Read on for an overview of the 2021 features programme.
Night of the Kings
21-23 May | Dir. Philippe Lacôte "The word is here, and shall be spoken" So heralds the arrival of Roman (Koné Bakary) at the Ivory Coast's notorious MACA penitentiary, as a red moon rises and inmates conspire to topple the prison's unofficial 'king' Blackbeard (Steve Tientcheu). Roman is charged with entertaining the king, and just like Scheherezade he discovers that he must sustain his tale through the night if he wishes to survive until dawn. Night of the Kings is a prison movie with a difference, strongly rooted in Ivorian storytelling tradition and an allegory for the country's turbulent recent past. As a child, director Philippe Lacôte visited his own mother at MACA and his personal investment shines through every frame, the film giving vivid life to the jail's crumbling maze and the jungle beyond.
The Filmmaker's House
22-24 May | Dir. Marc Isaacs Blending documentary and fiction, multi award-winner Marc Isaacs’ latest offering sees him invite an unlikely group into his home: a devout Muslim neighbour, a pair of builders, a homeless man from Slovakia, and his Colombian cleaner. For one day, they coexist and interact, slightly uneasily. It’s a story of modern Britain told with wry humour, emotional intensity and a radical curiosity, resulting in a film that is both a meditation on, and a rebellion against, the act of filmmaking itself. This is a film that challenges our own expectations, and cements Isaacs’ reputation as one of the most interesting and inventive contemporary British documentarians.
Now Something is Slowly Changing
23-25 May | Dir. mint film office In a society obsessed with well-being and self-development, personal coaches and New Age therapies have never been more popular. This documentary reviews some of the most original options on the Dutch market, including biodanza, family constellations and pig massage. No voice-over or talking heads in this formally radical film; the camera keeps its distance with long, wide shots, providing a great vantage point from which to observe the comedy unfold. Sequences can be amusing, captivating, disconcerting, or all three - interspersed with wonderful moments of modern-life absurdity, the film is an open reflection on our universal quest for the meaning of life.
Paradise Lost + Q&A
24 May | 20.00-22.00 | Dir. Andy Howlett Among the ruins of yesterday's future, what might we learn about the forces that shape a city? When filmmaker Andy Howlett set out with his camera to document the final days of the condemned Central Library complex, little did he know the rabbit hole he was stumbling into. Decried by Birmingham City Council as an eyesore, but hailed by Historic England as an exemplar of postwar design, the story of John Madin's concrete colossus and the fight to save it is a curious one. In this psychogeographic detective story, Howlett weaves together archive footage with on-the-ground explorations in an attempt to figure out why we lost Paradise and how it might be regained.
Kill It and Leave This Town
25-27 May | Dir. Mariusz Wilczyński 11 years in the works, Mariusz Wilczyński's debut feature is a sublimely gritty and personal snapshot of his hometown Lodz in the 1970s. Scratchy black and white animation with splashes of colour conjures up a world fraying at the seams, surreal moments and painful memories threaded together by a soundtrack of Polish pop, rattling trams and endless rainfall. The director, who pops up within the narrative himself in unflattering, bear-like form, is circling around the death of his own parents and a wider sense that nothing is forever. If you're seeking carefree thrills this may not be the film for you, but there's some wonderful caustic humour here and a genuinely distinctive vision at work.
26-28 May | Dir. Alexandra Pianelli Paris - its famous metro entrances, its Morris columns... and its retro newsstands, where regulars come for cigarettes and tourists stop to buy postcards. It is in one of these tiny kiosks that Alexandra Pianelli's family has been working for generations. The filmmaker decides to play “shop” and help out her mother who is about to retire. Behind her counter, she makes friends with the chatty clients from the neighbourhood, observes the changes society is going through, and tries to understand the ins and outs of the newspaper crisis. Full of charm, humour and ingenuity, this DIY video diary is a touching testament to a disappearing business and a certain art de vivre.
Tomorrow is Saturday + Q&A
27-29 May | Dir. Gillian Marsh Collage artist and photographer Seán Hillen has reached a point in his career where he finds it almost impossible to work. Trapped in a small terraced house, full to the brim with junk, unfinished art and boxes of memories, Sean embarks on a journey to declutter and make sense of his life as he awaits the arrival of Amy – an American woman with whom he communicates daily but has never met. This intimate and fascinating portrait of the effervescent Hillen explores what it’s like to be an artist with Aspergers, having grown up through the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and how he finds inspiration, and a new lease of artistic endeavour in a chaotic world.
Presented in partnership with Ikon.
L.A. Tea Time
27-29 May | Dir. Sophie Bédard Marcotte Sophie is a young Canadian filmmaker who translates online hotel reviews to pay the bills, but dreams of becoming the next Miranda July - a successful director, author and visual artist based in Los Angeles. In the hope of meeting her idol for tea (and getting some professional advice), Sophie decides to drive from Montreal to LA with her cinematographer Isabelle. It’s the start of an offbeat adventure for the two friends, who document their journey in a series of humorous vignettes and reflect on their film in the making, guided by the otherworldly voice of their mentor - the late Chantal Akerman. Part playful travelogue, part meditative essay, L.A Tea Time is a charming film about an artist’s creative process, inspirations and aspirations.
28-30 May | Dir. Jack Henry Robbins If you were born in the last century, there is a strong chance you've encountered a video recorder, or even taped your favourite show over some family memories. This is what happens to 12 year-old Ralph in the simple but clever starting point of VHYes. This first feature by Jack Henry Robbins is a love letter to the 80s, a comedy shot entirely on VHS that hops from absurd home shopping clips to censored pornography to bizarre antiques shows. Parodying the worst of cable TV with a genuine affection, the film is hilariously silly on the surface but its crazy mashup may hide a deeper meaning...
Sisters with Transistors + Caro C: Electric Mountain
29-31 May | Dir. Lisa Rovner “Why have there been no “great” women composers?” asked Pauline Oliveros in the New York Times back in 1970, in an insightful analysis of gender bias in the arts sector. The truth is there have been, but history has a nasty habit of ignoring them. Sisters with Transistors aims to right this wrong with the portrait of nine electronic music's female pioneers who shaped the soundtrack of the 20th century. From Suzanne Ciani who invented the famous Coca-Cola “pop and pour” sound effect, to Coventry’s finest Delia Derbyshire, this archival documentary is a joyous and exciting look into the (r)evolution of electronic music and the women that led it. Narrated by Laurie Anderson.
The film will be followed by a performance by composer, performer and producer Caro C, presented in association with Deliaphonic.
29-31 May | Dir. Viktor Kosakovskiy Experiential cinema in its purest form, Gunda gives us an intimate insight into the unfiltered lives of a mother pig, her adorable piglets, a one legged chicken and a herd of cows. Using stark black and white cinematography and the farm's ambient soundtrack, Master director Victor Kossakowsky invites the audience to slow down and be a pig for a couple of hours, experiencing life from the animal’s perspectives. Not so much a film as an immersive, transformative experience - think pig ASMR that will have you spellbound from the first oink.