NYC is cinephile central, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that it’s home to the largest film festival for children and teens in North America. The New York International Children’s Film Festival, which started as a single weekend of films and now spans four, is celebrating its 20th year with a program of 100 new films from 30 countries. We hooked up with fest organizers to get the skinny on the hottest tickets for different age groups this year. (Scoop them up now, before they sell out!)

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photo: NYICFF

More Than Just Movies for 20 Years
Founded to support the creation and dissemination of thoughtful, provocative, and intelligent film for children and teens ages 3-18, the festival includes not only screenings, but Q & As with filmmakers, filmmaking workshops, retrospective programming, special events like premieres and more.

This year’s program features films of all genres from 30 countries in more than 15 languages. Those that made the cut were selected from approximately 2,500 submissions.

Films play at theaters around Manhattan and, for the first time ever this year, will also be screened at the Alamo Drafthouse in downtown Brooklyn.

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photo: NYICFF

It’s Kind of a Big Deal
Organizers hope to cultivate an appreciation for the arts, encourage active, discerning viewing, and stimulate lively discussion among peers, families, and the film community.

The event is one of just two children’s film festivals in the country which is an Academy Award qualifying festival, with winners of juried prizes being eligible for Academy consideration. Audience members of all ages vote on awards given at the festival.

Below, the hottest tickets of the fest!

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photo: NYCIFF

Best for the Youngest Film Buffs (Ages 3+): Shorts for Tots (various animated shorts; approximately 60 minutes)

This unique experience offers kids ages 3+ the chance to watch short films from around the world like Head Up! from Germany and I Am Not a Mouse from the United Kingdom. (The short film programs are some of the festival’s most popular screenings; this year’s schedule includes six unique short film programs.)

Also a good bet: the animated feature by Isao Takahata, Panda, Go Panda, which runs 72 minutes.

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My Life As Zucchini photo: NYICFF

Best For Oscar Buzz: My Life As Zucchini
This one is not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for young kids, but if you’re into animation and the Oscar derby, this opening night film may be for you. My Life as Zucchini, from Switzerland, is nominated for Best Animated Feature this year and makes its east coast premier at NYICFF. It’s relatively short (66 minutes) and has been lauded for its expressive stop-motion style, but also features characters with troubled pasts that include alcoholism and abuse. It’s recommended for kids ages 11 and up.

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Swallows and Amazons photo: NYICFF

Best for Thrill Seekers (Ages 6+): Swallows and Amazons by Philippa Lowthorpe (97 minutes; in English)

Based on the beloved English novels by Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons tells the story of four siblings who find themselves in the midst of some nefarious international intrigue. It’s a captivating story of bravery set in the English countryside.

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Window Horses photo: NYICFF

Best for Future Globetrotters (Ages 9+) Window Horses by Ann Marie Fleming (85 minutes; in English) *New York Premiere

Based on Ann Marie Fleming’s eponymous graphic novel, Window Horses follows budding poet Rosie Ming as she travels to a poetry festival in Iran, the birthplace of her father. Culture shock gives way to fascination as she (and the audience) discovers the country’s rich artistry and storytelling, and learns the value of identity and the power of art to bridge cultures and generations.

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 Fanny’s Journey photo: NYICFF

Best for Sophisticated Minds (Ages 12+): Fanny’s Journey by Lola Doillon (94 minutes; in French with English subtitles)

Based on a memoir by Fanny Ben-Ami, Fanny’s Journey tells the story of Fanny and her siblings as they escape Nazi persecution during World War II. Negotiating false names, alternately trustworthy and treacherous adults, and life-threatening situations, Fanny reminds us that everyday joys and tight bonds can help overcome the most difficult obstacles.

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Girls POV photo: NYICFF

Also inspiring for kids (not just girls!) over 10: Girls POV (various shorts;75 minutes)
Female perspectives from around the world dominate this popular program, with timely messages about being yourself in Soy Yo (Denmark/Colombia), bullying in Amelia’s Closet (USA) and  honoring your true voice in Sing (Hungary, not to be confused with Illumination’s animated film).

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photo: via NYICFF Facebook page 

Birthday Bash for Film Buffs
If you’ve got a movie maniac who’s celebrating a birthday, you can host a party at the fest. Packages include reserved seating, discounted tickets, a pre-screening birthday announcement and festival bag and shirt for the guest of honor. (Festival t-shirts can be bought at a discount for favors if you like.) Get more info here.

New York International Children’s Film Festival
February 24 – March 19
Multiple Venues
212-349-0330
Online: nyicff.org

What’s your must-see film in the lineup? Tell us in the comments! 

— Anna Knoebel