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To screen or not to screen – a question for debate!

What is contentious in one country or area of the world is perfectly normal in another, profanities are part of everyday language in some families and nobody thinks twice about hearing them.  Issues such as violence towards children is, again only in some societies, seen as perfectly acceptable and as a means to teach them the rules of life!  What is it that makes certain films unsuitable for children?  Is it only an issue of language, societies ‘norms’, fear at a particular moment in the movie or is there more to it than that.  Can a film be shown to children to provoke thought, discussion and further research?  Can some films be screened in an atmosphere of trust and safety, films that can introduce children and young people to challenging situations that will offer them the opportunity to view a life that is outside their own sphere?     

The idea that films are created for children has changed over time, in the silent era these did not exist by later by the 1930’s Saturday morning cinema was introduced with screening aimed specifically for children.  In the US “family films” began to be produced presenting child actors such as Elizabeth Taylor, Micky Rooney and Judy Garland, meanwhile in Europe “children’s films” were those that offered a view from a child’s point of view, dealing with interests, fears misapprehension as some of their themes.  

In 1937, a new American film was passed with an ‘A’ certificate by the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) for distribution in the UK.  This certificate, informed cinema managers and patrons that the film was not considered suitable for children under 16 years old, unless they were accompanied by a parent or bona fide adult guardian. The new film in question was Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Thousands of children would flock to see it on its first release in Britain and, as will become apparent, the majority were probably quite undeterred by the BBFC’s attempts at regulation.


Lately the “family film” of the 21st century has a more inclusive, economically expansive notion of “point of view”; it’s a blockbuster that can be sold to multiple age-groups.


Before films are screened, they receive a certification a form of film censorship; this differs around the world a film certification varies and can be very confusing as a film may have no age restrictions in one place, parental guidance in another and 15 in a third!

In 2005 and 2010 ICFFCY screened ‘The 400 Blows/Les 400 coups’ (1959) Drama/ Thriller.  The protagonist seemingly in constant trouble at school, 14-year-old Antoine Doinel returns at the end of every day to a drab, unhappy home life. His parents have little money and he sleeps on a couch that's been pushed, behind a curtain in part of the kitchen.

The film tackles many social and personal issues.   It received a certification of PG in the UK and anywhere between K-8 to 18 in other countries around the world, but parental guidance is recommended due to the various issues it raises.  We screened the film to an audience aged 11+, and also with the support of follow-up material which was designed to enable the teachers and their students to discuss and understand the various nuances tackled in the film.

‘Micky Bo and Me’ (2004) was screened in 2007.  A comedy/drama set in 1970 Northern Ireland.  The story tells of two boys who become friends at the start of the ‘Troubles’. They share an obsession with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), with the consequence that they run away to Australia.  The language used by the boys in this film raised several questions as to why this film had been shown.  The ratings around the world for this film a very wide age 6 in Germany to 15.  These ratings are given to the film as throughout the movie due to the constant use of bad language, which appears to have become part of the two boys everyday acceptable vocabulary. 

‘tomboy’ (2011) Drama. A family moves into a new neighbourhood, and a 10-year-old named Laure deliberately presents as a boy named Mikhael to the neighbourhood children.  screened in 2012, the challenging theme of tomboy is Laure’s sexuality.  A difficult and delicate topic for many young children and one which needs to be discussed sensitively with adults.  If films are not screened in a total vacuum, but accompanied by preparation, followed by discussion, research and further activities, then there is a great value to them.  For some young people film, due to its visual nature, can foster imagination, creativity and knowledge in a way that written narrative may fail to do.

‘The best things in life are censored!’   Woody Allen

Photo credits:

The Witches 1990 screenshot

400 Blows, Mickybo and Me, Tomboy – film posters



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