Children’s Documentaries are Documentaries that are exactly like documentaries made by adults in both their form and their cinematic qualities. My primary interest is in Documentaries for and about children – with children’s points of view, experiences, and voices exactly at the center.
It’s hard to find people in the USA who care about Documentaries for children, or who understand their value. In Europe and other parts of the world, this is so clearly not the case! Finland, for example, dedicates an entire year to the subject, with curricula, in and out of school screenings, maker workshops, funder and producer roundtables, and a big Kids Documentary film festival “Dokkino”, that runs as a subset of the major international Doc Fest: “Doxs!” The Creative Capital Fund in Sweden gathers together European producers, broadcasters, and funders annually for a conference and a series production grant workshops, resulting in 5 major new docs for kids on broadcast television annually. The Prix Jeunesse bi-annual conference and prize, given for the best children’s television programs world wide, offers two full days of screenings of non fiction work for kids, followed up by related discussion sections intended to support producers and share knowledge about best practices. I’ll be reporting here from that conference in late May 2018.
If you aren’t sure you know what a child centered documentary for kids, made to the highest standards looks like, go to my Kino Bambino link for links to films which are available online to US viewers. There you’ll see films like “I am a Girl!” https://player.vimeo.com/video/43026651 made in Holland by Susan Koenen, who specializes in documentary work for children. Would this film be broadcast in the US? I think our cultural climate suggests otherwise, but I am here to say that it’s the kids who are losing out when opportunities to learn about other kids, and to feel supported in their own struggles, are denied to them.
The reasons makers find value in creating Documentary work for children, and producing it to the highest possible standards, boils down to the essential “5 C’s” that such programs can provide to kids, articulated by Kez Makrie, of the children’s arm of the BBC in Great Britain. They are: “Control, Creative Inspiration, Competence, Confidence, and Caring”.
Caring. Because documentaries are also stories, about real children, they serve the function of creating Empathy. All great stories rely on empathy to draw the reader in, to care about the characters. And sure, a great story can be animated, and be fun and even touching, but creating opportunities for children to find a way in to care for unmistakably real children who may or may not look, behave, or think like them; or to feel that even they are worth caring about, is not a small thing in our contemporary culture, where the SPLC reports that children increasingly find themselves anxious, bullied, etc. Children need this kind of support, and it’s not that they don’t see enough of it here in the States – they don’t see ANY.