About NYICFF 2021
Since 1997, New York International Children's Film Festival has been supporting the creation and dissemination of thoughtful, provocative, and intelligent film for children and teens ages 3–18. The Festival experience cultivates an appreciation for the arts, encourages active, discerning viewing, and stimulates lively discussion among peers, families, and the film community.
We welcome the opportunity to screen dozens of new feature films and shorts and join filmmaker Q&As to learn all about the movie-making process. If only we had time to watch every single piece of content.
How NYICFF Works
The flagship New York City Festival has grown from one weekend of films into the largest film festival for children and teens in North America. While this year is a virtual experience, NYICFF is traditionally screened over the course of 4 weeks at venues throughout NYC. The Festival program includes about 100 short and feature films, filmmaker Q&As, retrospective programs, parties, and premieres (narrowed down from about 2,500 submissions).
Audience members of all ages vote on the Festival-winning films. The Festival is an Academy Award qualifying festival, one of only four film festivals in New York State—and only two children’s film festivals in the country—to hold that honor. Winners of the Festival’s juried prizes are eligible for consideration at the annual Academy Awards.
Best of the NYICFF 2021
Here are our favorite feature films and shorts from NYICFF 2021. We've included a review with each one and some have additional lengthy reviews we have included links to beyond this post. This post contains affiliate links.
CALAMITY – Review
The animation is beautiful and the palette stunning. Calamity is the animated tale of the transition of 12-year-old Martha Jane into the Wild West's Calamity Jane. The tale of female empowerment and rising up to become your own person is a fantastic one for young girls and a welcome reminder that women have been breaking barriers for hundreds of years. Though slow in a few moments, the visuals far make up for any lag in story pacing.
Animation, Rémi Chayé; 2020, 85 min
Recommended Ages: 8+
In French, with English subtitles
It’s 1863 and 12-year-old Martha Jane and her family are headed West across the United States in search of a better life. After her father is hurt in a serious accident, she takes charge of her siblings and learns to drive the family wagon. Utterly practical and bold, Martha Jane trades her constricting skirts for the ease of boys’ breeches and never looks back. Her unconventional style and brazenness don't sit well with the pioneer community, and when the leader of the convoy wrongly accuses her of theft, she must run away to find proof of her innocence. In the Wild, she discovers herself and a world that shapes her into the mythical and mysterious Calamity Jane.
“CITY OF GHOSTS” – Review
If you are looking for a kids' series with heart, intelligence, and is kind of low-key while still being engaging, look no further than Elizabeth Ito's newest creation “City of Ghosts” on Netflix.
Ito is probably best known for her work on the animated series “Adventure Time,” but the animation style of “City of Ghosts” is something closer to what she used in her short “Welcome to my Life.” She cleverly melds the interviews by Zelda and her Ghost Club with the historical “ghost” stories of the people who lived in the areas of LA where she's talking to residents.
It's truly brilliant. In the creator Q&A, Ito said one of the inspirations for the story was her own children. She said she was looking for something quieter for them to watch. Kids animation tends to be louder and full of tension and her kids are sensitive to that. This is much more low-key yet easy for kids to absorb.
Animation, Elizabeth Ito; 2021, 17 min
Recommended Ages: 5+
About “CITY OF GHOSTS”
Featuring a charming blend of animated characters and live-action settings, City of Ghosts is a documentary-style series about a group of ghost-loving kids in Los Angeles who learn about the rich history of their city through encounters with friendly neighborhood ghosts. In each episode—which is based on and voiced by real residents from different neighborhoods—the members of The Ghost Club help others learn to inhabit the present by communicating with the ghosts of the past. Elizabeth Ito, Emmy Award-winning director and writer on Adventure Time and creator of the Cartoon Network short Welcome to My Life, serves as showrunner and executive producer.
Shorts: Magic Light Celebration – Review
Runtime: 51 min. | Recommended Ages: 3+
The winner of audience awards at NYICFF year after year, Magic Light Pictures gets a full spotlight this year as we feature their newest film and fulfill our audience’s countless requests for an encore of The Snail and The Whale. This year's short films are based on Julia Donaldson’s children’s books of the same titles!
Zog and the Flying Doctors – Review
South Africa, United Kingdom | New York Premiere
Animation, Sean Mullen; 2020, 24 min.
Recommended ages: 3+
Zog and the Flying Doctors picks up where Zog left off, as Princess Pearl achieves her dreams of being a doctor. Together with Zog the dragon and Sir Gadabout, the flying trio criss-cross the kingdom giving vaccinations to creatures of all stripes. But Pearl’s uncle, the orange-faced King, is doubtful and disapproving and ends up sick. Will he learn to trust in Pearl, and science, and rethink what it means to be royal?
The Legend of Hei – Review
If you are a fan of Studio Ghibli's animation style, you'll fall in love with The Legend of Hei's strikingly visual animation. The Legend of Hei emits deep Studio Ghibli vibes in this family-friendly story of acceptance, tolerance, and kindness to everything and everyone, including nature.
With an inky black coat, adorable mewl, and eyes as big as saucers, Xiao Hei is the cutest feline around. But don’t let his good looks fool you, he’s more than just a cat. When he meets up with a motley band of spirits—creatures and human-like beings with superhuman powers—Hei finds that he, too, is a spirit and shapeshifts from cat to kid form. His new friends train and challenge him in the warrior spirit arts, with the pressing goal of saving their beloved forest from developers destroying it in this lushly rendered tale. Evoking Studio Ghibli’s ecological fables, The Legend of Hei is a winsome combination of heart, soul, fantasy, and an extraordinary adventure.
Watch The Legend of Hei Trailer
Shorts: Becoming Ourselves: Breaking the Binary
These films explore identity beyond gender binaries, as queer kids shape their own ideas of who they are, finding possibilities of joy and community along the way. Discover powerful connections to the past when long-hidden histories are revealed in the Oscar-shortlisted Kapaemahu. Or breakthrough distance and discomfort in The Name of the Son to find unexpected closeness to family. Create new relationships with yourself, your body, and others through sports in the short doc Joy Run.
This Oscar-shortlisted film uncovers the healing power of the past when the long-hidden histories of four stones and the legendary spirits in them are revealed.
Reimagining athletics as an inclusive space for all, this colorful and lively short doc revels in the joyful connections we make to ourselves and others every day.
Like many teens, 13-year-old Lucho is uncomfortable with himself and distanced from those around him. Yet when he vacations with his father and sister, he discovers a new understanding.
What if becoming doesn’t lead to an end, but instead is a process of being?
Soft-spoken yet resolute, a young child remembers the joys and fears that go hand-in-hand with coming out, shot in beautifully evocative black and white 16mm film.
When Oscar pops up out of the ground in a strange yet parallel world, he must remain steadfast to his budding identity as others try to tear him down.
The inspiration for Becoming Ourselves: Breaking the Binary and screened at NYICFF 2020, Lou is back navigating the-ever challenging terrain of gender. But with inspiration from acclaimed filmmaker Céline Sciamma, they come into their own.
Raya and the Last Dragon
At the Raya and the Last Dragon Live Film Screening + Special Event, we had the opportunity to learn about the research and artistry that went into bringing Disney’s latest animated feature to life as well as an exclusive conversation with Raya herself—Kelly Marie Tran—and the filmmakers from Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Read our full Raya and the Last Dragon Movie Review
About Raya and the Last Dragon
Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Raya and the Last Dragon travels to the fantasy world of Kumandra, where humans and dragons lived together long ago in harmony. But when an evil force threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, that same evil has returned and it’s up to a lone warrior, Raya, to track down the legendary last dragon to restore the fractured land and its divided people. However, along her journey, she’ll learn that it’ll take more than a dragon to save the world—it’s going to take trust and teamwork as well. Raya and the Last Dragon will be released simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access on March 5, 2021.
Flora & Ulysses
Live Q&A with author Kate DiCamillo and director Lena Khan
We had the opportunity to join a live Q&A with Disney's Flora & Ulysses author Kate DiCamillo and director Lena Khan, It was so much fun to learn about some of the behind-the-scenes fun and the story itself.
Stream Flora & Ulysses now on Disney+. Disney's Flora & Ulysses is a comedy-adventure based on the Newberry Award-winning book about 10-year-old Flora, an avid comic book fan and a self-avowed cynic, whose parents have recently separated. After rescuing a squirrel she names Ulysses, Flora is amazed to discover he possesses unique superhero powers which take them on an adventure of humorous complications that ultimately change Flora's life—and her outlook—forever.
Read our full Flora & Ulysses Movie Review