The first of the day's many jolts arrived at about 9:05 a.m. Several dozen producers, writers and researchers for American children's television had barely taken their seats in a basement screening room across the street from the United Nations. Soon after the lights dimmed, the screen filled with a group of children gathered in a wood shop. Completely unsupervised by adults, they unsteadily but zestfully wielded saws, hammers and nails to build miniature houses in a cheerfully produced segment from the German program "Ene Mene Bu" ("And It's Up to You").
Audible gasps and murmurs rippled through the crowd as the children managed to escape injury. More soon followed as a ukulele-toting man sang to a boy and girl about the risks of swimming in disease-ridden floodwaters in a Thai show called "Vitamin News"; human-size grains of rice burst into a Busby Berkeley-worthy musical number in "Fun With Japanese"; and a Dutch girl tried cheering up her grief-stricken grandmother by giving her a radical haircut in "The Hairdressing."
Such is the globe-spanning swirl of the Prix Jeunesse Suitcase, an intensive series of screenings and discussions of children's programming. Suitcases are held around the world in dozens of global markets (including, this spring, in Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles) as a complement to the Prix Jeunesse festivals in Munich, which are held every two years. Usually full-day affairs, they combine screenings of dozens of clips or full shows largely unavailable online or on home video, with conversation about the shows' development, style and impact.