Anne-Marie Marquess rates the films at NI's international festival for young folk

My first experience of Cinemagic began on an early Sunday morning in mid November, with the unearthing of the Lost Treasure of the Knights Templar. What struck me as the movie began was that most of the central characters were children.

Well of course, Cinemagic is a film festival for children. But more than that, the film unfolds through the eyes of the children, with the adult characters on the outside. It was one of several foreign language films that formed part of the festival and took place in Denmark, with interesting elements centring around the concept that the Holy Grail and the Ark of the Covenant were hidden by The Knights Templar, on the Baltic Sea island of Bornholm.

Elements of the Da Vinci Code mix with the youthful energy of Enid Blytons’ Famous Five, the round churches in Bornholm forming a sacred geometry, holding keys that unlock hidden secrets and esoteric knowledge. The film is like a beginner's guide to the Knights Templar, with reference to Friday the 13th (and why it’s unlucky), the ark of the covenant, symbology, history and mystery.

When I saw the Black Brotherhood, consisting of grown men in black hooded cloaks on motorbikes, chasing children on bikes through the villages, I wondered why nobody in the neighbourhood blinked an eyelid. This wasn’t Knights Templar in Hollywood blockbuster style but more like real children trying to unravel mysteries and take on the bad guys, as well as dealing with relationships, loss and witnessing a murder.

What is fascinating is that the film has credibility and roots in reality. As the credits roll, we are told that there is still a church in Bornholm thought to contain underground secrets, but nobody has ever been granted permission to unearth them.

Next on the Cinemagic agenda was The Bridge to Terabithia, and Q&A session with American special effects master Brian Freisinger. Freisinger has worked on many high-profile films including The Matrix and Constantine, the session attracting a full house, with rows of children drafted in.

At first I was alarmed at the two rows of noisy kids sitting in front of me. But my apprehension dissolved with the entertaining and enthusiastic questions. “Where do you live?”  “Are you a millionaire?” and “Have you got a girlfriend?”

When the film started the kids were remarkably quiet and well behaved, enjoying what turned out to be a beautiful film. The two central characters were children, but any adult would enjoy the film. It has one of the saddest movie moments I have ever seen, and you leave feeling quite melancholy.

The book of The Bridge to Terabithia was banned upon its release in 1972, considered too shocking for a general audience. The film was not what I expected. It was much better. I was expecting a sugar-coated fantasy but what I saw was fantasy as an escape from reality into a world of imagination, and then as a bridge to move beyond extreme pain and suffering. This film will move you.

On my next outing, Al Gore revealed An Inconvenient Truth, an informative, well-researched documentary on the dangers of global warming, as well as giving an insight into the psyche of the former vice president.

The film was eye-opening. Global warming is a pressing issue. At the end, we are told how we, as individuals, can help reduce global warming and the website appears on screen. This gives us something to work from in our bid to help reduce our individual contribution to this problem.

The story of Hansel and Gretel is much darker than I had ever remembered. Two children abandoned into the forest, with no food or shelter by a wicked stepmother. Big budget blockbusters and Disney or Pixar animations are all very good, but this film captures the darkness of the fairytale much better, appearing truer to the core of the story.

A tale of Germanic origin, set and filmed in Germany, the witch is macabre and menacing. She isn't your typical cackling, black-clad crone, yet much more sinister. She doesn’t need to be dressed in black for us to sense the darkness. This film explored the fear, danger and the darkness that lie in fairytales. Perfectly paced, you really feel for the children fending for themselves.

In stark contrast, my Cinemagic experience finished on a much lighter note when Bee Movie flew on to the screen. A vibrant, multicoloured animation from Dreamworks about the adventures of a bee who goes into the big bad world, falls for a human girl, and eventually takes people to court for the exploitation of bees and the stealing of their honey. This was entertaining, humorous, and definitely one for the kids.

Film festivals like Cinemagic deserve support, as they offer a chance to see non-mainstream movies you might not see elsewhere. It is refreshing.

The children in the films I watched represented strong characters, who fought adversity in various guises and found the inner strength to deal with things and conquer them. Good role models for kids. And although pitched at younger audiences, adults who support Cinemagic will find the films just as enjoyable - so make a date for Cinemagic in 2008.