The Sharjah International Film Festival for Children and Youth or SIFF is returning as a focused in-person event this year, after taking its programming online last year.
An initiative of Funn, the foundation in Sharjah that promotes media arts and creative talent among UAE youth, the festival is the first in the region that is dedicated to a younger audience. It is now in its ninth year and will take place between October 10 and 15.
Besides its selection of films, which caters to age groups from under 7 to those in their university years, the festival also aims to encourage children and youth to hone skills related to filmmaking, through workshops and seminars. The theme for this year’s festival is Think Film.
While SIFF took place exclusively online last year owing to Covid-related restrictions, the event will now be held across various locations across Sharjah. Film screenings will be held at Al Jawaher Reception and Convention Centre and Vox Cinemas in City Centre Al Zahia. There will also be screenings at City Centre Mirdif’s Vox Cinemas for those living in Dubai. Screening times will be segmented into morning and evening sessions to accommodate students and families.
“There is no doubt about the impact of cinema on children’s and youth’s imagination,” Sheikha Jawaher bint Abdullah Al Qasimi, the festival’s director, said during a press conference on Monday at Vox Cinemas in City Centre Al Zahia.
“We guarantee six days of pure fun and contemplation in this year’s edition,” she said. “We hope to see more youth film production taking inspiration from the film personalities and experts gracing these festivals.
“We have morning screenings from 9am to 1pm that are specifically for schools and universities, though anyone can walk in and watch the films if they are interested. Then we have an evening shift, which starts around 4pm. Because we are a family-orientated festival, we tried to make sure that there was a break in between.”
The selection includes short films from the GCC as well as international titles. It also includes 16 feature films, 16 student films, 28 animated works, seven documentaries and 12 child and youth-made titles.
In addition, three films will mark their Middle East premiere. These include The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy; the David Cho-directed drama Croissant; and The Secret Garden, which stars Colin Firth, Julie Walters and Dixie Egerickx.
Egerickx will also be among special guest speakers at the festival, along with Syrian singer Rasha Rizk, who is also known for her cartoon dubbing company Venus Centre; Emirati filmmaker Fadel Al Mheiri; and Syrian For Sama filmmaker Waad Alkateab.
Sheikha Jawaher said the films were picked after a stringent selection scrutinising the quality and content of the materials. Out of 1,717 films from 89 countries, only 95 were selected. The films will be in competition in their respective categories.
For the films that were submitted in the child and youth-made category but were not selected, a special workshop is being held with the young filmmakers to highlight how their works can get better.
“They will be encouraged to submit again next year,” Sheikha Jawaher said.
The festival, she said, has grown considerably since it was established in 2013. While it comprised only one screening hall at Al Jawaher Reception and Convention Centre, it slowly grew to incorporate a competition, workshops, as well as international guest speakers.
“Almost 200,000 have attended the last eight years. When we initially started, we were a children’s film festival. Our entire focus was on children. Now we have added the youth in the festival as well. We are trying to reach both children and youth, which is a challenge but we’re trying to direct it in the right way. We are marketing for youth in the types of names we bring, the film titles, the workshops as well as the way we market by using social media. We’re trying to follow where our audience is.”
There will also be several talks across the duration of the festival that tackle subjects from film marketing and the purpose of film festivals, to how cinema can make help viewers empathise with the struggle and plight of refugees. There is also a special talk related to films around the Palestinian cause, titled Palestine: Forging Connections Through Cinema.
“From the inception of the festival, we’ve always been trying to ensure we communicate the right information in the right way,” Sheikha Jawaher said.
“We didn’t want to just impart a rosy depiction of the world through just animations and comedies. There needs to be an aspect of reality. Children and youth need to know the meaning of the refugee experience. They need to know of the situation in Palestine.
“We are a platform for children and youth. We should try to reach them in a proper and educational way, to try and tell them what is happening in the world. That’s why we tried to ensure there are films about refugees from Palestine and about hunger, just as we wanted to incorporate films about family or comedic works. There needs to be a balance.”
Scroll through the gallery below for films screened at the Sharjah International Film Festival for Children and Youth last year