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Chicago International Children's Film Festival 

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The 22nd annual festival runs Friday, October 28, through Sunday, November 6, with weekend programs at Facets Cinematheque, 1517 W. Fullerton, and the Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble. Tickets are $8, $6 for children, and $5 for Facets members; for more information call 866-468-3401. A full festival schedule is available at www.cicff.org.

The two strongest live-action features, both from Germany, deftly combine comic fantasy with lessons about family and personal responsibility. In My Brother Is a Dog (2004, 86 min.) a young girl pines for a puppy and neglects her naughty little brother; after a magic spell turns him into a cute terrier, she's all smiles--until the arrival of her dog-hating grandmother (Fassbinder mainstay Irm Hermann). The story's moral about balancing obligations to others and oneself is delivered with charm and style by director Peter Timm. (Sun 10/30, 3 PM, Facets Cinematheque)

At first glance Bibi Blocksberg and the Secret of the Blue Owls (2004, 109 min.) may seem like Germany's answer to Harry Potter, but the characters, created by children's author Elfie Donnelly, predate J.K. Rowling's by two decades. Sent to a boarding school in an ancient mountain town, the title witch (Sidonie von Krosigk) is trailed by a grown-up rival (Corinna

Harfouch) who seeks to revive her black magic by navigating a legendary maze hidden beneath the school. Harfouch, so chilling as Magda Goebbels in Downfall, shows a flair for light comedy here, as do costars Katja Riemann (Rosenstrasse) and Ulrich Noethen (The Harmonists) as Bibi's parents. Franziska Buch directed. (Sun 10/30, 1 PM, Facets Cinematheque)

The Spanish animation Midsummer Dream (80 min.) rivals Hollywood in its ambition (though the CGI isn't quite as good). The story works like an Iberian cross between the Shakespeare play and Peter Pan: hoping to cure her ailing father, a spunky princess travels with her two suitors to the Neverland-ish realm of Queen Titania. The characterization is excellent, especially that of Oberon the goblin king and Mustard, the movie's plump answer to Tinkerbell. Angel de la Cruz and Manolo Gomez directed. (Sat 10/29, 5 PM, Facets Cinematheque)

Of the many shorts programs, two are definite crowd-pleasers. "Jet Set" (75 min.) includes Robotman vs. Ochomonster, a goofy animation/live-action combo about what happens during two kids' Florida vacation; the Belgian live-action fantasy Crossing the Line (2004), in which a boy and girl take a dream journey to Toyland; and the Canadian 2-D animation Mind Me Good Now!, about a brother and sister who stray into a dark forest. (Sun 10/30, 11 AM, Facets Cinematheque) A rare treat is "Czech This Out: Animation Gone Wild!" (80 min.), a retrospective of work from the renowned Zlin Film Studios. Caterwauling (1987) is the most delightful of the bunch, a cat-and-mouse comedy that also comments wittily on the medium of clay animation. (Sun 10/30, 5 PM, Facets Cinematheque)

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