Finding Felix: The Potential Impact of International Film on Childhood Autobiographical Memory

by Katy Kavanaugh

The Finding Felix Project is a work for screen and publication from curator and filmmaker Katy Kavanaugh.

A fellowship from Stanford University and the Freie Universität – Berlin allowed Katy to return to the Berlin Film Festival’s 35-year-old children and youth section, Generation (formerly Kinderfilmfest). There she would collect evidence of the directive impact that international films seen in childhood can have in shaping the breadth of a person’s worldview and their eventual life decisions.

This investigation focuses on one eleven-year-old film festival-goer, Felix, whom Kavanaugh met while serving on the Kinderfilmfest’s international jury in 2001. Ten years later, Kavanaugh wanted to know how a childhood full of international film memories influenced Felix’s life so far.

Qualitative interviews with Felix and 12 peers, all regular festival goers, reveal vivid memories, potential cornerstones upon which instinct can be built. An instinct, for instance, to identify resources beyond national borders. According to cognitive scientist David Pillemer, author ofMomentous Events, Vivid Memories (Harvard Press, 2002):

The idea of cornerstone memories of films, which influence the life course, is very intriguing and promising. It extends work on directive functions of autobiographical memory and also adds an interesting twist–the content is about someone else’s life or imagery, not your own, yet is influential and memorable nevertheless.

Kavanaugh’s research and earlier thesis project at Stanford shows that young audiences exhibit empathy for foreign characters in films, for the audience they are sharing the valuable experience with, and for the filmmaker who discusses the film with them afterward.

“Children want to know what other children in the world are doing.” – Ulla Hjorth-Jensen, consultant to the Danish Film Institute, known for its leading example in children’s media of dedicating 25% of state film funds to young audiences.

With her work, Kavanaugh aspires to increase the exchange of international stories about childhood told through cinema, so that the vital learning so potent in each film receives greater access, especially to those whose capacity to experience it firsthand through travel might be limited by health or economics.

Meanwhile, with help from Berlin-based media consultant Tina Toepfel and Gintare Malinauskaite, PhD, History at Humboldt Universität, Felix has been found and is now in post-production. To help meet its completion goal, please consider contributing via our fiscal sponsor,


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