We parents of the Pioneer Valley have a pretty sweet deal. You might not realize it if you don’t have kids in your life, but once you’re clued into it you begin to discover that there is a near-endless list of things to do with your little ones. Hayrides, science workshops, and puppet theater are just the start of an ever-expanding slate. Heck, we literally have an entire museum in Amherst devoted to the wonders of picture-book art (and if you’ve never been to the Carle — whether you’re a parent or not — you’re missing out).
And yet, there are still those mornings when I wake up and wonder what to do with our day, and none more so than the week of February vacation. This is one of those weeks that doesn’t really exist until you have kids, and then becomes a fun surprise every winter. Luckily, the Valley — in this case, the Northampton Arts Council and the Academy of Music — has us covered.
Now an annual tradition, KidsBestFest is a film festival set to coincide with the school break every year, giving kids and caregivers a great reason to get out of the house. Admission is free to all (though donations are welcome), with a fresh film shown on the Academy’s big screen Monday through Friday afternoons at 1:30. Here’s a look at this year’s slate.
On Monday, Opertura Animated Shorts gets things underway with their imaginative short films — complex and hand-drawn animations that reflect the humor of filmmakers Aya Yamasaki and Jason Brown. Winners of a Mass Cultural Council Artist Fellowship in 2017, Yamasaki and Brown are locals, producing their work in Greenfield. (Have a look at the Animation section of opertura.org to see what they’re up to.) They’ll be on hand for the show to discuss their work in a Q&A session.
Tuesday brings in award-winning documentary March of the Penguins. Luc Jacquet’s 2005 film, about the mating rituals of the emperor penguins of Antarctica, is a great introduction to the genre for younger filmgoers (indeed, it may have been the first documentary seen by many of today’s teenagers). Narrated by Morgan Freeman, it follows the penguins’ journey across the tundra as they head for their breeding grounds.
On Wednesday, the series switches gears with The LEGO Batman Movie. Starring Will Arnett, Rosario Dawson, and Zack Galifianakis, this kids movie has a definite adult appeal as well. Arnett is the caped crusader, and Galifianakis his opposite as The Joker, out as always to take over Gotham. Knowing and irreverent, this Batman is a not-too-dark knight.
Real talk: if you’re going to go to just one of these screenings, make it on Thursday. Because that is when the presenters bring in Jim Henson’s 1982 classic The Dark Crystal, a two-hour fantasy epic that, while probably a bit too intense for kindergarteners, will become an indelible memory for slightly older kids. A story of good, evil, and the quest to restore balance to a broken world, Henson’s tale is filled with stunning visuals and the evocative puppetry that made him famous.
Wrapping things up on Friday is the Oscar-nominated 2017 animated feature The Breadwinner. Directed by Nora Twomey (The Secret of Kells) and based on Deborah Ellis’ best-selling novel, it is the story of Parvana, a young girl coming of age in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. When her father is arrested, Parvana understands that she must support her family—but that as a girl she will not be allowed to do so. Undeterred, she cuts off her hair and disguises herself as a boy so she may work. What she finds out in the world is both thrilling—the freedom of movement that was denied to her as a young woman—and empowering, giving her the resolve to reunite her family.
KidsBestFest 2018, Feb. 19-23, 1:30 p.m., Academy of Music, Main St., Northampton
Jack Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.