Sight&Sound - 05.2020

(Jacob Rumans) #1

10 | Sight&Sound | May 2020

Talking heads: CPH:DOX’s live debate on Margaret Atwood: A Word After a Word After a Word is Power

of sacrificing our rights to vague promises
of techno-security in a time of pandemic.
Amid these slippery, glitchy virtual half-
engagements, the film that grabbed me with its
art of the real was Emilia Mello’s Competition
entry No Kings, an impressionistic tapestry of
some Caiçara island people on Brazil’s Atlantic
coast and their exceptional, sustainable (but
threatened) lives spent between the sea and the
rainforest. It’s the sort of discovery – of a film,
and of an alternative part of our world – that
festivals help us make. Sometimes they even
let us meet the film’s maker. I emailed Mello
to applaud her and see how she felt about her
world premiere going virtual. She wrote back:
“When we make a movie, we make it for
a theatre. We work on the sound, colour and
image so people can have that eclipsing feeling

that only comes in a large dark room filled with
other people. I have dedicated a lot to this movie
over the past nine years... Clearly, I very much
look forward to sharing my work in person.
“At the same time, I think this is an interesting
moment for No Kings to come into the world.
So much of what I was thinking about when
making the movie was the emotional and
spiritual freedoms afforded by a subsistence
economy; freedoms largely absent in our own
lives. While, at this moment, much of the world
is wracked with crippling anxiety, facing job loss,
dislocation and economic hardship, my friends
from the coast are posting pictures on social
media of their lobster dinners and daily fruit
hauls. Though they well may experience some
concerns, especially for their loved ones working
in the cities, the basic foundation of their lives,
fishing, hunting and farming, won’t change.
“I am very grateful for CPH:DOX for seeing
something in No Kings that was special and for
putting it in their main Competition, and for
finding a way to carry on in the midst of a fast-
changing situation. CPH:DOX will be the strange
and poignant world premiere for No Kings.”

By Nick Bradshaw
Last month Tine Fischer became the first
director of an international film festival to
open proceedings... if not in her pyjamas, then
certainly while she and her staff were confined
to their homes, like most of their audience, and
while home-schooling her children. Following
advice from the Danish government, CPH:DOX,
one of the world’s biggest documentary
festivals, had announced its decision to pivot
from a physical to a virtual edition just six
days earlier, on 12 March. “It’s been crazy,” she
agrees over the phone. “Just ten days before
[making the decision] we were all together at
the Berlinale” – unveiling a 17th festival edition
her team had spent the past year formulating.
Two days later the festival had the entire film
programme uploaded to a new video streaming
service, Shift72 – one that could handle the
sudden volume of uploads. “We felt a particular
responsibility to our world premieres,” Fischer
tells me over the telephone (all nine in the main
Competition agreed to carry over). They cut 180
planned live debates and discussions to 20 that
could be staged over Facebook or YouTube Live,
and found different platforms for the festival’s
key industry strands: WebinarJam for the five-
day CPH:CONFERENCE; Zoom for the project
pitching market CPH:FORUM and its 7,
planned meetings; and Kaleidoscope for the talent
development programme CPH:LAB. “This has sped
up our digital adoption,” Fischer believes. “It’s all
useful in the long run, for all of us in the arts sector
looking at working on two parallel tracks. I firmly
believe we will do this again.” The festival also
extended its dates by a week, aware that intensive
viewing might not be so easy for everyone at
home. “We wanted to offer a true alternative to
other watch-at-home options,” Fischer says
I got to sample several of the early live talks
and debates before filing this report. Some –
doc-led conversations around Greenlandic
nationalism, and Margaret Atwood’s dystopian
novels – were in Danish; another, in which
Harvard science philosopher Peter Galison
and two astrophysicists discussed black holes,
punctuated by technical hiccups, went over
my head, especially since I hadn’t managed
to watch Galison’s documentary beforehand.
Instead I found myself pondering the speakers’
backdrops and bookshelves and the mechanics
of these still-eerie distributed conversations
across continents, looking perhaps for signs of the
domestic embodiment that we normally escape
when we attend a festival, now that its social
attractions had become virtual. A journalist’s
cat did emerge on camera to help quiz headline
speaker Edward Snowden, though Snowden
himself, a cyber-guesting veteran, kept things neat
and placeless against a blank-white backdrop;
and in what was billed as an interrogation of
AI-driven surveillance, his conversation stuck
to the familiar as he dwelled on the dangers


Rather than cancel, Denmark’s
nonfiction film festival CPH:DOX
pivoted in mere days to an
extensive online presentation

‘ This has sped up our digital

adoption... it’s all useful in the

long run, for all of us looking at

working on two parallel tracks’


How does a film festival happen online?
We’re all about to find out, since these most
social of occasions must now reconfigure
themselves for the laptop and the domestic
space. CPH:DOX; Ann Arbor experimental
film festival in the States; and BFI Flare,
the LGBT+ festival in London, have led the
way, while the International Documentary
Festival Amsterdam has put 200 titles
from its collection online to view for free.
Of those scheduled for April and May,
the Swiss documentary film festival
Visions du Réel, planned for 25-30 April,
will now show its films online for free from
17 April-2 May. Meanwhile Birmingham’s
Flatpack will be presenting their short

film competition online from 1-17 May.
The International Short Film Festival
Oberhausen was supposed to run 13-18 May,
but will now migrate online. Festival director
Lars Henrik Gass says, “The festival is planning
to make the competition programmes
available online in May for both the general
public and industry audiences, and above
all for the juries, and to announce the prize
winners on 18 May as planned.” And Talking
Shorts, an internet magazine devoted to
short films, has put together the My Darling
Quarantine Short Film Festival. There will be
an online programme of seven short films on
the subject of ‘dystopia’. Let’s see if any other
festival can beat that eye-catcher of a title.

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