For the first time, the Jio Mami 18th Mumbai Film Festival with Star will open its celebrated Half Ticket section to the public on October 22 and 23, 2016 at PVR Phoenix in Mumbai. The section that presents a variety of acclaimed films to children and young adults is an opportunity to introduce kids to great cinema.

This year, Half Ticket presents an impressive line-up of 28 films starting with the animation film The Little Prince, which will be showcased on the big screen in India for the very first time. What’s interesting to note is the young jury of the section that will consist of seven kids in the age group of 9 to 12 years from across Mumbai.

To understand more about this section that endeavors to nurture children’s appetite for distinctive artistic experiences, we caught up with Monica Wahi, the curator of the Half Ticket section to understand all that goes into curating films for a children’s section in a film festival.

Monica Wahi

Monica Wahi

How did you get into curating for the Mumbai Film Festival?

I have been working with children’s films for about 12 years now, in developing productions, introducing, distributing, and marketing the films. In 2011, when I was the creative head at CFSI (Children Film Society India), I did my first film festival ‘The Golden Elephant’, which is the largest children’s film festival in the world. That’s when I got hooked to curating and organizing films for children’s festivals. Last year MAMI asked me to curate films for their new section Half Ticket. They didn’t have the section earlier and also, after the crisis that they went through last year, the new management felt that it was important to encourage younger audiences to watch world cinema. And you build that appetite by introducing them to various films.

Read: Festivals grow slowly and you build credibility every year: Smriti Kiran

This is the first time that the Half Ticket section is open to the public. How important is this development?

Last year, the screenings were only for schools. But this year, in addition to the screenings for schools, we have some films that are open to the children of delegates at a nominal price of Rs.100 above the regular fee. A delegate can register up to 2 children on each pass. The response we received from schools was overwhelming last year and hence the management felt that we shouldn’t restrict it to just the schools. Delegates who are coming for the festivals are film lovers and this is an opportunity for them to introduce their children to incredible world cinema. We have 11 shows open for them which starts this weekend.

The films that I finally selected are the films which speak to my core, films which I want to share with my young audience

Having curated Half Ticket for two years in a row, how have you seen the section evolve? Also what is that quality in certain films that motivates you to select them above others?

We are working on a narrow slate. But yes, gradually we are moving upwards. Last year we had 24 films which has gone up to 28 films this year, with some of the shows being open to the children of delegates too. When you curate for a section, you do not look for how many popular films you have instead, you’re looking at the diversity in the subjects and styles that you’ve covered. The criterion is to cultivate a discerning taste among young children. We have films from different nations like Korea, Taiwan, Iran, Turkey, Israel and of course, European films. The theme of the section also changes every year.

This year we also have really interesting shorts for screening. In fact we have two films from India, one of them is Hardik Mehta’s Famous in Ahmedabad (Ahmdavad Ma Famous), which has been part of various festivals and is one of those rare documentaries meant for children. Indian Filmmakers generally don’t make documentaries for kids. Then we have Nina Sabani’s We Make Images (Hum Chitra Banate Hain), which is an animated film based on Bhil art where she has worked with the artists themselves to create stunning images. It is an extremely beautiful film to watch out for. Apart from Little Prince which is the opening animated film, we also have two more animated films – My Life As A Zucchini and Window Horses, both of which are celebrated animations that deal with complex contemporary issues.

With children, one of the motivations is to present films that are challenging to them because otherwise they only go for cheerful films that do not address any concerns related to kids. But for us, it is important to show them films which encourage them to think about the film and the life that it is talking about. We are striving to get better films each year which break stereotypes, question long-held notions which they themselves have, inspire them to start creating things themselves. We have been watching and showing children a certain style of animation on TV.

Here, we have stylistically different animated films which psychologically means your beliefs are going to be uniform. The more you watch such kind of uniform content, the more you like to watch it. It’s addictive in that sense. We have this delightful disruptive package against the sameness of things whether in animation or other films. But particularly in animation we will like to introduce to different artistic styles. So if you look at the program you will find diverse styles even in the 4 animation films that are being shown. Most of them are hand drawn. They haven’t been created from the beginning on the computer. Somebody has actually drawn them and then rendered them. That’s important to us. We need to break the common perception of the kids that animation is a colourful, computerised 3D image alone. You build labour of love inside them when you show how much efforts have gone to make a single frame. We searched around 700 films, watched 544 films and brought it down to 28 this year. It was a tough process not only because we watched so much to select but we left many of them to choose few.

little prince -

Still from the film Little Prince

Have any of the films from the section deeply impacted you? Or changed the way you see cinema for children and young adults?

The films that I finally selected are the films which speak to my core, films which I want to share with my young audience. Some films may look simple but they are actually layered with complexities and take you by surprise. For example, there is a beautiful film from Taiwan called Hang in There Kids!, which is about three children who live in the mountains of Taiwan. It’s a simple film about friendship but it actually grapples with so many issues that we face in the world today, whether it is environment, or the way we look at marginal communities and how we interact with wild life. You enjoy it but when you read between the story and the frame, you also discover many issues that leave you thinking. That’s why we always facilitate discussions after the school screenings.

READ: Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2016: Everything Unmissable

What is the most difficult part of curating children’s films?

The most difficult part is also the most delightful one. You enter so many worlds during the selection process. You end up seeing so many films, perspectives and images from across the world, thus living those lives. The difficult part is the decision-making. Some are stunningly made films but perhaps they are politically bound, or sexist or do not give scope to broaden one’s mind; not obviously, but under the text. So you have to be able to look at all this to take the right decisions. In today’s world we are constantly consuming content and what we consume becomes the thinking that we have about the world. Particularly as a children’s films curator, one has to be mindful of what one puts out to the young audience. But I love the job! (laughs)

With children, one of the motivations is to present films that are challenging to them because otherwise they only go for cheerful films

What are you most excited about in regards to this year’s festival?

The most exciting part always is how the children respond to the films. We have parallel screenings so I literally jump from one show to the other to see their reactions, the questions they ask and that’s where you realise the real impact of the film.

READ: Your day wise guide to Jio MAMI 2016