LAHORE: James Norton is a paper plane champion and the inspiration behind the box office hit Australian family film PAPER PLANES. He is behind PAPER PILOTS, an education initiative that uses the simple concept of paper planes to educate and motivate students in schools and universities. James Norton is professional paper plane maker and inventor. He founded THE PAPER PILOTS in 2008 with his fellow competitor & business partner Dylan Parker after competing at the World Paper Plane Championships. Their child-like passion inspired the box office hit film and took the business on the road spreading the love for paper planes and flying the flag for ‘learning through play’. James is in Pakistan these days for the Lahore International Children’s Film Festival. In an exclusive interview with The Nation he talks about his career and success. Following are the excerpts of the interview:

Tell us about the Film Paper Planes? Who was the inspiration behind whole the story?

It is a film directed by Robert Connolly. The film deals with the themes which resonate with children, including negotiating with peers, dealing with bullies, being sportsmanlike and dreaming big. So, Dylan Parker & I both flew our way to the World Paper Plane Championships in Austria in 2009 which inspired Robert Connolly who picked up the story and made the film PAPER PLANES. We started to educate and inspire students across Australia. Dylan and I visit hundreds of schools across Australia and shared our innovative and inspiring story of success.

What inspired you?

In Australia hardly any children’s films are made but what the director thought was, that it would be a film made by Australian actors for Australian kids. Story telling in that sense is important for children in your country it give them a sense of self identity by having the heroes as Australian. It helps the children to relate and understand what their identity is. So, I think that was the perfect idea to make a family children film. We recognized that learning through play is one of the most powerful teaching tools. Using the simple concept of paper planes, THE PAPER PILOTS educate students on the science of flight and encourage students to develop their problem solving skills to design the perfect paper plane. The experience proved to us that if you pursue your interests and passions, you can make a career out of just about anything.

Do you think the film Paper Plane is inspiring the audience in Australia and as well in Pakistan?

Yes definitely! There are a lot of nice things in this film related to different age groups, to both the young & the young at heart. Children in Pakistan love paper planes as they love Patang. Many people see paper planes are a symbol of rebellion, but what people don’t realize is that there are also an object for learning and problem solving.

What difficulties did you have to face while shooting the film?

Well, I had to design and fold many of the paper planes for the different characters in the film. So, over the course of the film we had to fold more than 9,000 paper planes which was the difficult while shooting the film.

How has been the response to the film and your workshops in Pakistan?

The response in Pakistan is tremendous. Children from different schools are coming to the LICFF and enjoying the films. I'm running some paper plane workshops and talking about the importance of Film and the Arts in education.

It is a pretty progressive event for Pakistan. Kids are shown films from around the world (& from Pakistan) & afterwards in an open forum they are asked to share what they thought of the themes in the films and what they think of them from their context. It is pretty amazing not just as a concept but for its openness in asking children to share their opinions on the various topics that are raised (big and small).

Set this against the difficulties of trying to organise such an event in a very security conscious environment, it is really amazing, THE LITTLE ART who organise the event do an amazing job. 

Is it harder to get started or to keep going?

When I was growing up I didn’t have any walls, fences or  boundaries where I lived. This instills a determination to challenge yourself, to cross boundaries. After crossing that a new boundary opens up that’s what makes life interesting.

What films have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?

Well, there are many films here at LICFF such as that by the french director called Chloe Lesueur. She has a beautiful film titled ‘TIS’ which is going to be showcased in Little Art Film Festival. A film I like that has influenced me was a very old French film ‘My Mother’s Castle’ and ‘My Father’s Glory’. These films were all about the children going to the holiday destinations of their parents. The film could capture the sense of wonder when you are young, that is something which everyone can relate to.

The film won award for best children film at Jerusalem Film Festival. Share your experience.

Well the film did very well at the Australian box office – landing in the top 5 most successful films in Australia in 2015. The film has won a series of awards including ‘Best Original Screenplay’ by the Australian Academy of Cinema, Television and Arts Awards (AACTA). It always feels good when your work is appreciated in other countries and my experience is Lahore is brilliant because I get to see that children watch the film and then THE LITTLE ART opens up the floor as an open forum for the kids to make comments and give their reviews.

Would you like to share about your upcoming projects?

I’m making a film about my experience in Hunza and Skardu and capturing the beautiful moments from that trip.