Sometime in its seven years of existence, The Loft Cinema's childrens' film festival became a highly-anticipated annual tradition not only for the theater, but for Southern Arizona's youngest, most precocious film fans as well.

That's not to say that older, more experienced filmgoers can't enjoy this nine-day celebration of cinema, which changed its name this summer to the Loft Kids Fest.

The old moniker, the Tucson International Children's Film Festival, was a "mouthful" and needed refreshing, according to the Loft's program director Jeff Yanc.

The festival's format has remained essentially the same: a full week of kid-friendly films ranging in genres from silent to stop-motion to '90s nostalgic.

The screenings, however, are only the tip of the iceberg in what the fest has to offer to young theater-goers.

Pre-show games and activities courtesy of Mildred and Dildred Toy Store, as well as a daily $50 gift certificate giveaway, elevate each day's programming to a truly immersive experience. The activities are specifically tailored to the movie they precede (a flatulence imitation contest before the "Shrek" screening, for example, is sure to succeed).

"It's so Tucson, because it's really quirky and there's going to be a lot of silly elements to it, but it's still really educational and fun," says Mildred and Dildred owner Autumn Ruhe.

Education may be fleeting elsewhere during the summer months, but is an easy result where sponsors like Children's Museum Tucson, Friends of the Pima County Public Library and newcomer Trail Dust Town are involved.

Every year a film based on a classic children's book is screened - this time, Roald Dahl's "Matilda" - to "promote literacy," and stimulate interest in Tucson's public libraries, Yanc says.

A day at the Kids Fest is hardly as structured as a day in the classroom. Impromptu games, costumed appearances and other surprises are the norm, and each day of programming can be more unpredictable than the next. Still, some traditions are tried-and-true, like opening the fest each year with a singalong film.

"From the very beginning, we want this to be about more than just watching movies," Yanc says.

While many of the films may be familiar to parents and older kids, younger attendees are exposed to a brand new, sequel-free lineup that can "really open up doors to other kinds of film," according to Yanc.

This goal of diversity is nothing new for the Loft, he says, and is possible largely because the kids don't have the same "hang-ups" as adults about foreign-language films and other unconventional methods of storytelling.

"There's just so many great films that are coming from outside the U.S. that just never play here on a wide level," including this year's picks, "The Painting" and "A Town Called Panic," Yanc says. "Parents seem to thank us the most for showing those films they've never heard of."

Sparking a new generation's interest in cinema is a long-term objective, but helping families have fun together has immediate benefits as well. Yanc says being able to partner with sponsors to host a free community event was the impetus for starting the fest, and the Loft has no intention of changing that.

"Some of the best, most touching stories I hear are when parents say that this is the main thing they do with their kids over the summer because they can't afford to take their kids to the mall," Yanc says. "That's really gratifying when they say, thank you for ... giving my kids something to do over the summer. So it being free is essential."

If You Go

Loft Kids Fest

•What: Now in its seventh year, the festival includes games, activities and giveaways courtesy of Mildred and Dildred Toy Store before every screening.

Loft Kids Fest Kick Off At Trail Dust Town

•When: 5:30 p.m. Friday.

•What: A screening of short film "The Adventures of Loop and Rhett," musical entertainment, face-painting, balloon animals and more.

•Where: The Savoy Opera House at Trail Dust Town, 6541 E. Tanque Verde Road.

•Cost: Free.

Festival lineup

• When: 10 a.m. daily Saturday through July 28. Arrive early as seating is limited.

• Where: The Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway.

• Cost: Free admission and free popcorn; all ages (children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult).

•Saturday: "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" singalong; free small Eegee's drinks after the film.

•Sunday: "Matilda"; free books courtesy of the Friends of the Pima County Public Library.

•Monday: "The Point"; pre-show games and fun with Mildred and Dildred Toy Store.

• Tuesday: "The Painting"; a special painting activity hosted by Children's Museum Tucson.

• Wednesday: "The Land Before Time"; "Be a Paleontologist" with University of Arizona teacher and "dinosaur discoverer" Rich Thompson.

• Thursday: "A Town Called Panic"; Old West stunt performance with the Pinnacle Peak Pistoleros on the patio.

• Friday: Charlie Chaplin's "The Kid"; bonus short film and create-your-own mustache and hat with Mildred and Dildred Toy Store.

• Saturday: "Looney Tunes" on the big screen; free baby carrots courtesy of Whole Foods.

• Sunday: "Shrek"; free small Eegee's drinks while supplies last.

• More information:, 795-0844.

Kate Newton is a University of Arizona journalism student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at