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Review: Nottingham International Film Festival 2020

6 December 20 words: Roshan Chandy

Roshan Chandy reports from the online Nottingham International Film Festival, whose format could signal the future for film festivals worldwide.

In the midst of a pandemic and lockdown, there was a film festival. That being the 2020 Nottingham International Film Festival which took place between Friday 13 and Sunday 15 November. It would usually take place at the Nottingham Contemporary Art Gallery in the heart of Hockley with Wild Clothing selling popular movie wear and Revolution Bar serving Margaritas.

But no. There was no red carpet or bucket load of stars at this festival. For the first time in its four-year history, NOTTIFF went online. Being a writer for LeftLion, I was granted a code that offered me free access to this year’s official selection. It was quite an experience - my first time watching movies ahead of their official releases You’d book yoconfirmation email would follow with details about your upcoming screenings. Upon receiving my inviations to each virtual screening via email, I just clicked the link at the advised start time, snuggled up in my PJs and nestled around my laptop for movie time. The link would disappear two hours after the start time - obviously to prevent piracy.

The films, let’s face it, weren’t the best Nottingham has ever offered. But, this year, the festival wasn’t really about the movies - more about the future of film festivals themselves.

Compare my experience watching NOTTIFF movies online with attending the Broadway Cinema practically every day for two weeks to view London Film Festival screenings of their own official selection. I’ve never been to a film festival in person before so the Broadway screenings were something of an eye-opener for me. Even though I wasn’t in London with the stars and film-makers, I was watching their video introductions on the screen shortly before the films aired.

That professional context continued at NOTTIFF which was my first experience of watching film festival movies online. I do wonder whether this will increasingly become the future for film festivals worldwide. Whether, in this age of Covid and pandemics, people will even have the appetite to book physical film festival tickets and attend the red carpet premieres in person. It’s certainly safer to watch movies in the comfort of your own home.

Either way, the 2020 Nottingham Film Festival was a reminder that film festivals have to move in with the times. The digital age has arrived and watching movies on websites or streaming services may be the new frontier and we might as well get used to it. So, without further ado, here's what I thought of NOTTIFF's official selection of features...

Director: Jonni Zicoltz
NOTTIFF kicked off with Snowland, an Israeli film about two young men grappling with the loss of two major loves - a wife and a daughter. It’s set against the backdrop of another Israeli war in Tel Aviv and features some retina-scorching, pretty stunning Israeli scenery. We don’t often see much of Israel on film and it was certainly nice to see Tel Aviv’s romanticised skyline light up my computer screen. The issues that this film deals with such as the Israeli war could easily feel exclusive to Israel, but this is a widely accessible film about men mourning the loss of loved ones which I’m sure many people will relate to.

The Marina
Directors: Étienne Galloy and Christophe Levac
This French-Canadian YA romance is a lovely story about a 19-year-old wakeboarder (Remi Goulet) retreating to Chambly where he meets Juliette (Rose-Marie Perreault) - a young employee of the local marina. Goulet and Perreault have some lovely chemistry and this movie is exactly the kind of breezy, light-hearted escapism we’ve been craving ever since this Covid crisis began. The most innocent pleasure of this year’s NOTTIFF.

My Blood is Red
Directors: Various
This documentary about a young indigenous rapper trying to make sense of the violence inflicted on his people is harrowing, incendiary viewing. It’s a tale of a disenfranchised Brazil which has urgent contemporary relevance under the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro which is leaving the way of life of indigenous Brazilians increasingly under threat. There’s some brilliant, punky hip-hop, great interviews and archive footage which really beautifully films the Amazon rainforest which is increasingly in danger.

Zu den Sternen
Director: Nicolai Tegeler
This German drama follows a former East German rock singer accused by his ex-band colleague of being the “IM singer” who gave him up to the Stasi at the time - decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. A substantial bulk of this film’s running time takes place in the basement of rock singer Marco Hoffman’s home and concerns the conspiratorial meeting between these two “blood brothers”. The setting could easily feel very televisual, but the tense performances and well-positioned camera angles give this a highly cinematic feel.

Veterans Journey Home: Leaving it on the Land
Director: Frederick Marx
In this slightly televisual documentary, a dozen military veterans take part in a twelve-day Native American-style Vision Quest ceremony in the desert of Washington. This includes four days solo fasting on the land with only water and little shelter. It’s a kind of Bear Grylls’ survivor adventure with some nice insights about PTSD and post-military life - but I couldn’t help but wonder whether it would look better screening on Channel 4.

A Space in Time
Director: Nick Taussig and Riccardo Servini
Another documentary which would look better on TV is A Space in Time, a British film about Duchenne muscular dystrophy. It follows two families coming to terms with the diagnoses of their two sons and attempting to create a warm, safe home for them. I shed a few tears as you do about a subject so awful and so debilitating to kids’ lives although I’m pretty sure the film wanted me to do exactly that. This emotional manipulation is part of the problem with this movie. But, again, this one might be better suited to television.

Nottingham International Film Festival took place online between Friday 13 - Sunday 15 November

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