13th Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival
Emoji summary: 🌚👀🌝
i had never been to a film festival before. in my head they were reserved for bougie people to see films away from the proles, 2 drink together and maybe visit casinos?? that or I thought they looked like tents set up in muddy fields for indie screenings attended by hardcore film lads. idk lol, they were just distant and funny and i never thought I’d go to one, but we got an email off Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival a month ago inviting us to be critics-in-residence and actually y not, fuck it, films, free holiday, where’s Berwick? The northernmost town in England, Berwick is smol, hilly and surviving without tesco expresses on any road/every other road. there r a fuck tonne of haberdasheries tho. everything closes at 5pm. it is wild. The festival largely takes place at the v nice venue The Maltings, with other video-focused exhibitions nearby. It was an EIGHTTTT minute walk from the cinema to the beach!! wot a dream. We found iridescent shells there one morning and i still have them curled up together in my pockets.
BFMAF put us up in a B&B n readied us with a genuinely beautiful programme designed by Emer Tumilty and Matthew Walkerdine. the guide had screening and exhibition information, a good map, a timetable and a note section at the back. it stayed in my hands the whole five days so i didn’t get overwhelmed. I’m home now and writing this review 4 0 f i l m s later, expanded and tired. tbh im a very interesting person now that I have been to a film festival. A mix of feature lengths and moving image work, u kno, art videos, the 13th BFMAF is a big rolling memory i get to keep. it was mAnY hours spent up on a cinema seat with my hoodie over my legs like a blanket, tryin to see as much as possible. And tho so much of that viewing has been lost downstream already, there are particular images and stories that have stayed with me.
My all-time festival fave was Stanya Kahn’s Stand in the Stream (2017) in which she pulls internet videos (from Ferguson and Tahrir Square, to a lil squirrel couple sleeping, a kid covered in peanut butter; almost Fail Army or Facebook genre at times) alongside things she’s filmed on her phone or screen-recorded (thank u for the level) to articulate different tones of crises as she watches her mother’s dementia have her laugh and shrink and die. that is a very long and twisty sentence, I’m sorry, but the film’s the same. it told a monumentally personal story without making the work into a weepy net-art montage essay. And it didn’t feel like it was aestheticising political trauma for the artist’s own story-telling gains. Everything felt consequential and eye of the storm, like the twitter user there for both breaking news and friendship woes. In using that vocabulary and narrative positioning, the film was generational. I am grateful it exists. ah. With Cláudia Varejão’s film i got that same *this is special* feeling in my chest. Ama-San (2016) tiptoes around these hard af Japanese women who dive to haul pearls and sea snails etc. Calm and athletic. It was more soft documentary than film;; like background noise, habitual, Keeping Up With The Ama-San. It never really started or finished, just let you in, let u see it happening.
and I thought, some films are like dreams u are allowed to remember. I kept crawling out of the cinema thinkin of clever comments I could make, ready for when the film population would ask, ‘What did you think? Did you enjoy it? Why, Why, Why,’ but more and more in that post-film state i could only ever whimper. my eyes were still adjusting. After I saw Dani Leventhal and Jared Buckhiester’s Hard As Opal (2015) I could just about repeat THAT WAS SO INTENSE and breathe out and let my fists unfurl. Hard As Opal presents a lesbian couple’s insemination journey alongside these horses mounting dummies so their sperm can be collected - on top of other vague stories. it was honestly confusing, very cool, affecting, HD. i don’t think writing about it will do it any justice, and that’s fine.
It’s okay to wait and think about these things. throughout the festival my thoughts were slow behind my eyes, like I was in a slipstream. and I think it was because I was deep into the tasting menu experience of handing over choice to the programmers. I didn’t know which film was coming next, and that was part of the fun. It felt grown up. Curator Herb Shellenberger invited Uzbekistan director Ali Khamraev to present three of his works across the 70s n 80s. I learnt what 35mm film felt like on my eyes; watched peacocks in trees, girls floating in rivers, and a melancholy NYE party on a train with strangers and ballerinas. And I would never in a million years have watched his film Man Follows Birds (1975) - I wouldn’t have known it existed - but it was so careful/tender/protective that now it is something I love.
the festival week was physical in a way i did not expect. Like, I was that scared of needing a wee and having to miss any part of a film that I stressfully weed at the beginning and end of everything no matter; and I also have spots on the bottom left of my face from where I was fixed leaning forward against my hand watching things all week, truly wtf. by the weekend i was exhausted even tho I’d been sitting down all week. and i love sitting down? i lost the will to talk about films, and anyone who still had the energy to do so sounded like they were showing off. the festival was workkk not a holiday, but I already know i’d do it again? I talkkk about art all the time I guess I forget how important it is to just be quiet, sit still, and pay attention to it. Going to the Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival was like good art school. it was vast, populated, emotional. I wondered if by the end of the week I’d be really good or bad at watching films n I am glad to say it’s the former. I have actually gained a skill. And like school, not everything got me going. I obviously didn’t appreciate everything I saw but weirdly i never felt like my time was wasted on the things I didn’t find value or enjoyment in, because when a film didn’t hold me I got meditative. it was such a win-win. films that bored me most n thus allowed me to find my centre included Mont Tesprateep’s Song X, Emre Hüner’s Juggernaut, Kamal Aljafari’s Recollection. thank u for the calm. And with some things I actively disengaged and played on my phone because I found them problematic (Let Us Persevere in What We Have Resolved Before We Forget by Ben Russell, 2013) or plain bad (I would like to visit Israel by Muhammad Khairi, 2017).
I didn’t love the artist-in-residence’s work either. Charlotte Prodger presented LHB (2017) but it felt too much like a commission, too formulaic, surface, built. It was hyped up and I was so excited but it was like, oh, taking an obscure topic you found on the internet and making a video to illustrate that, with a voice-over to explain it all. It needed a bit more flare, or I’m thinking it should probably be an episode of This American Life instead.
I’m sad I can’t write about the exhibitions in BFAMF but i also don’t think it’s my fault. Exhibitions were open 11-5 every day but films started at 11 and those went on into the evening. The schedule was already tight enough that we were panicking about when we’d eat lunch and dinner, and on a few days we didn’t get lunch until 4pm. super annoying because what I did see was exciting. Hardeep Pandhal’s show at The Gymnasium trojan horsed a hysterical leftie meme video into Berwick (which has a Conservative majority and also voted to Leave, the bastards) (Zarina is reviewing the exhibition next week so I wont get into it). it’s a no-brainer to have the exhibitions open at 10am, and give us time to eat, all I’m sayin. wait, no it’s not, one more schedule problemo. There were seminars each day, in-conversation moments to debrief on programming and exhibitions, that I think would have sat better if they were at the end of the week, after everyone had been given a chance to see what it was they were going to be discussing.
I loved the week. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much in so little time, but I was proud of myself for how I became focused and teachable in that setting. and honestly, who’d have known Berwick could b so international. power to the arts, tbh. I wanna come back next year but bring joggers and lunchables so that I win at going to a film festival. I fully expect to see things I both love n hate and are neutral over, but that’s wholesome and I wanna be there for the things I’m going to love. Finally, the tap water in Berwick is fucking excellent. VERY LONG REVIEW GOODBYE