Family Fun at Film Forum

| 17 Feb 2015 | 05:08


Long-standing movie theater kicks off fifth season of children's programming

Soho When a longtime financial supporter of nonprofit movie house Film Forum expressed concern about the city's lack of movie programming for children, Karen Cooper, director of the Houston Street cinema, approached Bruce Goldstein, Film Forum's director of repertory programming, about putting together a children's film series.

"I wanted to do just classics," said Goldstein, who has run classic programming at Film Forum for more than 25 years. "Even silent films and black and whites."

The inaugural season of Film Forum Jr. kicked off in January of 2013, with the 1957 French classic "The Red Balloon," which screened to a sold-out theater. Children in the audience took home their own red balloons at the end of the film.

Since then, Film Forum has presented more than 50 feature films to young audiences, selling out almost half the screenings. The fifth season of the series opened on Sunday, March 30, with another French film, François Truffaut's "The 400 Blows," which corresponds to the start of a three-week Truffaut festival at the theater. Other films in the series, which screen every Sunday at 11:00 a.m., include "The Muppets Take Manhattan," a newly-restored "Oklahoma!" and Harold Lloyd's 1923 silent comedy "Safety Last," presented with live piano accompaniment.

Given the heavily-animated visual spectacles that populate the current landscape of children's cinema, showing silent films to kids might seem a risky move. But Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin films have been sold-out successes in previous seasons; kids even arrived dressed as Chaplin, in suit jackets and black hats, with mustaches painted on their faces.

"The kids recognize that they're really doing these stunts," Goldstein said. "You can tell when people do stunts today that it's CGI, but when you look at Lloyd hanging from a clock, you can tell he's really dangling above a city street."

Cooper, the director of Film Forum since 1972, sees the age of audiences at cultural events in New York City as an indication of the need for kids art programming.

"You can see that the audience for culture in New York-and I'd say everywhere-is graying," she said. "People at the ballet are older than they were 20 years ago. People at the theater are older. And the same is true for art films and independent films. So we both feel that it's absolutely critical to develop a young audience that cares about really high-quality film making. Not just films about car crashes and aliens and those kinds of things."

There are some fine lines to walk in children's programming. Goldstein doesn't select gory, blood-soaked films, though some violence does crop up. But he didn't shy away from films with heavy subject matter, either; a Father's Day screening of "To Kill a Mockingbird" and the 1967 film "The Two of Us," about a Jewish boy living in Nazi-occupied France, are also included in a program that features musicals, physical comedies and Muppets.

"If you feed them kiddie stuff exclusively, that's what their taste is going to be," he said. "It's a gradual introduction to the adult world."