Calling all movie lovers, young and less young! The Chicago International Children’s Film Festival (CICFF), the largest annual film festival entirely for kids, is back for its 35th year with films the entire family (ages 2 & up) will enjoy. Read on to find out how to enjoy these flicks that range from feature-length live action to child-produced, participate in one-of-a-kind workshops and meet filmmakers from across the globe. How lucky are we that CIFCC calls Chicago home?

photo: “Little Fish and Crocodile” film still 

From November 1-November 9, Chicago families have the unique opportunity to screen 250 films from 40 countries.

Aptly timed with the state of the current social climate, this year’s theme, BUILD, sets out to empower kids to build a new world by constructing bridges across divides, engaging with empathy-driven storytelling and using creative problem solving to build confidence.

A Quick History
After a series of multi-cultural film exhibitions for children, Facets, a leading national media arts and education organization based in Chicago, began the annual Chicago International Children’s Film Festival to both recognize excellence in children’s filmmaking and to bring culturally diverse films to America. The Festival was the first children’s film festival to be recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which means films screened at CICFF can go on to win Oscars®.

Every year the films are judged by both an adult and children’s jury and awards are given at the end in various categories. The Festival is open to both the general public and educators through field trips and has helped springboard classroom discussions since its inception.

photo: CICFF Teen Jury Member

Where To Go
The Festival spreads out across the city to theaters such as Facets in Lincoln Park, University of Chicago Logan Center in Hyde Park, the Music Box Theatre and more. Many of the screenings may play a few times across the venues in order to accommodate busy schedules.

The Bottom Dollar
If you plan on going to 2 or more shows, be sure to check out the $45 Festival Family Pass. A family pass will give 4 people (children or adults) access to every screening across the city. This deal can’t be beat!

Without the Family Pass, Festival screenings are priced per screening ($6/ages 2-18; $10/adults) and seating is guaranteed.

photo: “Walk in the Woods” film still

Just a Taste of the Films You’ll See
Many of the feature films showcased in the festival are highly anticipated and considered the world’s best. Among these you’ll find Ploey: You Never Fly Alone, an animated film about a young golden plover bird who must learn how to be a leader as he braves natural enemies traveling the sweeping Arctic. You’ll also dive in a story about family love, starting a new chapter and the importance of empathy with Rosie & Moussa. And, sit back and watch as Elephant Sebastian, Kitty Mitcho, the wacky Professor, and their friends set sail on their quirky Giant Pear-shaped ship when the beloved mayor of Sunnytown goes missing in The Incredible Story of the Giant Pear.

photo: CICFF Stop Motion Animation Workshop

Don’t want to feel like you’ve spent an entire weekend in front of a screen? CICFF has you covered there, too. In addition to the great films from around the world, you can register your little ones (ages 3 & up) for special workshops to dive deeper into the filmmaking world. Workshops are still being finalized and details will be released leading up to the fest.

Sample workshops from last year include:

  • Animate This! Stop-Motion Animation — Learn how to create stop-motion animation and other special effects. Workshop participants will become familiar with easy-to-use and innovative special effects techniques. With these tips and tricks there is no end to the imaginative stories that you can create on screen. 
  • Light It Up: Costume Character Creation — Learn how to create fully formed characters – costumes and all. After developing their characters, participants will design costumes, weaving L.E.D.s through fabric, cutting cardboard armor plating, or using whatever their imagination can muster to create that 21st century appeal! 
  • Animating the Amazon — Learn how animation comes to life. If you’re using a pen and paper, clay, or even a computer, animation is a complex task. Workshop participants will get an in-depth overview of the animation process, from art direction to lighting and music scoring.
  • Building Robots: Animatronics in Film — Learn how to conceptualize and build working animatronics. Interested in robots? Workshop participants will be introduced to electronic and circuit building techniques used to build animatronics for films.

Good to Know

  • No matter your kiddo’s film interest, you’re bound to find something that peaks their interest – animated features, child-produced shorts, documentary short films, live-action features and more! (Even some that will appeal to the teens in your house.)
  • Many countries are represented in this festival, which means you’ll come across subtitles.  But no worries for your non-readers! Subtitles will be read aloud by media educators for films targeting the 7 & under crowd.
  • The festival hosts dozens of international filmmakers each year. If a filmmaker is present for their screening, a Q&A where your little film critics are encouraged to question away will follow.

Get Out There!
CICFF is the largest film festival in Chicago and whether you make an entire weekend out of it or squeeze in a show or two in between your other commitments, it can be done. This is a great way to experience other cultures without leaving our own great city.

For more information and to purchase tickets or the Festival Family Pass, visit


— Maria Chambers & Amy Bizzarri