The Berlinale Kplus Generation section this year brought an interesting selection of films from all around the world, continuing its skill in igniting a political spirit in its young audience. As usual families and schools flooded to the cinemas eager to see the international programme and meet the filmmakers in Q&A. It was a joy to watch films with children happily reading subtitles unperturbed by the array of languages on offer. Some of the screenings had up to three languages at a time; the original language, English subtitles and a German voice over, which didn’t spoil the enjoyment of the films, but only added a more dynamic, international feel to each screening. Australia triumphed in this year’s Kplus Generation awards with Kim Mordaunt’s The Rocket (2013), an Australia/Laos co-production, taking the Crystal Bear , the Award for Best First Feature and the Amnesty International Film Prize and the excellent Satellite Boy (2012) directed by Catriona McKenzie was awarded the Special Mention by both the Youth and International Juries.
This year’s winners both sensitively depict families displaced from their homes. The Rocket, set in modern day Laos amidst rapid economic development, takes an intimate look at a family forced to move from their home because of the construction of a government dam in their valley. Similarly Satellite Boy tells the story of an Aboriginal boy, Pete, troubled with a confused sense of belonging, whose home (an old outdoor cinema) is threatened with demolition by a construction company. In the effort to stop the destruction of his home Pete and his best friend Kalmain find themselves on a treacherous walkabout across the Outback to confront the construction company on their own.
The young protagonists in both films go on extraordinary journeys, negotiating their immediate landscape and cultural heritage. Ten year old Ahlo in The Rocket is born with the curse of being a twin, which in Laotian culture brings bad luck. After the death of his mother, Ahlo’s Grandmother and Father lose trust in him. However, with the help of some outsiders, the fantastic ‘Uncle Purple’ (an alcoholic veteran of the Second World War obsessed with James Brown) and his orphaned niece, Ahlo is able to subvert cultural traditions when he bravely enters a spectacular competition for self built rockets.
The moving and beautiful Satellite Boy on the other hand brings us closer to cultural tradition. As young Pete drags a stick, cutting a line through the sacred ground, his grandfather Jubi, warns him to respect the country. “Listen to the wind”, he wisely says “your people have been here since the first sunrise.” Jubi played by David Gulpilil who starred in Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout (1971) as a teenager, passes on his ancestral knowledge of the country with care, hoping that Pete will learn the traditional ways. Pete’s mother has since moved to the city to start a new future and Pete is torn between staying with his loving mother and the allure of material wealth or remaining with his grandfather and living by his Aboriginal traditions. When Pete accidentally finds himself in the desert with nothing but his grandfather’s teachings to guide him, he discovers a new relationship with the land which helps him understand where his home is.
The strength of both protagonists’ convictions is an inspiration to audiences to stick to what they believe in. Both The Rocket and Satellite Boy are both quite tough films for young audiences to watch and are both recommended for children over the age of 11-years-old. Laos is littered with unexploded bombs, the Outback’s harsh landscape is threatening and the issue of family rejection in both films only heightens a constant sense of danger and fear. Yet even though both films have strong content, the festival continues to challenge its audience and celebrates their poetic but direct approach to storytelling. Like the characters in the films, the Berlinale keeps moving, discovering new landscapes and new approaches to presenting cinema for children.
Written by Laura Kloss