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Discover the film buff in you and your class

The Discovery Children's Film Festival makes a welcome return to Dundee Contemporary Arts and Stirling's Macrobert centre this week.

Innovative programming, top guests and the enthusiasm of its team of young consultants have established it as the flagship event for children's cinema and moving image education in Scotland.

The 2005 line-up features some of the best of children's cinema, including the latest from Roman Polanski. His adaptation of Oliver Twist appears alongside the opening night film The Colour of Milk by the Norwegian director Torun Lian, the Dutch fantasy Pluk and His Tow Truck and Luis Mandoki's Innocent Voices, presenting a child's-eye view of the horrors of El Salvador in the 1980s.

Given Polanski's own child's-eye view of the Holocaust, his film (whose star, Barney Clark, bears more than a passing resemblance to the director) promises to be a mixture of realism and enchantment.

These qualities also characterise films such as Zafir, a contemporary girl meets horse fable tinged with bereavement, familial tensions and refugees.

Another Danish film, Kick 'n' Rush, sees a group of cheerful delinquents forced to grow up as they are faced with the consequences of their behaviour.

This mixture of grit and magic makes Discovery a challenging and entertaining experience for its young audience. As 16-year-old Macrobert consultant Alasdair Hunter says: "Discovery is a unique opportunity to see loads of great films, films that deal with the lives of young people today."

Only in its second year, Discovery is finding a distinct identity.

"We're getting a clearer idea of what we want to be and help others to be," explains festival co-ordinator Joe Morton. "The real need is to look at how moving image education and commercial activity can feed each other."

Accordingly, most educational events are tied in to industry events, bringing educators together with filmmakers. It also accounts for the distinctly Danish flavour to Discovery 2005.

"We're at the point they were at 20 years ago," says Ms Morton. "Here, we want kids to get on too quickly with becoming earners and consumers. In Denmark, the experience of childhood is valued through its cinema."

Given her way, the fruitful partnership between Scotland and Denmark that brought us films such as Breaking the Waves and Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself would be echoed in the field of moving image and film education, where Denmark has a reputation as formidable as its current cinema.

Collaborations between industry and education have resulted in initiatives such as Station Next, which gives Danish students direct access to industry knowledge and expertise."

If she sounds a little envious, then she can surely be forgiven; winning over Scotland's filmmakers and educators has not always been easy. There is a stigma attached to children's filmmaking (readers may remember the Friday screenings of films by the Children's Film Foundation on the BBC, all flares, big collars and Bernard Cribbens), while the existence of Discovery is owed in part to the ongoing debate over the place of the moving image in mainstream education.

This is why leading lights from the Danish film industry, such as Ulrich Breuning of the Danish film institute and Zafir director Malene Vilstrup, will join the debate with lessons from the Danish experience.

The timing could hardly be better. The Government is set to announce its UK media literacy strategy and there are encouraging signs that the Scottish industry is willing to listen.

"Iain Smith (producer of Local Hero and Cold Mountain) was very taken with the aims of Discovery and has pledged his support," says Ms Morton. The festival also boasts a list of powerful backers: Scottish Screen, the Scottish Arts Council, the Educational Institute of Scotland and the BBC, among others.

With the gala premiere of Tartan Smalls in Dundee, a visit from Buena Vista International's Miake Haas to the Macrobert, a series of workshops for teachers and pupils, Discovery 2005 promises much excitement. One young critic has given it "100 per cent out of 100 per cent".

Discovery will be at DCA and the Macrobert centre from September 19 to October 4, then will go on

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