For a television producer or commissioning executive, heaven must be a garden of great ideas, free for the picking. If so, heaven on Earth for children’s program makers is the worldwide festival of children’s and youth TV, PRIX JEUNESSE. For a week every other year-the next PRIX JEUNESSE takes place June 4 to 10-festival participants stroll through that garden, encouraged to harvest inspiration and motivation from dozens of programs and 400 colleagues from more than 50 countries.
This German institution with a French name was founded in 1964 by the Munich and Bavarian governments and a public broadcaster, Bayerischer Rundfunk. A second public channel, ZDF, became a partner in 1971. Recently, commercial broadcasters have joined in guiding the foundation.
PRIX JEUNESSE adapts constantly to changes in the business and the art of television, so that its garden always offers the freshest ideas. Where once the contest was the sole domain of public broadcasters, commercial channels now compete fiercely. In 1996, Goosebumps from Fox Kids and Scholastic Productions missed winning its category by one-tenth of a point.
The newest change to PRIX JEUNESSE acknowledges the increasing output of independent production companies. Entries still must come from broadcasters or cable channels, with strict limits on their total time (the festival would be swamped without these restrictions!). This year, however, extra entry minutes will be granted to broadcasters that submit independently produced shows they commissioned or acquired.
PRIX JEUNESSE is total immersion in the creativity of children’s media, with special emphasis on discovering, understanding and celebrating what’s done well. Days are spent watching shows that the world’s telecasters consider to be their best. These screenings reveal the global variety in children’s television, featuring everything from folktales to kid-made videos, from million-dollar series to single-camera stories, from light entertainment to weighty issues. For those whose viewing appetite isn’t quenched by the 70 finalists, the ‘Video-Bar’ holds more than 100 entries that weren’t selected for the final competition.
Every finalist is discussed in depth in breakout sessions organized by language. Bashing is verboten: the goal is to spotlight each program’s best qualities and to learn from its missed opportunities. These exchanges are enlightening about the context in which children’s television appears. From tempos to taboos, PRIX JEUNESSE demands a high level of empathy for differing media and national cultures.
The festival week also features a briefing on a timely topic. In 1998, the theme will be the changing media habits of today’s young audiences.
At PRIX JEUNESSE, the days don’t end when the last credits roll. With only a week together, participants savor every moment, staying far too late in Munich’s cafes and biergartens to swap experiences and build partnerships for co-producing or exchanging programs. Even people who, at home, are rivals for programs or viewers adopt a more collegial mien during the festival.
David W. Kleeman is executive director of the American Center for Children’s Television and a close advisor to PRIX JEUNESSE.