Neel Sethi, American Indian child actor during opening ceremony of Sharjah International Childrens Film festival 2018 at Al Jawaher Reception and Convention Centre, Sharjah. Image Credit: Arshad Ali/ Gulf News

Sharjah: The sixth edition of the Sharjah International Children’s Film Festival (SICFF) kicked off with a sense of wonder on Sunday evening, in the presence of His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, at Al Jawaher Reception and Convention Centre.

Honourees of the opening ceremony were Indian-American breakout actor Neel Sethi (Jungle Book), Emirati director Abdullah Al Kaabi (Only Men Go to the Grave) and Bahraini actress Haifa Hussain, who were recognised for their contributions to cinema.

“It’s a great opportunity. I’m very excited, I love it. I enjoy [film festivals] because I’m in front of many people, and I like being the centre of attention,” said 14-year-old Sethi, ahead of the ceremony.

The teen actor was acclaimed for his major acting debut as Mowgli in the 2016 Disney film Jungle Book. Sethi is preparing to start shooting a sequel when director Jon Favreau is ready, he said.

Meanwhile, Al Kaabi spoke to the importance of children’s perspectives in cinema and how much filmmakers can learn from their point of view. Formerly a SICFF jury member himself, Al Kaabi recalled how tough it was to choose between competing films.

“Their perspective is untainted. They have a pure, innocent outlook to life,” he said.

SICFF will run for six days until October 19 under the theme Think Cinema. It will present 138 movies, including 54 premieres. Some submissions come from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt and India.

The festival will also hold panel discussion for the first time, and more than 40 workshops.

Speakers will include the effects technical director of Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time, Sebastian Reichhold, who will share insights on the specialised techniques that went into the creation of the fantasy-adventure film.

“Fantasy is really important. It’s part of the reason I’m doing what I’m doing; the new technology age is very exciting for me, because we’re able to create almost every imagination we have in our heads,” said Reichhold.

Academy Award-nominee and Palestinian filmmaker Hani Abu Assad (Omar, Paradise Now) and Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al Mansour (Wadjda, Mary Shelley) will meanwhile sit on the SICFF feature film competition jury. Indian actress Karisma Kapoor will also be in attendance.

A selection of films will shine a light on refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Sudan and Ethiopia.

SICFF is organised by FUNN — Sharjah Media Arts for Youth and Children to encourage future generations of creative artists in the region to grow their skills.