The Council of Europe proclaimed 1988 as the European Year of Film and Television.

This decision was taken by the Council and the Ministers of Cultural Affairs in 1986 on the following grounds:

  • Audiovisual media are among the most important means for transferring information and cultural knowledge to European citizens and contribute to the reinforcement of European cultures and European identity;
  • Europe must take part in the production and distribution of audiovisual products in order to contribute to the foundations of a unique union of European cultures.

That year, it already became clear that 10 years after the “International Year of the Child” (1979) the Convention on the Rights of the Child would finally be drafted and ratified. This was achieved in 1989.
National organizations in the field of children’s and youth films considered these international events to be the perfect occasion for putting their heads together and for meditating on the possibility of an “international festival for children’s and youth films” in Belgium. We actually say Belgium as besides the organizers of Jeugdbioscoop Antwerpen and representatives of Jekino Films, our colleagues from Action Ciné Jeunes were also members of the brainstorming team.

In addition to a range of activities (distribution, screenings, educational activities, …) the initiators wanted to organize an annual festival for children’s and youth films. Antwerp was to be the festival location, the festival was to be called the “European Children’s and Youth Film Festival”. We decided on this name as the festival would fully endorse the objectives of the Council of Europe and so as to take up a unique position. Many “international children’s film festivals” did already exist; a festival screening only European films, was something unique and would distinguish our festival from the majority of the festivals.

The first edition of the European Children’s and Youth Film Festival was held at cinema Cartoon’s in 1989. At that time, a non-profit organization had not yet been established; the festival was organized by Jeugdbioscoop Antwerpen, Jekino Films and arts centre De Rix in Deurne under the guidance of Hugo Elsemans. Felix Vanginderhuysen selected the festival films.

Taking this first step was the most important aspect: the rest is a varied history of staff members and locations.
Hugo Elsemans continued to lead the festival for 5 years; subsequently it was Jan Vandierendonck’s turn to lead the festival and to select the films. Another five years later he was succeeded by Katrijn Korten who dedicated herself to the further development of the festival for six years. Thereafter the festival experienced a high staff turnover, but Pieter Boeckx and Lien Meeuws have not slipped our minds. In 2008 Iris Verhoeven, Tine Van Dycke and Mieke Vanderhaeghen brought the Youth Film Festival to a successful 20th anniversary edition under the wings of Jeff the film bug. When Tine Van Dycke decided to fully concentrate on Lessen in het Donker, Tom Van de Velde joined the team as festival coordinator in Bruges. When Tom left together with Mieke Vanderhaeghen in 2011, they both remained actively committed to the Youth Film Festival as members of the Board of Directors. At present, the festival is flourishing thanks to Iris Verhoeven (business director) and Bregt Van Wijnendaele (artistic director).

The festival has moved several times and has been organized at a range of venues in the Antwerp metropolitan area, even underground. After several festival editions at Cinema Cartoon’s, the festival was held at the following venues: the Brabo-Tijl-Wapper Cinema in the basement of the City Center near Keyserlei, the Antwerp Film Museum at the Royal Palace on the Meir, Arts Centre De Rix in Deurne, Arts Centre De Kern in Wilrijk, Metropolis, UGC and MuHKA_media, later Cinema Zuid.

It is no mere coincidence that we will move the Antwerp festival centre to HETSTEEN for our 25th anniversary. The oldest building of the city has been given a child-friendly makeover under the care of HETPALEIS and was renamed “HETSTEEN der wijzen”, an active think tank for young dreamers, thinkers and doers. The perfect location for the Youth Film Festival. The main cinema is located within a stone’s throw of the new festival centre: a symbolic return to Cinema Cartoon’s is a fact. Cut the Crap, the festival section for youngsters, still takes place at the well-known Cinema Zuid.

The expansion and decentralization of the festival to Bruges can be considered as a striking characteristic of the festival history. In 1999, an enthusiastic group of young people from Bruges (Q-tag) proposed to expand the European Youth Film Festival to Cinema Lumière. The enthusiasm of these young people gave the Youth Film Festival two equivalent locations in Flanders. In 2009 the festival in Bruges expanded to Cinema Liberty. The competition films will still be screened at Cinema Lumière. We are proud to announce that besides the 25th anniversary of the festival in Antwerp we will also be celebrating the 15th festival edition in Bruges.

In addition to staff members and locations, films are of course of the utmost importance for a film festival. We take pride in saying that the European Youth Film Festival has been the starting point for many European productions which are indelibly printed in our memories, for instance Into the West (IE), Killer (FR), The falcon’s Summer (DE), Lazarus (PL), Eye of the Eagle (DK), Only clouds move the Stars (NO), The Italian (RU) and many other magnificent films. A thousand films have been screened in Antwerp and Bruges, some of which have actually been distributed in Belgium or have been shown on Flemish television.

Over the years the Youth Film Festival has grown into an organization that collaborates on several projects besides the actual festival. In Bruges the festival often cooperates with Brugge Plus: During Films at the Beach and Step aside we screen European youth films and organize several workshops. In Antwerp we join forces with Stichting Lezen, Jekino and Cinema Zuid for the Film and Book Festival, and collaborate with theatre group Luxembourg for the social-artistic project Picnic at the Neighbours,… In Ghent we organize Ciné Kadee, a media and film festival for children, in cooperation with Circa.

But the most remarkable project is probably Film Fun in Bed in cooperation with Bednet and several hospitals in Flanders. We want to give all children an opportunity to enjoy the Youth Film Festival. Therefore a selection of festival films will be streamed live to children with restricted mobility. Each film will be introduced by the children’s jury and all Film Fun in Bed viewers will be able to vote for their favourite films.
Over the past 25 years the group of friends who started the festival, has grown into a non-profit organization, the “European Youth Film Festival of Flanders”. Thanks to the support of the European Union, the Flemish Community, the province of Antwerp, the province of West-Flanders and the cities of Antwerp and Bruges, the European Youth Film Festival has achieved an important and distinct position in the international film scene.