Tumbleweeds Film Festival 2012 | Film Reviews | Salt Lake City Weekly

Tumbleweeds Film Festival 2012 

2nd annual lineup of youth-friendly fare

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click to enlarge A Cat in Paris - TUMBLEWEEDS FILM FESTIVAL
  • Tumbleweeds Film Festival
  • A Cat in Paris

In its second year, the Utah Film Center’s Tumbleweeds Film Festival offers a lineup that once again challenges the notion that today’s kids can’t possibly process documentaries, movies with subtitles or anything that’s not in 3-D. The diverse roster of features and shorts includes films from Mexico, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada and France. Here are reviews of some of the features available for preview.

Aurélie Laflamme’s Diary


Imagine a girl’s version of Diary of a Wimpy Kid—only with a touch more emotion to balance the surreal goofiness—and you’ve got a good sense of this smart, thoroughly engaging French Canadian comedy. Marianne Verville plays the titular protagonist, a 14-year-old schoolgirl facing the typical adolescent traumas of fallings-out with her BFF, doing embarrassing things when the cute guy she likes is around, and trying to navigate relations with her mother. Her sense of alienation is compounded by lingering grief over the death of her father five years earlier, but director Christian Laurence handles the material delicately and without melodrama. And with Verville providing a delightful performance as Aurélie, the comedy feels as genuine as it is funny. (Rose Wagner Center, 138 W. Broadway, March 24, 4:15 p.m., includes some PG-13-ish mature content)

A Cat in Paris


One of the surprise nominees in this year’s Academy Awards Animated Feature category, this French charmer follows two stories connected by a single chat. By day, Dino the cat lives with Zoë, a young girl still traumatized by the murder of her police-officer father by a notorious criminal; by night, Dino joins a cat burglar on his thieving rounds. The subject matter could get a bit intense for younger kids, though the criminal and his gang are mostly turned into comic relief. But the uniquely stylized hand-drawn animation and a simple, straightforward adventure plot make it generally entertaining, if thin at just over an hour. (Rose Wagner Center, 138 W. Broadway, March 24, 10:30 a.m.; March 25, 3 p.m., no subtitle reader)



In a coastal town in southeastern Mexico, young friends Santiago and Mariana stumble upon a ring of rare-animal smugglers—that’s the good part. The unfortunate part is that it’s only about half of the movie, with the other half devoted to the government agency also pursuing the same smugglers. The adult investigation feels like it belongs in a completely different movie and distracts from the simple adventure of youngsters becoming accidental detectives. The doses of magical realism coming from Santiago’s conviction that he can channel animal spirits through tiny totems might have felt more organic to the plot without the attempts to sneak in a procedural whodunit. (Rose Wagner Center, 138 W. Broadway, March 24, 12:15 p.m., no subtitle reader; March 25, 1 p.m.)

Circus Dreams


Director Signe Taylor finds a wonderful subject in Circus Smirkus, a summer training ground for teenagers aspiring to be clowns, acrobats, jugglers and aerialists. Focusing on four first-time participants, Taylor finds a fascinating story of kids learning the realities of circus life, from grueling training and 100-degree tent shows to economic struggles that could shut down the whole operation. It turns into a surprisingly potent look at the long odds facing anyone who dreams of a career in show biz, as well as an emotional tale of a makeshift, temporary family of talented misfits. (Salt Lake City Main Library, 210 E. 400 South, March 24, 5 p.m.)

Louder Than a Bomb


I know the conventions of a documentary like this—a profile of four competitors in a Chicago high school slam-poetry competition—require that the drama of Who Will Win dominates the third act. But as the organizers keep emphasizing, the points are not the point—and when directors Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel simply sit back and let these gifted young writers and performers flow, it’s a staggeringly powerful experience. Nevermind the behind-the-scenes squabbles or family back stories. The works themselves—and the ferocious, passionate confidence with which they’re delivered—are slivers from the soul of true artists, and if you’re not moved, you’re not moving. (Rose Wagner Center, 138 W. Broadway, March 24, 7 p.m., contains mature language)

The Magicians


Kids probably won’t see the telegraphed plot points and may simply enjoy the charms of this Dutch tale of a young boy named Ben who creates an illusionist act with his bumbling, unemployed father and his new schoolmate, a girl generally ignored by her wealthy, divorced mother. The broad comedy doesn’t always mesh well with the attempts at heartfelt family drama, but the performances are generally appealing, and there’s a welcome messiness to the portrayal of Ben’s family life. You may see exactly where it’s going, yet still find it pleasant getting there. (Rose Wagner Center, 138 W. Broadway, March 24, 2:15 p.m.)



It sounds like the set-up for a high-concept comedy: An 11-year-old Muslim boy in Brooklyn named Daud (Muatasem Mishal), while attempting to recover a family-heirloom Quran mistakenly returned to a Hebrew school, finds himself mistaken for a Jew himself. Instead, filmmakers Joel Fendelman and Patrick Daly turn it into a gently observed piece about a boy’s first curious peeks into a world outside his own, allowing him to see that the people assumed to be the enemy of his people are often treated with just as much xenophobic disdain. There’s a bit more unnecessary melodrama in a subplot involving Daud’s older sister trying to break loose from the constraints of their conservative imam father; it’s much more engrossing simply watching Daud/David form friendships before he’s learned why they’re the sort of friendships it’s assumed he’ll never form. (March 25, 5 p.m., Rose Wagner Center)

Friends Forever


Chicken Run meets A Bug’s Life for the pre-school set in this tale of a down-on-his-luck rodent thespian named Johnny Mouser who finds himself on a farm where the other animal residents begin to think of him as a real hero who can save their friend Cloud the lamb from kidnapping by a hungry wolf. There’s not a ton of distinctive personality to any of the characters, and the types are familiar from the aforementioned kid-flick adventures. But there’s sufficient amusement and simple messages about looking out for the people who care about you. The little ones will be charmed, while the parents think about watching Chicken Run and A Bug’s Life. (March 24, 11 a.m., Main Library)

Moonbeam Bear and His Friends


The story is almost unbearable—no pun intended—for anyone over the age of 8, following the efforts of an impossibly adorable bear to return the moon to the sky when he’s knocked down. Yet there’s also something uniquely interesting about the visual style, a brand of CGI animation that almost looks like watercolor paintings. That storybook sensibility carries it a long way, even if you might just be enduring the rest of it for your kids’ sake. (March 24, 9 a.m., Rose Wagner Center; March 25, 11 a.m., Rose Wagner Center)

Tiger Team


Or, The Goonies Go to China. For those who don’t remember the Spielberg-produced 1985 film—with plucky pre-teens on a dangerous ersatz-Raiders of the Lost Ark treasure hunt—that shorthand for this Austrian adventure probably doesn’t seem entirely complimentary. But there’s a moderate amount of fun in this tale of three young self-styled detectives—Luk (Justus Kammerer), Biggi (Helena Siegmund-Schultze) and Patrick (Bruno Schubert)—who stumble upon one of the keys to a legendary hidden palace in China that contains an immortality elixir. The kids aren’t given a ton of individual personality beyond their general resourcefulness, nor is their villainous adversary. What remains is a series of fights and chases through an exotic locale—mixed with pandas in peril—amiable enough without ever quite finding the wild spark needed to elevate the simple genre mechanics. (March 24, 3 p.m., Main Library)

Twitter: @ScottRenshaw

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About The Author

Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw has been a City Weekly staff member since 1999, including assuming the role of primary film critic in 2001 and Arts & Entertainment Editor in 2003. Scott has covered the Sundance Film Festival for 25 years, and provided coverage of local arts including theater, pop-culture conventions, comedy, literature,... more

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