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A Film Festival for Kids--Minus the Schlock

Look at parents waiting with their kids to get into the new hit “Chicken Run.” The adults aren’t just eager, they’re grateful.

Fun, sophisticated films for children are still as rare as the hen’s teeth sported by the movie’s plucky poultry. But starting this fall, the San Fernando Valley will have a recurring venue for celebrating and encouraging quality entertainment for children.

In October the Valley will welcome the first Burbank International Children’s Film Festival, a weeklong celebration of movies you can see with your kids Oct. 13-20, says executive director Chris Shoemaker.

Shoemaker is also executive director and co-founder of the annual Santa Clarita International Film Festival, which bills itself as the world’s first family film festival. The G-rated event attracts thousands of parents and children each year to screenings of films with no nudity, violence or offensive language. The seventh festival will be held in March.

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Shoemaker thinks Burbank is the ideal place for a new festival that showcases high-quality films for children. As he points out, Burbank is home to many of the world’s leading producers and distributors of children’s entertainment.

Disney, which invented feature animation and the theme park, is in Burbank--you can see the giant version of Mickey Mouse’s “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” hat that tops the studio when you drive by on the 134 Freeway. So are Warner Bros., the Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and hundreds of other businesses that make their money entertaining kids.

“This idea seems like such a natural,” says Shoemaker. “Here we are in Burbank--it’s a factory for children’s entertainment--and yet there’s no showcase or forum for celebrating that. It seemed only fitting to have a children’s film festival here.”

Shoemaker credits Dan Millman, general manager of the Media City Center, the fifth largest shopping center in Los Angeles, with coming up with the idea for the event. Millman is festival chairman.

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Movie festivals have multiplied like zucchini in recent years, since film students realized you can become just as famous with a smash at Toronto or Telluride as with a hit at such venerable fests as Cannes. The organizers of the Burbank festival hope to attract first-rate films, including some to premiere there.

“We’ve sent out more than 10,000 calls for entries worldwide,” says Shoemaker. The festival is seeking feature-length and short dramas, comedies, animated films, documentaries, educational films and films made for children by filmmakers 18 and under. Submissions should be appropriate for children 12 and under or for audiences between the ages of 12 and 18.

There’s also a screenwriting competition, in which finalists’ work will be read at the festival by professional actors. An e-festival for work in digital formats will be included, as will opening and closing night galas.

The festival’s already received several submissions, Shoemaker says. Panels of judges from the film guilds will evaluate the entries, and those that pass the test will be screened at the AMC 8 in Burbank.

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The festival has the inevitable mission statement--"to provide independent film makers, animators, film-related professionals and businesses, as well as the general public, an ideally located venue for the purpose of experiencing, supporting, and acknowledging excellence in children’s film and media from around the world.”

But Shoemaker envisions a program that will be as lively as it is high-minded. Although the big studios have been invited to participate, the festival also hopes to draw the independents, the children’s equivalents of the mavericks who have become major players in the industry today. He expects the event to attract distributors from all over the world.

The festival will also reflect the rapid changes taking place in entertainment as a result of new animation and other software and the novel channels for distributing work the Web has created.

“One aspect of what we’re doing is to create a vital, vibrant marketplace,” Shoemaker says. Seminars on how to get financing for your film and other topics will be part of the program, as will panel discussions.

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After screenings and at other gatherings, Shoemaker hopes that the people who make and distribute children’s entertainment will listen to what the people who consume it have to say.

And while parents can expect to see innovative, highly creative work, they won’t find any of the schlock too often foisted off on kids.

Most of the screenings will cost $5, but there are a number of ticket packages available. The festival also needs sponsors and volunteers. For more information, call the festival at (818) 841-3901.

Spotlight runs every Friday. Patricia Ward Biederman can be reached at valley.news@latimes.com.

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