11 January 2017

PRIX JEUNESSE Suitcase Comes
to New York City

New York, NY - On January 11, 2017, more than seventy children’s media makers gathered at Fordham University to see the Prix Jeunesse “Suitcase”, a television screening curated for our audience by industry leader David Kleeman. The episodes were selected from those shows presented at the Prix Jeunesse International festival and competition in Munich, Germany last year.  By LaToye Adams

I always look forward to the “Suitcase” organized by the Children’s Media Association in New York City. It is a time for us to step out of the coursing river of media production in order to pause and reflect on stories produced beyond our borders. On these days, we ask ourselves how childhood is alike and different across the world and we examine our assumptions about storytelling. Through discussion, we challenge each other to listen, understand and disagree. We reveal what made us laugh, feel uncomfortable, tear up, and furrow our brow.

The morning began with shows designed for younger viewers. I was awed by beautiful animation and design as a little boy played and danced with the moon in Germany’s The Moon and Me. I joined in roars of laughter during the Australian mockumentary series Little Lunch. With smart writing, humor, and impeccable timing, a class of grade school students explained the complexity of behavioral modification plans. Part way through the morning, the program turned to selected shows from NHK/Japan. The innovative educational shows engaged us with exercises in spatial thinking, prediction, and critical thinking. In Pythagora Switch Advanced, a playful demonstration showed how, with a bit of resilience, failed experiments can be celebrated as opportunities to learn.

Throughout the day, we saw stories of young people across the globe exploring how they identify as transgender, as big brothers, as activists, and rebels against their culture’s gender role expectations. Among these were powerful and timely entries about refugees. In the documentary Boy on the Bicycle, a teenager named Ahmed took viewers on a tour of his community in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp. He spoke with pride and longing for his home country, Syria, and the hope and enthusiasm with which he envisioned his future. He and his friends showed the complexity of growing up in the camp, vacillating between play and responsibility. Across the globe, nations and families are grappling with how to respond to and navigate immigration policies. Recent headlines abstracting the plight of displaced people can be overwhelming to consume, but the stories shown at Prix Jeunesse and again here at the New York City “Suitcase” crystalized the heart of the matter. I was reminded of the power of television and documentary to transform immense and unbelievable societal issues into personal and undeniable stories children have to tell.

All in all, we watched nearly thirty television shows about children on journeys to understand and express their identity. I was inspired by the efforts of producers around the world to tell these stories and I’m hopeful for the potential of media and the ensuing conversations to increase understanding of what it means to be a child today. There’s still so much more to see. I’m looking forward to my very first pilgrimage to Prix Jeunesse International in 2018 when the theme will be “Strong Stories for Strong Children.”

LaToye is an applied researcher in media and educational technology and the president of Children’s Media Association.