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FESTIVAL OF CHILDREN'S FILMS STRAYS FAR FROM FANTASYLAND

Belma crossed a mine field and dodged snipers' artillery in her flight from Bosnia's battle grounds. But the war intruded on her Danish refuge, and the teenager watched in anguish as her father was arrested for the brutal beating of an accused war criminal.

Emina left her Bosnian village to study in Sarajevo, and was unable to join her family when they fled to Denmark after her father was released by Bosnian Serb captors. Years later, they were reunited.

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One is a movie.The other is real life. The two stories were joined in the Danish film "Belma," typical of offerings at the 19th Berlin children's film festival that defy the happy fantasy world of so many Hollywood movies for children.

"Belma" stars Emina Isovic, a Bosnian teenager who was living in refugee housing when she was cast for the role, and the film is as much the story of a war refugee as it is a tale of first romance, says director, Lars Hesselholdt.

"It's hard to say which is the meat and which is the potatoes. You could say the coming-of-age story is a vehicle for the other story," he says.

Like "Belma," many of the movies shown at the recent festival did not take place in mythical lands where children call on powerful beasts or supernatural forces to aid them.

Though the films portray events more often seen on the news, they also contain universal themes of children's films: first love, loyal friends, the loneliness of being new.

"It doesn't matter if you live in a part of the world that is war-torn or a part of the world that is economically depressed. I think the value is that kids see themselves up there on the screen," says jury member Jane Schoettle.

The Berlin festival winner, "My Friend Joe," a British-Irish-German movie starring Sissy Spacek's daughter, Schuyler Fisk, is perhaps the best candidate for wide release in the United States, Ms. Schoettle says.

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The difficult themes presented in some of the other movies shown here give them less commercial potential in the American market, festival participants said.

But "My Friend Joe" director, Chris Bould, says the films had a universal quality lacking in many adult films. "It has nothing to do with adult films. It's not about 'Seven' or 'Heat' or 'Casino.' All of the people in the world are not gangsters, prostitutes, or hit men. But we were all children."


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