most extreme end of that.
Leaps and Bounds (pictured above; Saturday, 9:40 a.m. and Sunday, 1:20 p.m.) features a young Kurdish refugee, Azad, and his mute older brother, Tigris, trapped in Sweden with their uncaring relatives after a botched attempt to reach Germany in advance of their parents. Leaps and Bounds starts strongly, but its reliance on keeping a traditional story arc with some ordinary clichés (Peter Stormare turns up as a magical hot dog salesman, which doesn’t sound like a cliché at all, but trust us, it is) means it doesn’t keep up to its early promise—even being willing to represent some refugees as twatty, work-shy layabouts doesn’t make up for an oddly happy ending. Still, and we hate to say this, it’s hard to criticize it too hard when we can’t think of any recent “Hollywood” kids’ films that have bothered to deal with actual issues, unless Alvin and the Chipmunks were actually escaping from Chipmunkistan or something. Leaps and Bounds is aimed at 9–12 and up, and the subtitles are read aloud during screenings.
The Giraffe in the Rain plays as part of the Sprockets Loot Bag shorts program (Saturday, 2 p.m. and Sunday, 11:25 p.m.) and is yet another example of why we might like shorts better than features—for their requirement that the creator say what they have to say without wasting time. Here, a cute giraffe finds himself (herself? Couldn’t really tell) forced out of his home country just for attempting to share the clean water that the King does. The giraffe has to deal with disapproving looks, no job, and just the general stress of a different culture in its new “home”—while it waits to find out if it’s going to be deported, of course.
Told non-verbally, it’s not heavy handed in the least, telling its story with wit and warmth; even the “happy ending” comes with an appropriate coda. The Loot Bag shorts program is aimed at ages 5–8 (and up) and we don’t hesitate to recommend it on the basis of this film alone.
The Three Robbers (Saturday, 12:20 p.m. and Sunday 9:40 p.m.) isn’t about refugees at all, so the concept of this article breaks down completely here, but oh, well. I suppose we could make a case for an orphan being a bit similar to a refugee, but we can’t be bothered. We just wanted to mention the film because it’s a quite adorable little fairy tale about an orphan girl who falls in with a trio of highwaymen on her way to an terrible orphanage (is there any other kind?).
We can’t help but feel like the pacing, or rather, the timing of certain scenes is a little bit off, but the use of colour and the delirious ending made us feel like a child, so it is (again) hard to ask for more. The Three Robbers is aimed at ages 5–8 and up, with subtitles read out loud.
Sprockets takes place this weekend at Canada Square (2190 Yonge Street) and there are a lot of other films on offer other than ones about refugees (and, er, the one which isn’t that we also mentioned) including Jump, the acclaimed documentary about American teens preparing for the national and world jump-rope championships, and The Substitute, which played during TIFF. You can check out the whole program at the Sprockets website.