Children’s Films in the 1970s and 1980s: Kids Grow Up

In the early 1970s, children’s films started to change. In addition to the happy and exciting adventure films made by director Henk van der Linden, there were also other films released with a different tone. In these films, children were confronted with real-life situations – issues from their own lives, such as love and grief, as well as social problems in the adult environment. The world was no longer portrayed as an idyll or a fantasy world where kids made up the rules. Instead, it was a world in which everyday reality played a major role.

Karst van der Meulen

The Danes and the Swedes were the first to begin making these new films. It all started with Ole Hellblom, whose films were based on children’s books written by Astrid Lindgren, including Pippi Longstockings which was made around 1970. These were films that mixed adventure with anarchy, in which kids weren’t hindered by grown-up conventions. Gradually, however, the social-realistic element in these films began to increase, and major dilemmas and problems were no longer avoided. The governments of these Scandinavian countries saw a role for themselves as advocates and supporters of children’s film. For example, starting in 1982 in Denmark, 25 percent of all film subsidies were reserved for children’s films.

In the Netherlands it was Karst van der Meulen who took the first step toward emancipating children’s film. In his films entertainment is combined with a message, and themes such as discrimination, prejudice and divorce are addressed seriously. These films fit in with the changes occurring in Dutch children’s literature, where authors such as Mies Bouhuys and Thea Beckman were combining serious themes with adventurous stories in a similar way. Van der Meulen, however, lacked the production opportunities that Denmark had. For every film project, he had to start from scratch and hope that he would be able to scrape together enough financing to be able to realise the film. He finally threw in the towel in 1989, after having made eight films and despite winning a Golden Bear at Berlin’s Berlinale. Kunst en vliegwerk would be his last film.

Van der Meulen’s films completely turned the tide for other directors working in the area of children’s film. This was particularly true for Ben Sombogaart who, along with Burny Bos, made a number of successful and award-winning films: Mijn vader woont in Rio, Het zakmes and De jongen die niet meer praatte. These expanded the prestige of Dutch children’s film even more than Van der Meulen’s films had, and paved the way for children’s film production to reach maturity.

Sol Film

In addition to Van der Meulen, Sol Film (Solidariteitsfilm), a collective in Breda, was also making children’s films. Originally part of another collective called De critische filmers (The Critical Filmers), Bob Entrop, Anneke Hopman and Marcel Siegmund founded Sol Film in 1979. Films such as Het feest en de grote leugen, Een gevoel van meer and De andere kant van de tunnel (1995) were produced by Sol Film, each of which centred around contemporary young adult themes. Discrimination and sexuality were treated in well-considered and realistic ways – and the viewer was forced to make choices.

A number of films produced by Sol Film were made in cooperation with young people. They determined the subject and the content together, and worked to realise the end result. The films were produced and distributed independently by Sol Film itself.

In contrast to Van der Meulen and Sombogaart – both of whom fit within the rich tradition of children’s films produced for the cinema – Sol Film’s roots were in the socio-cultural training of the 1970s; this was the alternative circuit of filmhouses and  youth associations to which social criticism and youth liberation were central.


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