The 11th annual National Film Festival for Talented Youth, April 27-30, features more than 250 films. More than 40 percent are female-directed, and 17 percent come from Washington.

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The 11th annual National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY, pronounced “nifty”) begins Thursday with a sold-out opening gala and features more than 250 films from directors as young as 6.

But don’t get the wrong idea. Many of the filmmakers may be kids, but the films are anything but childish.

“I never want NFFTY just to be thought of as this cute little children’s film festival,” said executive director Stefanie Malone. “The films are challenging, and they’re oftentimes more creative and risky than films that I see elsewhere.”


National Film Festival for Talented Youth

April 27-30, SIFF Cinema Uptown and Cinerama. Day pass $23-$29; three-day pass $55-$75. VIP passes and individual screening tickets also available (

Consider the festival’s lineup of documentaries, which offer youthful perspectives on a host of thorny contemporary issues. Danish film “The New Europeans” explores the refugee crisis on the island of Lesbos, while locally made “La Fuerza Interna” details the efforts of Burlington farmworker union Familias Unidas por La Justicia.

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The festival’s closing night is dedicated to themes of social justice, with a program of films about the “struggles and desires” inherent in the American experience, including “Hell You Talmbout,” about Seattle’s Northwest Tap Connection.

“[The program] is edgy, and it’s uncomfortable at times, and it’s provocative, but it’s a really beautiful collection of films that I think are even more meaningful because they’re all [made] by younger filmmakers,” Malone said.

The festival accepts submissions from directors 24 and under, and this year represents its largest slate yet, winnowed down from more than 1,200 entries.

In Malone’s four years as festival director, a milestone has been reached each year: More than 40 percent of the films have been female-directed.

“Unfortunately, on the larger level, things haven’t gotten really better within the Hollywood industry, but at least I feel like NFFTY can do what we can to offer support,” she said.

The statistics back that up: Only 7 percent of 2016’s top-grossing domestic films were directed by women, according to research by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.

“The talent and the hunger is out there, but there [are] big cultural changes that are just going to have to get forced at a larger level,” Malone said.

The festival also focuses on showcasing local filmmakers, with 17 percent of this year’s lineup coming from Washington state.

Wynter Rhys, 18, who finished her associate of arts degree at Bellevue College as part of the Running Start program, will have her third film at NFFTY this year.

“Jouska” is a fragmented, surreal look at a man’s guilt, made for the 48 Hour Film Project. Rhys was assigned the theme “fish out of water,” but this is no comedy, instead combining lush design with horrific behavior.

For Rhys, who’s planning on making her first feature this summer, that juxtaposition is irresistible.

“I’m drawn to really uncanny aesthetics, [like] mixing nice things with grungy things,” she said. “I think nothing’s more beautiful than a woman in a pristine dress sitting on a toilet in a graffiti-covered stall.”

Returning for his sixth festival is Hadley Hillel, 21, who attended high school at the Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences, and is now a junior at Chapman University in Southern California. His short “Mirror” pokes fun at horror tropes before revealing itself as a more psychologically penetrating brand of chiller.

“There’s a reason I’ve come back six years in a row,” he said. “It’s just one of the most supportive, positive festival environments that I’ve ever been to. I’ve never seen a festival where audiences sing along with the trailer song and clap and cheer actively at every screening. Every year, it reminds me of why I love making movies.”