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The Independent Culture
Most children don't want to see children's films, and who can blame them? They know that screen kids are a monstrous fiction cooked up by misty-eyed adults. From Shirley Temple to Macauley Caulkin, these preternaturally cute performers have always been there to amuse the grown-ups, or, in today's family psychodramas, to act the moppet-headed mini therapist to their dysfunctional parents. No wonder most young people would rather watch Beavis and Butthead and leave My Girl to those wrinkly suckers.

Young audiences will be better rewarded by the more sophisticated representations of childhood on offer at the Cinemagic Festival in Belfast, where an international programme reflects different experiences and aspirations of children growing up around the world. The films span documentaries to ecological cartoons, with no subject thought too serious for children's consideration. The Awkward Age from Bosnia and The Tale of Three Jewels from Palestine see war refracted through the eyes of their teenage protagonists, while The Homesickness of Walerjan Wrobel tells the true story of a 16- year-old Polish boy put to death.

Although the emphasis is on politicised drama, with workshops dealing with racism and ethnicity, it's not all juvenile misery. Screenings of the technicolor classic The Wizard of Oz and Oscar-winning animation Bob's Birthday provide excellent entertainment, and there's an early opportunity to see Babe, Dick King-Smith's great story of a pig (below) that wants to be a sheep dog. Real animals perform some deft lip-synching, although sadly they speak in saccharine American accents.

This weekend, the festival visits Manchester, screening drama from Poland, Italy and Canada. Directors and producers will be flying in from around the world to talk about their work, and Ian "Backbeat" Hart will be holding an acting masterclass on the difference between working for stage and screen. For young people, the festival is a rare chance to catch a real child's-eye view of the world, rather than regard it through the gaze of childish adults.

LIESE SPENCER

The Northern Ireland International Film Festival for Young People runs until 16 December at the MGM, Dublin Rd, Belfast, and in other towns throughout Northern Ireland; it also runs today and tomorrow at the Cornerhouse, 70 Oxford St, Manchester M1. For further information call Belfast on 01232 550088/550089 or Manchester on 0161-228 2463

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