Since some adults shy away from foreign-language films with English subtitles, few would expect youngsters and tweens to enjoy such films.
But after seeing the Spanish-language film “Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang” last weekend, 12-year-old Lily Inks of Salt Lake City said it was one of her favorite movies.
That’s exactly what the programmers at the Sundance Film Festival had hoped when they decided to offer a new section for young moviegoers as part of the 2014 event, which ends Sunday.
The new section, called Sundance Kids, includes two films for its inaugural year. One is the U.S. premiere of “Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang,” an adventure film about two mischievous brothers who are sent to a re-education center for the summer and discover that a secret treasure is hidden deep within the school. It was Spain’s top-grossing film in 2013, according to director Oskar Santos, who said he modeled it after “The Goonies” and other adventure films from his childhood.
The second film, for slightly younger audiences, is the animated “Ernest & Celestine,” about a mouse and a bear that form an unlikely friendship. Last week, the French-language version of the film — made in soft watercolor tones — earned an Academy Award nomination. It was the redubbed English-language version of the film that made its world premiere at Sundance. The voice cast includes Forest Whitaker, Mackenzie Foy (“Breaking Dawn, Part 2”), Lauren Bacall, Paul Giamatti, William H. Macy and Megan Mullally.
The idea of building an appreciation among the next generation for independent film “is something we have been thinking about for a long time,” festival director John Cooper told reporters during Sundance’s opening news conference with founder — and original Sundance Kid — Robert Redford. “Turning young people on to this very exciting medium of film. Showing them how it can be different from Hollywood and very exciting.”
To get Sundance Kids off the ground, festival organizers asked the Utah Film Center to help. The center has operated a year-round Tumbleweeds program for children and youth since 2010. It includes monthly screenings in Salt Lake City, Orem, Moab, Price, Park City and Kamas as well as an annual film festival. When Tumbleweeds was launched, it was the first film festival in the Intermountain West to present films specifically for children and youth, said Patrick Hubley, Utah Film Center artistic director.
“Every art form has a program for kids, from the symphony to the ballet. We need to have something for independent film; otherwise, we won’t have audience in the future,” Hubley said.
While children see plenty of animated films in the local megaplex theaters thanks to Disney, Pixar and other mainstream studios, independent films offer “a different type of storytelling,” he said. “There’s different sensibilities when you’re watching films from Europe and Asia.”
He said the Sundance Kids program will likely have benefits locally and nationally.
“It brings more attention to kids’ films that are not shown in the U.S. very often, if at all. But it also elevates what we are doing locally,” said Hubley, who left a job in Sundance’s press office in 2007 to pursue his dream of starting Tumbleweeds.
For many of the children who attended the Salt Lake City screening of “Zip and Zap” last weekend, it was their first foreign-language film. But with English subtitles (as well as headphones and a reader for younger audience), there was plenty of laughter and applause in all the right places.
Matt and Melissa Nowell, of Riverton, have been attending the Sundance Film Festival for many years, and their children Tate, 8, and Finn, 6, have always felt a little left out. Not this year.
“We love movies,” Matt Nowell said before the screening. “It’s nice that they can attend and we get them hooked on it.”
Michelle Porter also is a regular Sundance attendee. She has tried to foster a similar love of independent movies in Jacklynn, her 9-year-old niece, by taking her to Tumbleweed screenings and, now, a Sundance film.
“I think it’s great to expose children to independent films and different languages and subtitles,” she said.
During the question-and-answer period after the film, several parents thanked Santos, the director, for making a smart, well-made adventure movie and asked him to make more because there aren’t enough being shown in the U.S., they said.
Santos agreed: “I’m aware of the lack of movies of this nature,” he said through an interpreter. “Kids need more positive movies like this and I want to bring them to the screen.”
Utahns have another chance to see the two offerings in this year’s inaugural Sundance Kids section.
“Ernest & Celestine” • Saturday, Jan. 25, 12:30 p.m.; Redstone Cinema 1, Park City
“Zip & Zap and The Marble Gang” • Saturday, Jan. 25, 1 p.m.; Redstone Cinema 2, Park City