In my last post, I wrote about lessons from Prix Jeunesse 2014. In retrospect, I realized that I’d devoted very little attention to the heart of the international children’s television festival – the programs from all over that are shown, discussed, voted on and honored.
What makes Prix Jeunesse programming unique? A few years ago, I was asked to give a short talk on that very question. By divine intervention, as I was forming my thoughts, a song I’d never heard before came on the radio, with the perfect title and refrain: I’d rather be 9 people’s favorite thing, than 100 people’s 9th favorite thing. The song, from the very “meta” musical about making a musical [title of show], catches the creators at a critical decision point between commercial compromises and adherence to their vision.
There’s nothing wrong with wildly popular, financially successful children’s TV – kids love it (me, too, often!) and we need it as an industry. It even competes well at Prix Jeunesse, sometimes.
But, festivals tend not to attract “bread and butter” programming – those daily or weekly series that anchor a telecaster’s service. Instead, they attract carefully crafted one-offs, culturally rooted series, or “very special episodes.”
These shows exemplify how programming can have multiple measures of success, and in these days of personalized, anywhere/anytime, long tail content, aren’t we seeking to form deeper emotional connections with our audiences?
In other words, you’re more likely to see “nine people’s favorite thing” than “100 people’s 9th favorite thing” at Prix Jeunesse. After all, this is a festival that gives a “Heart Prize” for the entry that deeply touched the most delegates.
Here, then, are nine of my favorite things (plus one bonus, because I couldn’t decide) from the 2014 festival. These weren’t necessarily winners, or even high quality overall, but each reveals some unique twist or element that I found inspiring.
Friends of Nature (Denmark) – I was dubious to start, as it seemed the trappings of this show about kids caring for animals (a go-kart and uniforms, for example) might overshadow the substance. Then, the two 7-year-olds leapt, without much adult intervention, into meaningful tasks like building a home for ducklings or gathering animal poop for a snake shelter, while viewers listened in on their collaboration.
I’m Playing (Turkey) (pictured) – It’s hard to imagine a more simple, creativity-sparking program than these images from different Turkish regions of children making toys and games from what they have available.
My Dad is the Fungus Man (Korea) – The core story is a classic: a boy caught lying about what his father does for a living (he’s the bad guy in a “Power Ranger”-esque action show!). Ultimately, Dad wins his son’s pride and his friends’ admiration: “Fungus Man” to the rescue!
My Life: Breaking Free (UK) – Three teens with Down Syndrome take on challenges – learning to surf, making the UK swim team, and going on a date without parental supervision. What takes this program above and beyond is that one of the young people provides the narration.
Labyrinth (Sweden) – This is a classic fantasy adventure game show, made special by the exceptional steampunk design and over-the-top game master. It may also be the only game show I’ve ever seen where losing is more fun than winning.
All-Round Champion (Norway) – Ten teen athletes vie to be best overall in a kid-respecting twist on reality shows. Each week, one athlete mentors the others toward a competition in his or her starring sport. Courage takes center stage when the teens face the high dive.
Zamba Asks (Argentina) – An animated, time-traveling nine-year-old boy helps clarify complex and emotional moments from Argentine. Not every country would dare to tell such a difficult story as that of Argentina’s “disappeared” youth under its 1970s dictatorship.
Pedro & Bianca (Brazil) – Customary teen dilemmas like the first day at a new school get a unique spin when seen through the eyes of fraternal twins, one black and one white. One scene in this show melted my heart (a grandmother and grandson share earbuds and dance together); one broke it (no one expects a main character to die in a series’ first episode!).
Bente’s Voice (Netherlands) – This program could fuel a semester’s course on media literacy. Bente is a talented singer given the opportunity to compete on Holland’s version of “The Voice.” The documentary reveals how thoroughly competition shows are constructed; but are the doc-makers themselves manipulating Bente?
Cultural Shock (Italy) – This was one of the few programs that made extensive use of social media; pairs of young adults – here, a young Italian woman with a young man seeking his Balkan Romany roots – make journeys of discovery together, sharing as they go on social media.
These were just a few of my “favorite things”; other participants surely have their own that would only make my “9th favorite” list. In fact, I invite other Kidscreen readers who attended PJ2014 to post their favorites in the comments below!
Word of the Post: Ratings. If you ask someone at Prix Jeunesse how their program did in generating audience, you’ll discover that every show got the highest rated ever in that country. Of course, I am being hyperbolic, but the festival doesn’t ask for ratings data because measurements are handled so differently across countries and regions. Moreover, a rating (percentage of all homes watching a particular program) or share (percentage of the audience with TVs on watching a particular program) can mean something completely different depending on the size of a country, how many channels are in the typical home, and the methodology.