The National Youth Film Festival: How to train your cinephile

How to get the rising generation hooked on cinema? Catch them young and show them the very best

Over the next three weeks, hundreds of thousands of children and teenagers will be experiencing something that may change their lives forever: a film. That’s thanks to the first ever National Youth Film Festival, which is serving up a schedule of screenings, film-making workshops and Q&A sessions to five to 19-year-olds in classrooms and cinemas across the country.

Funded by Cinema First, the festival will screen 133 films, including silent cinema, foreign drama, animation and cutting-edge documentaries, in the hope of creating a new generation of passionate cinema-goers and makers. That’s both for our children’s sake, because cinema can be a life-long source of inspiration and solace, and for the nation’s sake: the British film industry contributes around £3.8bn to the GDP every year.

To mark this new dawn for film education we asked a selection of British film buffs and industry luminaries to answer the question: “If you could ensure that every child in Britain saw just one film before leaving school, which film would you choose and why?”

Femi Oyeniran

Actor (Kidulthood, Adulthood) and writer/director of It’s a Lot (out on Friday)

Home Alone (1990) dir. Chris Columbus

“I remember the impact it had on me as an eight-year-old in Nigeria. In essence, about a child surviving despite the incompetence of the adults around him. Macaulay Culkin’s character Kevin affirmed my childhood belief that I could be successfully independent, if only I could be free from the rules imposed by adults. It even informs my first feature film, It’s a Lot, which is also about surviving temporary parental absence.”

Geoffrey MacNab

Film critic, The Independent

Empire of The Sun (1987) dir. Steven Spielberg

“This is one of Spielberg’s most underrated films. It offers a child’s-eye view on events in Shanghai during the Second World War, when the British were interned in Japanese camps. On the one hand, the film works as a magical (if very sinister) Huck Finn-like adventure story. On the other, it shows the English boy Jim beginning to question the assumptions and prejudices of the adults around him . As he quickly discovers, they don’t necessarily know best.”

Kevin MacDonald

Director (The Last King of Scotland, State of Play, How I Live Now)

The Village at the End of the World (2012) dir. Sarah Gavron and David Katznelson

“I chose this [a documentary about a remote Greenland village facing extinction] because it’s a beautiful film that addresses big issues about climate change and change in general, which is really important.”

Saoirse Ronan

Actress (Atonement, Hanna)

Rebecca (1940), dir. Alfred Hitchcock

“Everyone should watch as many Hitchcock films as possible, and this is one of the classics. ”

Riz Ahmed

Actor. His latest film, Closed Circuit, is out on Friday

La Haine (1995) dir. Mathieu Kassovitz

I would show every teenager this: it’s my favourite film and it bristles with adolescent rebellion. Its themes of multiculturalism under fire and haves and have-nots feel hugely relevant today – and the fact it’s a French film opened my horizons as a teenager.

Mike Leigh

Director. His “Untitled Turner Project” is due for release next year

The 400 Blows (1959) dir. François Truffaut

“This is a great movie about being a teenager in a tough world. It’s moving, thought-provoking and often funny, and it combines a gritty realism, all shot on location in glorious black-and-white, with a very special kind of cinematic poetry.”

Beeban Kidron

Director (InRealLife, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason) and co-founder of the education charity FILMCLUB

Miracle in Milan (1951) dir. Vittorio De Sica

“I have shown [this fable about an orphan granted special powers] to hundreds of young people who rarely mention that it is black and white or has subtitles – they just love the humour, the poignant story and the ‘magic’.  Afterwards I suggest that they also watch Slumdog Millionaire, City of God and E.T.  Slumdog Millionaire and City of God are thematically similar to Miracle in Milan and by watching all three, young people gain a profound understanding of social inequality. ”

David Thomson

Film writer. His latest book, Moments that Made the Movies, is out now.

Seven Samurai (1954), dir. Akira Kurosawa

“I would urge this. My reasons: it is a brilliant adventure film, full of action, very beautiful and a model for stories about social purpose and commitment. It’s also a tribute to the decision to oppose tyranny, and it acknowledges being brave and being afraid – which in the end are the same thing. Beyond those immediate virtues, Seven Samurai appeals to me for children because its violence is tolerable, because it is made in black and white, and because it is a foreign film, probably older than the child’s parents. Not all films are made in colour and English.”

Tim Bevan

Co-founder of Working Title Films and producer (Fargo, Notting Hill)

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982) dir. Steven Spielberg

“This was Spielberg’s masterpiece – its screenplay, stunning visuals, great characters and superb imagination make it a must see for children of all ages. Its strength lies in its simplicity. The idea of a friendly alien with whom one can communicate is relevant to any child of any culture.”

Clio Barnard

Director. Her latest film, The Selfish Giant, is out on Friday

The Apple (1998), dir. Samira Makhmalbaf

“It’s a really amazing story because it starts with this bit of documentary television footage about [an Iranian] family where the two daughters have never been out of the house and then they play themselves in the fictional version of the story. It sounds like dark, difficult subject matter, but it’s done with real lyricism and a light touch. I watched it with my children when they were pretty young. You have to read the subtitles to them, so it’s a bit like reading a story, and there’s something nice about that.”

For more information on the festival and screenings near you, visit

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