The Oscar-qualifying New York International Children’s Film Festival (NYICFF) announces its complete feature film slate for 2023. Ringing in its 26th year, NYICFF is North America’s largest film festival for young audiences. Festival organizers share that this year’s focus is on celebrating friendship, community and art as vital parts of life and crucial tools to combat the status quo.
After a COVID disruption followed by a hybrid festival last year, NYICFF is will return to all in-person screenings and events beginning Friday, March 3, running weekends through March 12 in New York City. Expanding to venues across Manhattan and Brooklyn this year, NYICFF will unfold at SVA Theatre, Film Forum, DCTV’s Firehouse Cinema, Scandinavia House and Alamo Drafthouse Brooklyn. The final weekend of March 18-19 will be at the Sag Harbor Cinema, a new addition this year.
Tickets are on sale now for NYICFF members; public ticketing opens February 10. (nyicff.org)
NYICFF’s Opening Night selection is the highly anticipated International Premiere of Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia, bringing the beloved characters (who first premiered at NYICFF in 2013 in Ernest & Celestine) back to audiences in an artful story accessible to all ages. The film slyly nods to resisting conformity through music, community and self-determination.
The timely Centerpiece selection is Dounia and the Princess of Aleppo, a beautiful hand-drawn film by Syrian-Canadian filmmakers Marya Zarif and André Kadi. At the center of the story is the bustling energy of the city of Aleppo as seen through the eyes of the six-year-old Dounia; it’s a place of love, friendship and delicious treats until the conflict in Syria forces her family to seek safe harbor abroad.
This year’s feature selection spotlights a number of genre-bending animation titles that inventively push the boundaries of documentary and true-to-life storytelling. Titina by Kasja Ness tells the true story of Roald Amundsen and Umberto Nobile’s 1926 journey to the North Pole from the point of view of Titina, the little dog that went along for the ride. Little Nicholas: Happy as Can Be brings the beloved French character “Le Petit Nicolas” to the screen by interspersing his antics with scenes drawn from the real lives of creators Jean-Jacques Sempé and René Goscinny. The Mexican animated documentary Home Is Somewhere Else weaves together true stories from undocumented families filtered through the unflinching Spanglish poetry of its central narrator.
The festival continues its annual Industry Forum “Toward an Inclusive Future,” which brings together creators at all stages of their careers to discuss children’s media on all sides of the camera. New this year is “NYICFF in Your Neighborhood,” free presentations of a NYICFF short film program for ages 3-8 taking place at venues citywide. However, NYICFF is not just for kids! The program offers something for everyone who loves film, no matter how old they are.
The feature film slate also includes live-action titles Belle & Sebastian: Next Generation (France), My Robot Brother (Denmark), OKThanksBye (Netherlands), One Summer Story (Japan) and Totem (Netherlands/Luxembourg/Germany)
NYICFF Animated Features
Japan | East Coast Premiere
Masaki Tachibana, 2022
Tamaki is ready to create an exciting social life for herself at university when she, quite literally, bumps into the members of the aeronautics club, knocking over their glider plane. With the pricey damage done, she begins working in the club to compensate. The grace that Tsuru-tama lacks on the ground she quickly finds in the sky, but in order to fly high, she has to catch a thermal—no easy feat for a team that relies on reading the sky rather than high-tech devices. Then there’s her older sister, Yano, who holds a grudge and will use sneaky means to win the contest for herself and her teammate, the too-cool-for-school Hatori. But Tamaki plays fair and square, even to her own disadvantage, as she’d rather have a stiff rival than win by the competition’s careless mistakes. She wants nothing more than to repay club captain Kuramochi, not only for the damaged glider but for taking her under his wing and helping her discover her power and passion. But when he disappears, will she find a runway back that feels like a win?
Dounia and the Princess of Aleppo
Canada, France | U.S. Premiere
Marya Zarif & André Kadi, 2022
Bold of spirit and wild of hair, six-year-old Dounia lives joyfully with her family in Aleppo, where she spends her time traversing the bustling souks, or marketplaces, teeming with delicious ingredients just right for her grandmother’s amazing dishes. Life is filled with kind neighbors, shared stories, and music until a gradually intensifying conflict brings a growing troop of soldiers to town. When the family is forced to pack up and join the global ranks searching for a safer place to call home, Dounia’s grandmother stuffs rosewater sweets and other fresh-baked, homestyle delights into her bulging suitcase. But all Dounia takes with her is a handful of nigella seeds, known in Syrian lore to have magical properties. Her handful of hope just might bear rewards in the form of the legendary princess of Aleppo and her guidance as the group journeys across Syria, the dangerous sea, the daunting borders of Europe, and more. Though navigating serious themes, this charming, funny, and visually dazzling tale offers an all-ages point of entry to explore timely issues and the timeless value of respect for all citizens of the world.
Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia
France, Luxembourg | International Premiere
Julien Chheng & Jean-Christophe Roger, 2022
At long last, they’re back! This time around, the once-forbidden friends are on the trail to Ernest’s home, Gibberitia. Grumpy Ernest is not too pleased to be headed back, but it’s the only place where he can get is prized violin repaired after it’s broken (in a major oops!) by Celestine. The silver lining? Gibberitia is home to some of the world’s greatest musicians who fill their time together playing the joyful sounds that fill the streets. But disappointment looms when our ursine/rodent duo arrive to silent streets and the master luthier nowhere to be found. They soon learn that this unthinkable existence is a result of a citywide ban on all music. Together with their friends and a mysterious masked outlaw, they will use strategy, hijinks, and even some hard concessions to learn that being true to yourself might just be the sweetest music of all.
Goodbye Don Glees!
Atsuko Ishizuka, 2021
This must-see, Oscar-shortlisted story is about being a teen and the mundanity and hilarity that comes with it. Teen trio Roma, Tot, and Drop collectively go by “Don Glees,” a sly take on their glum (not gleeful) but adventurous outlook. When they are caught literally playing with fire, the group is called into question and they must set off on a quest through the forest to prove their innocence. Along the way, individual motivations, like Toto’s singular focus on studying medicine and Drops’ sweet belief in the power of friendship in the face of challenge, are put to the test. The result is cosmic, gutting, goofy — and yes, even gleeful.
Home Is Somewhere Else
Mexico | New York Premiere
Carlos Hagerman & Jorge Villalobos, 2022
The brilliance of animated documentary is that it can provide an imaginative space to envision someone else’s story. Home is Somewhere Else tells three poignant tales of life on either side of the Mexico/US border. Our guide, Lalo, is a young Mexican artist raised in Utah who presents each story with his slamming Spanglish poetry. There are best friends and sisters Evelyn and Elizabeth, one studying to become the sole doctor in her small Mexican village, the other making the pan of her sueños to sell in her very own L.A. bakery. We also meet Jasmine as she sets off to become an activist to protect families like her own. Finally, Lalo shares the story of his own childhood, deportation experience, and finding a way back and transforming his challenges through his work as an artist and activist.
Little Nicholas: Happy as Can Be
Amandine Fredon & Benjamin Massoubre, 2022
Simultaneously mixing the story of a mischievous cartoon boy and his friends with the true tale of his creators, Little Nicholas is a visual delight with wit to match. When illustrator Jean-Jacques Sempé first drew little imp Nicholas, he knew he had to get his good friend René Goscinny (of Asterix fame) to write the story. As the two artists bring the boy to life, Nicholas himself escapes the page to ask them about their own childhoods. Through these conversations, the friends share stories of early artistic ambition, immigrating to the U.S., and family lost to World War II. More solemn moments are balanced expertly with Nicholas’s own adventures with his best friend Alceste (who simply loves toast!) in splashy watercolor, to deliver moments of utter joy.
Lonely Castle in the Mirror
Japan | U.S. Premiere
Keiichi Hara, 2022
Kokoro has had enough of the buzzing bells, shouting teachers, noisy hallways, and mean classmates at her middle school when she decides to just stay home. Bored and trapped, she finds a portal in her bedroom mirror that whisks her away to an enormous castle, where she’s greeted by the mysterious and gruff Wolf Queen—a wolf in girls’ clothing or the other way around, she’s not sure. Along with six other smart but world-weary students, she must follow all of the Queen’s rules, including a strict curfew. They are all in search of a magic key, hidden somewhere in the castle, that will grant whoever finds it any wish they want. As they conspire over strategy and share their stories, bonding in a place that’s free of fear and judgment and learning when to make (and sometimes break) their own rules in the name of friendship. Maybe the adults will begin to understand that it’s the circumstances, and not the kids, that need to change in this meaningful anime adapted from Tsujimura Mizuki’s popular YA novel.
Panda! Go Panda!
Isao Takahata, 1972
A flashback to a Festival classic that young audiences missed! From the legendary team that formed Studio Ghibli (with original concepts and character designs by Hayao Miyazaki) comes two deliriously delightful animated featurettes in one program! Seven-year-old Mimiko has somehow persuaded her grandmother to take off by train and leave her home alone. She’s quite capable of handling all duties of home and hearth, but gets more than she bargains for when PapaPanda and baby Panny turn up at her door. Their round bodies, wide grins, and off-kilter clowning offer the first glints of another charming neighbor to come.
Norway, Belgium | East Coast Premiere
Kajsa Næss, 2022
“More or less based on true events.” So begins the mostly true-to-life story of Titina, an intrepid fox terrier, and her companions on their aerial expedition to the North Pole. When Italian engineer Umberto Nobile is invited to build and airship for Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, he knows he’s embarking on the adventure of a lifetime. And who better to accompany him on his dirigible to the top of the world than the trusty street pup he rescued in Rome? Just as their airship, the Norge, is poised to reach a milestone as the first to make the Polar flyover, a petty power struggle turns the journey sour. With colorful animation mixed with live action documentary footage, Titina captures all of the real, high-altitude antics that made history — all from the vantage point of one lucky dog.