Cinekid Reports: Director Floor van Spaendonck’s visit to Isfahan

Cinekid Director Floor van Spaendonck was invited to join the international jury of the Film Festival for Children and Youth in Isfahan, Iran. She wrote a report on this interesting festival.

30th international film festival for Children and Youth

Iran has a long and rich tradition of filmmaking, and an invitation to join the International jury of the Film Festival for Children and Youth in Isfahan filled my heart with pleasure. Besides the opportunity to watch a great selection of children’s film and to converse about content with my fellow jury members, there were many other benefits, especially for me as the new kid on the block.

The visit offered me the opportunity to witness the rich children’s film culture in Iran, and jury membership allowed me to peek into the kitchen of the Festival. To my delight, a whole new Iranian network was opened up to me, which is particularly relevant for Cinekid as an international festival and ambassador for Dutch films and media on the international stage.


The setting of the Festival

Isfahan as a city, and Iranian family culture in general, seem like an ideal setting for a festival that reaches out to an audience of children. Literally everywhere you see families enjoying the city’s numerous parks, and there are family picnics on the main square and open spaces until late at night. The festival was branded everywhere with its butterfly logo in multiple forms attached to posters, billboards, flags and public transport - there was even a festival train. But at all times, even during the mayor’s climate walk, the children would join in with festival activities. Like Cinekid, the Isfahan festival celebrates children’s media, and both welcomes and encourages the participation of children at all levels, especially media-making. Unlike Cinekid, there was no professionals program with a co-production market, seminar or training workshops, although the gathering of makers, press and jury members produced a nice atmosphere and we all indulged in vivid debate late into the night.  

Facts and The Jury

The festival has 12 competitions - 5 competitions for international films and 7 competitions for Iranian cinema. Besides the International feature and short films jury there were four other international juries; the animation jury, the international children and youth jury (a UNICEF collaboration), the jury of CIFEJ and one for the Sun Yat-Sen Humanitarian Award launched at ICFF - a prize initiated at the Sun Yat-Sen Foundation by film producer Alexandra Sun. The International feature and short films jury included Syrian director Diana Fares, German producer Uschi Reich, Tunisian director Anis Lassoued, Iranian producer Fereshteh Taerpour, New Zealand filmmaker Armagan Ballantyne and Shahab Esfandiari, an Iranian film academic. 

The competition was rich in its selection, and included 14 feature films and 24 short and mid-length films, with the emphasis on European films and films from the Middle East. The competition comprised new feature films like the Dutch production When my Father Became a Bush by Nicole van Kilsdonk and Mountain Miracle by Tobias Wiemann. But also some international feature films from past years, such as Masterspy by Pieter van Rijn (2015) or Blue Bicycle by Umit Koreken (2016).


The international jury was very curious to see the Iranian selection as these films are not often shown outside Iran. Nobody was disappointed. The End of Dreams by Mohammed Ali Talebu was a classic children’s film that underlined the experience and status of the director. The Skier by Fereidoun Najafi was a genuine favorite across the whole festival (it won multiple awards) due to its wonderful setting in one of Iran’s remotest areas, its positive impact and the realistic style of the film that delivers an empowering and universal message to the children. Another Iranian feature film, 21 Days Later by Seyed Mohammedreza Kheradmandan, was also very much appreciated, winning the Sun Yat-Sen Humanitarian Award. Among the shorts, Are you Volleyball by Mohammed Bakhsi won numerous awards. Other favorites were Sheyda’s Homework by Mohammed Hasani and Il silenzio by Ali Asgari.

After the big award show, an intense week of wonderful conversations and screenings and my first encounter with Iranian culture, I left Isfahan and its 30th international Film Festival for Children and Youth with a big smile, and very thankful for the experience.