Between the early 1950s and 1980s, a film company called The Children’s Film Foundation captured what being a child was all about. Their short films – usually running at under an hour – were aimed at younger audiences, primarily featuring children in the main roles with adults reduced to mere support. The resultant films provided a stepping stone into the world of acting for a number of future stars and were, needless to say, incredibly successful. Unfortunately, children’s cinema is a different game now; most of today’s young stars get their break in television or on the internet, meaning those first time, big screen opportunities are increasingly hard to find.
Which makes films like director Kenton Hall’s new kids’ comedy A Dozen Summers all the more significant. Made on a shoestring, and featuring two young first time actresses in the lead roles, this film goes back to what children’s filmmaking used to be all about – fun, with a message.
On their way to school one day, sisters Daisy (Hero Hall) and Maisie (Scarlett Hall) hijack a film that they see being made. Making themselves the new stars of the production, they lead the audience through their lives, dealing with the obstacles which everyday life throws at them, with comic and unexpected results.
A major attraction with films from The Children’s Film Foundation was the realism of many of the situations their young casts found themselves in. Though the stories were frequently peppered with elements of fantasy and the surreal, the core stories around which they were based involved family (whether that was children and their parents or brothers and sisters), friends, and the situations children typically face on a daily basis.
A Dozen Summers tries to replicate this realism for a contemporary audience. Aside from the interjection of a disembodied narrator (marvellously captured by ex Doctor Who star Colin Baker, the film’s most recognisable ‘name’), sudden occasions when Daisy and Maisie address the audience directly, and witty homages to classic horror movies, Jane Austen and Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, the majority of the film focuses on reality and the everyday difficulties which life throws at the siblings. The ways they deal with school bullies and burgeoning love lives, as well as those of their estranged parents, make for a storyline that will appeal to contemporary children simply because of its similarity and relevance to real-life.
Financial restrictions clearly forced the production team to make do with whatever came to hand, which only adds to the realism. Kenton Hall – who wrote, produced, directed and stars in the film – brings a wealth of experience to the production, having worked both behind and in front of the camera on numerous occasions. Much of the supporting cast, both adult and children, are also well established in the field of television and film. It is the twin sisters Hero and Scarlet Hall, however, who shine in the central characters of Daisy and Maisie. With a presence and confidence beyond their years, and no indication that this is their first time on screen, their performances can only herald promising futures for them both.
With modern film distribution being such a cutthroat business, it might be hard to see how independent films like A Dozen Summers will reach a wider audience. Lets hope they do, as they have a relevance more imaginatively conveyed than that in many more mainstream productions.
A Dozen Summers is released in limited UK cinemas on 21st August.