Celebrating Children Who Take Action

INTERVIEW. It can be tempting to tell sad stories about children growing up in distant lands under conditions far removed from our own. But doing that, Jens Pedersen says, is to fail both them and us. The director's documentary series, 'Kids on the Silk Road,' shows a reality that might even teach us something. IDFA Competition for Kids & Docs 2017

4. Musik i blodet - forside

KIDS ON THE SILK ROAD. 'Music in my Blood' about Ravi is one of five films in Jens Pedersen's series about children in Central and South East Asia. Photo: Jens Pedersen

Jens Pedersen was at IDFA in 2013 with a short film about Afghan children, 'Faith Hope Afghanistan.' Now he's back at the big documentary festival with two films from his 'Kids on the Silk Road' series, 'Music in my Blood' and 'Life is a Beach,' premiering internationally in the Kids & Docs competition programme.

I saw a rich and varied life for kids in countries where conditions are a lot tougher than they are back in Denmark, and where kids grow with the challenges in incredible ways.

Following five children in five different countries, the series was made over two years in close partnership with filmmakers and researchers in Mongolia, India, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal and Bangladesh. But the focus is less on geography and more on the characters' growth.

"I saw a rich and varied life for kids in countries where conditions are a lot tougher than they are back in Denmark, and where kids grow with the challenges in incredible ways," Jens Pedersen says about his series.

Kids with Big Aspirations

Dreams are a major theme of all five shorts in the series – including 'Music in my Blood' and 'Life is a Beach." These two films introduce us to 13-year-old Ravi and 11-year-old Javed, respectively, two boys who are working hard to achieve their goals.

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'Music in my Blood' from 'Kids on the Silk Road' by Jens Pedersen. Photo: Jens Pedersen

Ravi, in India, dreams of breaking an ancient family tradition and pursuing his own musical ambitions, while Javed's dream of becoming a surfing star in Bangladesh suffers a blow when he is informed he will be kicked out of his surf club unless he returns to school, having dropped out.

"Wherever you are in the world, there will always be kids who rise to the challenge of life and manage to create positive change for themselves. This is what these films are about: a tribute to children who act on their passion," Pedersen says.

"They insist on shaping their own future, and create a narrative as they begin to move toward a goal."

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'Life is a Beach' from 'Kids on the Silk Road' by Jens Pedersen. Photo: Jens Pedersen

No Victimising

The director's main aim was to make films that an audience of children will experience as fascinating and engaging.

"I don't like victimisation stories, because they create distance. A lot of children in our part of the world almost only see negative images of children in non-Western countries, often because NGOs and others need to raise money and find it appropriate to show people looking very unresourceful," Pedersen says.

"So, we don't see those who have skills and ambitions, which gives us a wrong image of people as pathetic. I don't want to feed that image. For me, it's interesting to point out places where children can inspire each other," says the filmmaker •


About the films

'Kids on the Silk Road' is directed by Jens Pedersen and produced by Maria Stevnbak Westergren for Pedersen & Co., in partnership with Toolbox Film. The series, which is supported by the Danish Film Institute, premiered in Denmark in August on national broadcaster DR. International sales are handled by Pedersen & Co.

The director's previous children's series, 'Faith Hope Afghanistan' (2013), also screened at IDFA.

IDFA premiere

The two films from the series, 'Music in my Blood' and 'Life is a Beach,' will have their international premiere in IDFA's Kids & Docs competition. 'Girl against Gravity,' from the same series, has been selected for the Child Rights programme.

Meanwhile, at IDFA Forum, producer Maria Stevnbak Westergren will be pitching season 2 of the series, 10 new films to be directed by Jens Pedersen, Kaspar Astrup Schröder and Simon Lereng Wilmont.

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