New York International Children’s Film Festival (NYICFF) announced its 2021 Special Programs on Friday morning. Animated fare is taking center stage at the 24th edition, which will open March 5 with a premiere event for Netflix animated series City of Ghosts. Chilean-Brazilian animated feature Nahuel and the Magic Book will make its North American premiere on March 6 as the 2021 Opening Spotlight. The festival will conclude with a Closing Spotlight screening of Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon with an exclusive, live conversation with the film’s directors Don Hall and Carlos López-Estrada and appearances by voice cast members.
All three programs continue the Festival’s longstanding tradition of offering new films that bridge worlds and broaden horizons. This year’s selection spotlights stories of kids discovering their cultural histories, defining their own identities and shaping their futures by connecting with the past. Completely virtual for the first time, NYICFF 2021 will provide families across the country access to the best animated, live-action and documentary features and shorts from around the globe, amplifying diverse voices and sparking conversations about this complex cultural moment and the complicated events taking place around the world.
“Our mission has always been to provide young audiences with the nuance, complex programs that we know they can understand and appreciate,” said NYICFF Executive Director Nina Guralnick. “We are excited to present films that generate the kind of joy and inspiration that comes from exploring the many cultures and shared humanity of the world we live in — especially during a time when we are unable to travel much further than our own households.”
NYICFF Programming Director Maria-Christina Villaseñor said, “We’re thrilled to be highlighting City of Ghosts, Nahuel and Raya as animated works that harness children’s propensity for curiosity, sharp observation and attentive listening to connect generations and underrepresented cultures and histories. These inventive, artistic, delightful and deeply meaningful works embody NYICFF’s core mission of fostering a more intelligent, diverse film culture for kids.”
Opening Night: City of Ghosts
City of Ghosts comes from Emmy-winning writer/director Elizabeth Ito and is inspired by her own experiences as a fourth-generation Japanese-American — or yonsei — growing up in the multicultural neighborhoods of Los Angeles. 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 L.A. who learn about the rich history of their city through encounters with friendly neighborhood ghosts. Each episode is based on the stories of characters voiced by real residents from different neighborhoods. The Ghost Club help others explore their city by communicating with ghosts of the past.
Ito serves as exec producer and showrunner of the six-episode series. She won a 2017 Primetime Emmy for her work on Cartoon Network’s animated series Adventure Time and created the CN short Welcome to My Life, which won the NYICFF Audience Award and which she discussed at the Festival’s inaugural Animators All Around panel that same year. In 2020, Ito served on the NYICFF jury alongside fellow filmmakers, actors and academic/industry leaders committed to recognizing and supporting the best new works for young audiences and around the world.
Viewers can watch the first episode of City of Ghosts on Netflix when it premieres on March 5 (watch the trailer here) before joining NYICFF at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT for an exclusive live conversation with Ito and other members of the show’s creative team. The conversation will be available across the Festival’s social media accounts, and passholders will have the opportunity to participate in a Q&A through the Festival’s official streaming platform.
“One of the big reasons why I created City of Ghosts was to celebrate the ingenuity, humor and imagination of children — which, to me, makes NYICFF the perfect place to be celebrating City of Ghosts‘s premiere,” said Ito.
Opening Spotlight: Nahuel and the Magic Book
NYICFF’s 2021 Opening Spotlight program, taking place on March 6, features the North American premiere of Nahuel and the Magic Book, a new animated feature from Chile and Brazil, followed by a special Q&A with director Germán Acuña. Acuña has crafted a richly detailed and expressive 2D animated feature, utterly distinctive yet with shades of stylistic influence from Studio Ghibli, set within a universe of magic and ancient indigenous mythology. The son of a fisherman, Nahuel wrestles with his deep fear of the sea. An ancient magical book seems to offer a solution but leads to more challenges in this epic tale of finding strength and connection.
Closing Spotlight: Raya and the Last Dragon
NYICFF will offer audiences an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at Disney’s latest animated feature, Raya and the Last Dragon, and the research and artistry that went into it. The stellar creative team of co-directors Don Hall (co-director, Big Hero 6) and Carlos López-Estrada (Blindspotting), together with screenwriters Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians) and Qui Nguyen (Vietgone) take as inspiration the rich cultures of Southeast Asia to craft the captivating mythological universe of Kumandra, where humans and dragons once lived together in harmony. Now, 500 years later, the same monsters that drove the dragons from the land have returned, and it’s up to lone warrior Raya to track down the last dragon and save the world.
Additional programming announcements are forthcoming.
NYICFF@ Home will take place March 5-14, entirely online. More information available at www.nyicff.org.