If you think you know what to expect at this year's Chicago International Children's Film Festival, think again. The 21st annual event will be extra special, thanks to a contribution from a surprising source: the late Shel Silverstein, one of Chicago's own. If you are a fan of the multitalented artist and author, be prepared to fall in love all over again with a lion called Lafcadio.
Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back is the story of a way-cool lion who just likes to chill out and ponder life's mysteries until a chance encounter with a hunter. What happens after that offers the kind of adventure of the mind and subtle moral message that Silverstein was so good at delivering in books such as The Missing Piece and The Light in the Attic.
But wait, there's more-Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back is also an animated film narrated by Silverstein himself. The story behind the film is interesting in its own right. It was made more than 25 years ago and stored in a vault until Silverstein's estate discovered it following his death in 1999.
The rare animation was offered to the Chicago International Children's Film Festival and will be the highlight of the festival's opening night gala hosted by LeVar Burton (yes, of "Reading Rainbow" and "Roots" fame) on Oct. 21 at Northwestern University's Thorne Auditorium, 375 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago, and also will play throughout the festival, Oct. 21-31.
Chicago Parent got a sneak preview of the film, and it is refreshingly clever-not your usual loud and dumb children's movie. The author's narration is a revelation as he uses voices that evoke whimsy, hippies, love of language, even a hint of Marlon Brando. Simple black and white line drawings are used to good effect on Lafcadio's expressive face as he experiences the world of hunters and the hunted in a story that is both timely and timeless.
The bittersweet underlying message about trying to remember who you really are is something families can discuss long after the story has ended.
Nicole Dreiske, artistic director and director of children's programming for the festival, says the film has a strong point of view and the central metaphor about a hunted lion who shoots back is key to the story. However, the absence of blood and gore makes her confident that it is not a disturbing story for kids.
The film is among 200 being showcased in the festival from 30 countries. As a special treat for the author's hometown, HarperCollins will give away copies of the book at the gala. For information and a schedule of films, visit www.cicff.org.
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