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Video Voyages with a Family Film Fest

It was midway through March break and the inmates were restless. The weather was lousy. Winds were howling through windows. And the kids’ friends had all but disappeared —to Florida, to Mexico, to to whoosh down ski hills or visit grandma a province away. With no budget to suddenly escape to warmer climes, what to do?

I decided that we would travel anyway. And I issued invitations, proper ones: “Come as You Are, read the invites, “To an International Film Festival.” Time: 7 p.m. Place: Basement TV Room. Dress: Optional (Pyjamas were just fine.) Destination: Anywhere on the Planet. My plan was that each night we would depart on a video voyage. The junior film fans would not know which destination until curtain time. But certain clues, notably the “International Dinner” preceding the Official Showing, would tip them off. If dinner was fish ‘n chips, then perhaps we would be travelling to England or the East Coast. French toast or French fries? We might roam France or Quebec.

Excitement ensued and the fighting stopped as the kids pondered which films and where we would be headed. Props besides popcorn included our sturdy atlas and a globe. I wanted them to see how far we were travelling and talk about each place afterward.

During that week, we did really travel, at least in our minds and on video—to England with Mary Poppins, to Israel with Jesus Christ Superstar and The Ten Commandments, to Arabia with Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, to France with French Kiss and Truffaut’s wonderful films with kids, to Africa with The Gods Must be Crazy, to New York City with King Kong and to China with Big Bird. Some of the films were almost too tame compared to the shoot-em-up space odysseys and take-over-the-world scenarios they loved. But I reminded them that film critics had to often see movies they didn’t really choose. And after a few nights, they really got into the spirit of it.

We talked about customs, language (subtitles were difficult for the young readers), movie making and travelling with costume designers and make-up artists and actors to difficult topography or actual buildings to make these films—something my kids had never thought about. And they actually got excited about seeing whether I was making couscous or croissants, hummus or homemade chop suey.

By the end of the week, we actually did feel as if we’d been away. And by getting out the atlas and researching the globe, we made plans to travel for real very, very soon. If you’re in the same prediciament with restless out-of-school youngsters this week, here’s an easy way to travel without leaving home:

FOR YOUNG CHILDREN: Lilo & Stitch: As soon as one hears the hula music and sees the pastel-coloured palms and glowing sunsets over the ocean, you know you’re in Hawaii. Mischievous Lilo and her pet Stitch surf the big waves, watch fire dancers and eat sweet potato and poi as they escape the clutches of evil doers. Other animated travelling: Anastasia (a Russian princess searches for her identity), Madeline: Lost in Paris (the little French orphan roams the capital with Miss Clavel), the Prince of Egypt, and Mulan (ancient China). My kids (and their mom) used to love Big Bird Goes to China. Big Bird in Japan is an excellent musical search for the Bamboo Princess from Sesame Street.

FOR SCHOOL AGE: Musicals make perfect travelling companions. Travel to Austria (The Sound of Music), Russia (Fiddler on the Roof) or to England, Dickensian (Oliver) or 20th century (Mary Poppins). Or visit natives in Australia (The Man from Snowy River), Cuba (The Old Man and the Sea) or China (The Amazing Panda Adventure). For a real Grand Tour, rent Around the World in 80 Days, Jules Verne’s epic with more than 40 actors in 252 locations in 13 countries.

TEENS: The globe-trotting Olsen Twins swim with dolphins in the Bahamas, tease the stern Buckingham Palace guard and fall in love with two French boys. They are fun, especially for adolescent girls. But more serious travel comes with Ghandi in India, Lawrence of Arabia, or with the Dalai Lama in Seven Years in Tibet. Classics either dated like My Fair Lady or Romeo and Juliet or modern like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon can take teens far away from Toronto angst. Happy travelling.

Note: all of the above movies were found at large video stores.






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