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Belmont World Film’s 20th Family Festival fosters a love of film for young audiences

"Oink," directed by Mascha Halberstad, will be screened at West Newton Cinema Jan. 14. as part of Belmont World Film's Family Festival.Courtesy of Belmont World Film

This year marks the Belmont World Film’s Family Festival 20th anniversary, Jan. 14-22. The slate of features and short films intended to engage children in film and international cultures will be playing in theaters across Greater Boston, with most available to view online, alongside a number of in-person and virtual workshops.

The films range from animation to live action and span different genres. The majority are adaptations of children’s books, including Scholastic and Weston Woods Studios’ “Watercress,” based on Lesley University MFA alumna Andrea Wang’s Caldecott Medal-winning picture book, Dutch director Mascha Halberstad’s “Oink” from Tosca Menten’s “De wraak van Knor,” and Serbian director Radivoje Andrić’s “How I Learned to Fly,” brought to life from Jasminka Petrović’s novel of the same name.


Each film comes with age guidelines, as some touch on social and political issues like Nazi occupation during World War II in Tobias Wiemann’s “The Path.”

“We try to find films that are wholesome and something that you can watch as a family, but most importantly, a film that can inspire conversations between family members,” Belmont World Film executive director Ellen Gitelman said.

"The Path," directed by Tobias Wiemann, will be screened at West Newton Cinema Jan. 14.Courtesy of Belmont World Film

The films are largely international featuring subtitles, and attendees have the option to wear headphones to hear the subtitles read aloud. Belmont World Film began in 2001 to promote foreign-language films and continues with its goal of developing children’s appreciation for different cultures. This year’s programming includes films in Dutch, French, Serbian, Czech, Gujarati, and more. Subtitles reinforce children’s reading comprehension skills, Gitelman added.

“Media literacy is extremely important now and foreign language especially,” Gitelman said. “We feel that this is our way of contributing towards that literacy.”

The 30 shorts are split into five programs, one of which is focused on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 16. A standout of that program is “Show Way,” adapted in 2012 from Jacqueline Woodson’s Newbery Medal-winning picture book, which concerns a quilt embroidered with instructions to help escape slavery that is passed down through generations.


Another notable program is “LOL with Mo Willems Films,” dedicated to the adaptations of award-winning author Mo Willems’s books like, “The Pigeon Will Ride the Rollercoaster” and “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale.” The shorts are narrated by Willems himself. (”It’s really hysterical,” Gitelman added.)

The festival will also screen “Last Film Show,” Pan Nalin’s feature about a young boy’s discovery of film, which made the 2023 Oscars shortlist for International Feature Film.

Pan Nalin's "Last Film Show," shortlisted for Best International Feature Film at the Academy Awards, will be screened at the Regent Theatre Jan. 21.Courtesy of Belmont World Film

In addition to the lineup, the festival fosters children’s connection to film through creative workshops. The “Become a Junior Film Critic Workshop” on Jan. 14 taught by local critics Joyce Kulhawik and Tom Meek will have participants watch “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and write their own reviews. For aspiring animators, Aardman Animations’ Jim Parkyn will guide students through clay modeling Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep characters in the festival’s virtual workshop sessions on Jan. 22.

This milestone year for the festival is also its full-fledged return to in-person programs. The festival held only one screening in-person last year, and Gitelman looks forward to rebuilding the communal element of the festival. She emphasizes that children’s ability to hear each other’s laughter and relate to one another is crucial, given the educational obstacles they have faced throughout the pandemic.

“It makes kids not feel so alone,” Gitelman said.


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Abigail Lee can be reached at