Child critics travel to Italy

Chicago area kids spend 10 days reviewing movies, soaking up Italian culture

Each summer the Chicago International Children's Film Festival selects children to attend the Giffoni International Film Festival in Italy. Children from around the world meet in Giffoni for the 10-day festival each July where they watch and critique up to 100 international films, says Nicole Dreiske, founder and artistic director of the Chicago International Children's Film Festival. The children are chosen through an audition process that assesses which children will enjoy, benefit and contribute to the festival the most, she says.

Here are some of the impressions from three of this year's delegates.

Sophie Conant, 13  

Experiencing real life in Italy Getting the opportunity to live with an Italian family was an amazing experience. When you are a tourist, you can control what you want to do, what you want to eat and where you stay. When you're with a family, you go with the flow and do the regular everyday activities of an Italian citizen. It was incredible.

My family was so welcoming and took such good care of me. My host mother, Trifemena, did my laundry and packed my lunch everyday, but spoke no English. My host father, Etorre, would usually drive us to the festival each day but he spoke no English. My host girl, Monica, was 14 and her English was good enough to communicate and translate conversations with her parents. My family was very welcoming and generous.

On the long bus ride from Rome to Giffoni, where the festival took place, the Americans shared the bus with kids from Israel and India. Both groups spoke English very well and we became friends quickly. The Israelis and Americans were always together and we became good friends. It was amazing to see kids from all over the world who were all in one place for this festival because they all enjoy cinema. I am hoping to stay in touch through e-mail with the friends I made at Giffoni. Sophie Conant, 13, of Glencoe

Maddy Boesche, 13  

'Beat the Drum' a great film I had a great experience at the Giffoni Film Festival. What I learned helped me analyze the films. It also helped me when I wanted to comment on a film. Knowing how to pick apart a film is useful when there are hundreds of kids from different countries watching you. When we judged the short films, I really had to think about which film's qualities outweighed the others. Some critical skills that I didn't expect to need were how to watch a film silently without commenting and how to deal with other kids who distracted me.

My favorite film was called "Beat the Drum." It is about a young boy living in South Africa and it deals with the AIDS crisis. I thought the directing was great, and the little boy who played the main character was amazing, especially if you take into consideration that he had never acted before. The film seemed important to me because it brings awareness to what a problem AIDS is right now.

I enjoyed living with an Italian family. They always cooked for me and were more than willing to take me places (especially to get gelato!). Only the mother spoke English, but with my little bit of Italian, my host Claudia's little English and hand gestures, we were usually able to communicate. Both parents smoked like many people in Italy, and I am very sensitive to cigarette smoke, so that was irritating. Sometimes my host would take on "the Italian way is the best way" attitude, but that was always resolved. Maddy Boesche, 13, of Chicago

Dashiell Stewart, 14  

Advice for the Giffoni-bound This is a quick guide for next year's Giffoni-goers to make the most out of their time.

On the plane ride over to Italy: Remember, not counting waiting time, you guys (and your chaperones) have a 16-hour trip ahead of you. If you're nervous about flying or the festival, do some yoga or breathing exercises before the flight. Get two packs of gum (one for going there and one for coming back, because Italian gum is weird). Chew a piece at take off and landing. Pack a snack for your Rome-Giffoni bus ride because you'll get hungry.

In your host family's home: Always say please and thank you. And keep your English-Italian dictionary handy. I had an extremely hard time trying to ask to borrow a dress shirt. I kept pointing and making hand gestures for buttons until finally I said "elegante." Ask for help so you don't break something. Remember that the big button on the bathroom wall flushes the toilet. Ask to go to the beach before you leave.

At Giffoni: Use your first couple of days to check out restaurants in Giffoni. I really like the gelato shop and the pub that serves fried mashed potatoes and mozzarella balls. Avoid the Orange Garden at all costs. It is an inescapable courtyard of boredom where they interview Italian celebrities.

At all times: Never wander off alone!

Before you head home: Get the e-mail addresses of people you want to stay in touch with. Make sure you learned at least 10 words in Italian you did not know before. Dashiell Stewart, 14, of Chicago


Morton Arboretum's show is intriguing Don't miss the treehouse exhibit

Corinne Madsen 10,  

There is so much to do and see this summer, but I would recommend the Morton Arboretum. It has hiking, biking, nature camps, learning programs, a fragrance garden and the "InTREEguing TreeHouses."

There are a few facts you need to know about this exhibit. There is a total of 12 treehouses. They are divided into three sections. They are all far enough apart that you have to drive to get to each section. The guidelines for the architect, builders and contractors said that tree(s) could not be damaged so eight of the 12 treehouses are on the ground.

My initial reaction was disappointment because I thought they would all be what I think of a treehouse, a playhouse high in a tree. After thinking about it, I decided the Morton Arboretum is a nature preserve, not my backyard, so it could get a bad reputation by ruining trees.

The worst things were the treehouses being so far apart, not resembling the artist's sketch and being close to the ground. The best things were the fun maze across from No. 7 ("Tree Pod"), there being a variety of space and things to do in each treehouse, and our family going on a cooler day so it wasn't crowded or buggy.

My favorite treehouse to play on is called the "Tree/House." It is made of metal poles that look like pipes. If you see if from farther away it only looks like a frame of a house, but look close up and you'll see windows and a door. It is fun to hang and climb on.

I had a great time at the Morton Arboretum. The Morton Arboretum is one thing you have to put on your "to do list." Corinne Madsen, 10, Downers Grove


Danielle Madsen, 7  

The treehouse exhibit at the Morton Arboretum is a great place to take your kids! I enjoyed treehouse No. 9 ("BirdHouse"), which looked like a bird house at the trunk of a tree. I sat on its perch. My other favorite was an outline of a house with no door. I liked climbing on it. An interesting treehouse was "The Family Tree Pavilion." It was of all types of families. It was put together to make a treehouse surrounding a tree. I didn't like the "Acorn Cottage"; it didn't look like an acorn. "Stationary Flight" was two wings hooked to a tree. The description said you could flap the wings, but it was broken. "The Ark" disappointed me because no tree was near it. Danielle Madsen, 7, Downers Grove

Editor's note: The Morton Arboretum is on Illinois 53 in Lisle. Admission is $5 ages 13-64; $4 seniors, $2 ages 3-12 and free for ages 2 and under. The "InTREEguing TreeHouses" exhibit will close on Sept. 26. For more information, call (630) 719-2400 or visit

Kids' corner We want to hear from kids. So, we are asking the 7-14 set to submit reviews of less than 350 words to Kids' corner. Tell us about the last great movie you saw, book you read, museum exhibit you toured. If you're feeling creative, write us a poem or a short story. Or if you want, tell us what you think about the presidential election that's coming up on Nov. 2. We want Kids' corner to be filled with kids' voices. If we run your submission, we'll send you a $10 gift certificate. Please include your photo, the full title of whatever you are reviewing, your name, age, address and your parents' name and phone number. Send submissions to: Kids' corner c/o Chicago Parent, 141 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park, IL 60302, or e-mail it to

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