Film Fest Ghent’s distinctive, varied and adventurous programme for 2020, based on a few unconventional choices, clearly shows that the festival has refused to be discouraged by the coronavirus crisis. The programme includes a revelatory focus on German film, pays continued attention to short film and gender issues, and introduces a new section: 'Official Selection: Masters & New Voices'. We welcome, as our international guests, Viggo Mortensen and Maïwenn. Moreover, Jérémie Renier will come down from Brussels. In addition, Film Fest Ghent pays homage to the recently deceased Robbe De Hert, with the screening of his Dood van een Sandwichman (Death of a Sandwichman) and De Bom (The Bomb).
The programme is more diverse than ever, thanks to the solidarity we share with other festivals, such as MOOOV, Courtisane and Art Cinema OFFoff – that had to cancel their editions due to the coronavirus crisis. All genres are represented but the documentary holds a special place in our hearts. For the first time in a long time there is a documentary in the international competition – Petite fille by the French director Sébastien Lifshitz. And in addition to some captivating music documentaries, there are two masterful documentaries exposing the proliferation of contorted gender relations in the film world: film historian Mark Cousins, who has been to Ghent before, focuses for fourteen hours on female film talent in Women Make Film and Pamela B. Green talks about how the pioneering role of Alice Guy-Blaché faded into the folds of history in Be Natural. Alice Guy attended the very first film screening of the Lumière brothers and was involved in about a thousand short film productions in various functions, but then mysteriously vanished from film history.
The fear that there wouldn’t be enough new “film material” turned out to be unfounded. In addition to this year’s Golden Bear winner There Is No Evil by Mohammad Rasoulof, Film Fest Ghent will screen Nomadland by Chloé Zhao – straight from Venice and winner of the Golden Lion Award – Ghosts by Azra Deniz Okyay, and I Am Greta by Nathan Grossman. Gagarine by Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilh is the flagship of the films shown at Film Fest Ghent, which received the Cannes 2020 quality label.
The number of films – about 110 full-length films, thirty short films, and two television series – hardly differs from previous editions. Programme director Wim De Witte and his team selected them from over one thousand submitted screeners and one hundred and fifty festival films from Berlin, Cannes, Karlovy Vary, Locarno, Toronto, Venice and others.
For the very first time, people will be able to watch a large selection of festival films on a digital platform during the festival, in addition to the physical festival.
This year, the international jury will be chaired by Brussels based filmmaker Fabrice du Welz (Adoration). The jury also includes actress Natali Broods, French director Damien Manivel (Le parc, La nuit où j’ai nagé), Brazilian-Dutch director Maria Ramos, German composer Dascha Dauenhauer, who is also nominated for the Discovery Award at the World Soundtrack Awards 2020 for her music for Berlin Alexanderplatz, and Benh Zeitlin, director of The Beasts of the Southern Wild. Both Benh Zeitlin and Damien Manivel will present their new films at Film Fest Ghent, respectively Wendy and Les enfants d’Isadora, out of competition.
Guests at FFG
The coronavirus crisis does have an inevitable impact on the number of guests that will be able to physically attend the festival. Nevertheless, Film Fest Ghent will be bringing big names to Ghent. First and foremost, there’s Viggo Mortensen, who comes halfway through the festival to present his directorial debut Falling, for which he also composed the music and wrote the script. The festival also welcomes the French actress and director Maïwenn, who presents her autobiographical portrait ADN in competition. Jérémie Renier – who acts in L’ennemi and Slalom – and Daan Stuyven will also be present. The latter thanks to his leading role in Éden by Hungarian director Ágnes Kocsis. Anuna De Wever will be present at the premiere of I am Greta . This year’s central music guests are the French-Lebanese composer Gabriel Yared and the French composer Alexandre Desplat, known for his collaborations with Wes Anderson and others.
Programme director Wim De Witte also sees this hybrid edition of Film Fest Ghent as a way to support the collaborating cinemas Kinepolis, Studio Skoop and Sphinx. This year concert hall Miry will be added to the list. It will replace the temporarily closed KASKcinema.
The support is twofold: first, the festival guarantees the rent of the venues to the cinemas, and gives films the kick-off they need for a subsequent release in the cinema. And second, there’s the “Enchanté” initiative with non-profit organization Enchanté, with whom the festival puts into practice the principle of a suspended cinema ticket: whoever buys a festival ticket can choose to make a contribution so that underprivileged people can later enjoy a cinema visit as well.
With this “corona-proof edition”, the festival team hopes to regain the film audience’s trust, despite the difficult times we live in. Coronavirus health and safety regulations are being applied and we ask everyone to follow those. “Film Fest Ghent won’t exceed the maximum of two hundred spectators per venue at the moment,” says managing director Marijke Vandebuerie. “Safety comes first, for everyone – our guests, our visitors and our employees and volunteers. If you can’t get a cinema ticket, you can watch a unique selection from our programme on a digital platform, including Q&As with the makers.”
With L’ennemi by Stephan Streker, the international competition will once again open with a Belgian film. The film is inspired by a true story. Is the Louis Durieux in the film guilty or innocent? Nobody knows, says Stephan Streker. L’ennemi, starring an excellent Jérémie Renier and Sam Louwyck in an impressive supporting role, is one of the best national productions of the year.
Another local celebrity stars in Éden by the Hungarian Ágnes Kocsis, who chose Belgian musician Daan Stuyven for a leading part in her beautiful ecological science fiction film, with the most spectacular final shot of the year. Kocsis also uses Daan’s music.
This competition is very varied. From the in-depth, insanely beautiful Vitalina Varela by Pedro Costa to the fresh narrative style of Stories from the Chestnut Woods by Gregor Božič to the very relevant Turkish Ghosts by Azra Deniz Okyay, the discovery of the recent Critic’s Week in Venice.
For the first time in a long time, another documentary is included in the international competition: Petite fille by Sébastien Lifshitz. A moving, observational film about eight-year-old Sasha who feels like a girl and together with her mother does everything she can to go to school as a girl. “Little Girl, Big documentary”, The Hollywood Reporter titled after the screening in Berlin.
Gender and diversity
The campaign image of this 47th edition shows that Film Fest Ghent cares deeply about gender issues. It’s an intriguing double portrait of film icon Romy Schneider and German actor August Diehl.
Furthermore, FFG applies, without being blind to the current discrepancy, the principle that director Fien Troch thoughtfully phrased in newspaper De Standaard as: “The fact that you are a woman or a man shouldn’t be a quality mark for what you do”. As a result, this year’s competition films are almost perfectly divided. Of the fourteen directors, seven are male and seven are female.
The fact that the festival couldn’t yet reach this equal division in every category will be extensively discussed during Industry Day on 16 October, when the people of WIFTM (Women in Film, Television & Media), Wanda Collective and Represent, who are all working hard for a more diverse Flemish film world, will lead the debate.
The topic of diversity will also be discussed during one of the panels for the film music profession during the WSA Industry Days (22 October to 24 October) and for the Composer Talk the festival welcomes composer Nainita Desai, who will talk about how she composes music for documentaries such as For Sama and for The Reason I Jump.
Continued focus on shorts
There will be a second edition of the International Short Film Competition with three different programmes, each containing a Flemish short film. Such as Howling by Laura Van Haecke, Mosaic by Imge Özbilge and Sine Özbilge, and Mia by Christina Vandekerckhove, who switched to fiction after making several award-winning documentaries that were shown at the festival, such as Rabot.
The rest of the selection, according to short film programmer Michiel Philippaerts, comes mainly from Europe but there were also entries from China and Taiwan. “The subject matters in the short films aren’t exactly cheerful,” says Philippaerts, “because besides the inevitable comedy there is a lot of anger and/or sadness in the short films. Younger filmmakers also seem to get lost in the world. But is that new?”
The jury for the short film competition consists of musician and director Baloji, director Eliza Petkova from Germany and Dorian Jespers, who received an honourable mention in the student short film competition with Sun Dog in Ghent last year and won a Tiger Award in Rotterdam. The selection for the new student short film competition is being finalized at the moment because coronavirus restrictions forced the film schools to push the deadlines.
Focus on Germany
Nowhere do past and present meet as strongly as in the Focus on Germany. For film lovers the names Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, Margaretha von Trotta, Wim Wenders, Volker Schlöndorff are music to their ears. They were obsessed by the medium of film and used it more than once to criticise German society. Think of Deutschland bleiche Mutter, Deutschland im Herbst, Die bleierne Zeit, Die Blechtrommel and others. These are naturally included under the heading “Classics” in the programme.
A counter-reaction to these Autoren was inevitable. The fall of the Berlin Wall turned everything around and for many, the German past had to stay in the past. Everyone was occupied with the new social changes. The Neuer Deutsche Film saw the light of day and around the Berlin Film Academy, graduates stuck together. The Berliner Schule was born. Among them, Christian Petzold, whose youngest film Undine will be screened at the festival, got an international breakthrough. The festival also makes room for Ich war zuhause, aber… by Angela Schanelec. They will be joined by short film juror Eliza Petkova, who will present her Ein Fisch, der auf dem Rücken Schwimmt. In Enfant Terrible Oskar Roehler doesn’t bring Robbe De Hert’s life to the screen but that of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. And Julia Von Heinz will present Und morgen die ganze Welt, which graced the competition in Venice. This category is definitely also future-oriented.
New categories: MASTERS and NEW VOICES
In the new Masters and New Voices categories, it’s roughly speaking all about established values versus interesting innovators. The former include big guns like Sergei Loznitza with State Funeral, a documentary about Stalin’s funeral. Rithy Panh breaks his Cambodian borders in Irradiés and Abel Ferrara is his unique self in Siberia, starring Willem Dafoe. There is also room for Julie Taymor’s The Glorias. The latest films of Tsai Ming-Liang and Hong Sang-soo are wines that need no bush. Cristi Puiu asks a lot from the viewer in Malmkrog but his static report of a meeting of citizens discussing war and morality eventually becomes very fascinating.
The tone of New Voices is less stern, sometimes even light, as in Nir Bergman’s Here We Are. But that doesn’t mean it’s less serious; just look at the mother-daughter relationship in Ruthy Pribar’s Asia. Welcome to Chechnya: Inside the Russian Republic's Deadly War on Gays by David France is baffling. A not-to-be-missed documentary about an organization that tries to smuggle threatened members of the gay community – and all of them are being threatened – out of the country. Another film you don’t want to miss is Walden by Bojena Horackova, about young people in Lithuania who dreamed of studying abroad in the eighties. A lot is left unsaid in this film, but the style is eloquent.
As announced at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, Film Fest Ghent is hosting the world film festival MOOOV, which could only take place digitally last spring. Out of a selection of fifteen films, FFG chose seven. Among them is the moving documentary For Sama, in which the main character Waad al-Kateab reports on the destruction of Aleppo. Along the way she finds love and becomes the mother of Sama. Other films come from Iran, Brazil, South Korea, Argentina and Sudan. One of the most original ones is Incitement by Yaron Zilberman, because the director literally gets into the head, as it were, of the man who murdered prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. He mixes documentary footage of the assassination with fictional footage.
With Courtisane FFG shares a fondness for the experimental arthouse. Both have worked together to bring the Portuguese cult director Pedro Costa to Ghent, where he will present his latest film Vitalina Varela and give a masterclass. According to Christopher Small of the British film magazine Sight and Sound, Pedro Costa is one of the three best directors in the world. Kelly Reichardt was also on the wish list of both festivals and her film First Cow will be screened as part of the International Competition. This original and excellent film was everyone’s favourite for the Golden Bear in Berlin but that honour went to Mohammad Rasoulof. A political jury verdict? Come and decide for yourself.
With Art Cinema OFFoff we have joined forces to show Damien Manivel’s Les enfants d’Isadora.
FFG again collaborates with the UGent and with Prof. Daniel Biltereyst, who is organizing a congress on film censorship on 16 and 17 October. He researched the decades-long operation of the film censorship committee and discovered a wealth of deleted scenes, images, and fragments. CINEMATEK compiled them, Film Fest Ghent shows them.
With the youth film organization JEF, FFG is also making its 47th edition kid-proof. The Kidsproof Family Day on Sunday 18 October is the highlight of a Kidsproof trail with an imaginative programme of five colourful films. Hallo wereld! for the little ones, the coming-of-age story Psychobitch, war thriller Op de vlucht (The Crossing), or the charming Zussen (Sisters).
Film Fest Gent x Arts Centre Vooruit
Film Fest Gent and Kunstencentrum Vooruit join forces for the third time for VIDEODROOM, which stands for an original and experimental cross-pollination between music and image. This year, classics such as Solaris and Koyaanisqatsi will be given a musical makeover. The Shining will get an even more spectacular makeover, since for Stanley Kubrick’s film another Ghost trail will be mapped out. As a visitor, you’ll wander alone through the building, which is transformed into the Overlook Hotel and you’ll discover hidden parts of the Vooruit. When you take a seat in the ballroom at the iconic bar from the movie, you’ll feel like Jack Nicholson himself.
20 years of World Soundtrack Awards
Last but not least, the World Soundtrack Awards presented by the World Soundtrack Academy celebrate their 20th anniversary. Due to circumstances, this will mainly be celebrated digitally and via live streaming on 24 October. However, there will be another album dedicated to all past winners of the World Soundtrack Film Composer of the Year Award. Among them: Gabriel Yared, John Williams, Carter Burwell, Mychael Danna, Alexandre Desplat, Michael Giacchino, with the icing on the cake being a collage of 23 different film themes arranged by John Williams.
Brussels Philharmonic and Vlaams Radiokoor perform, FFG music director, maestro Dirk Brossé conducts.
During the presentation of the awards Alexandre Desplat will be the central guest and Gabriel Yared will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award. As usual, Industry Days are linked to the WSA. During these days students and young professionals get the opportunity to enter into a dialogue with the established artists. Besides the aforementioned Composer Talk with Nainita Desai, there will also be panel talks and masterclasses with Alfonso G. Aguilar, Dascha Dauenhauer, Hannes De Maeyer and Gabriel Yared. The latter will give insights into his methodology and artistic practice in a conversation with curator Martine Huvenne during the Film Music Seminar.
Belgian Cinema Today
Did you miss references to films for and about the LGBTQ+ community, or references to the Explore Zone, the Plus Parcours, On the Edge? Don’t worry, all these categories still exist. As well as Belgian Cinema Today. A few Flemish films couldn’t be finalized in time for the festival because of coronavirus. Luckily, Familie, Milo Rau’s film adaptation of the notorious play with the same name by Filip Peeters and his family, was ready in time. As well as the adaptation of Griet Op De Beeck’s book Kom hier dat ik u kus (Mona in Three Acts), filmed by a Dutch duo but beautifully performed by a Flemish cast. And with Je ne suis pas un héros three documentary makers – Pablo Crutzen Diaz, Stijn Deconinck and Robin Smit – bring us back to reality and the present day. Three weeks after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, they didn’t want to sit around unemployed but took their camera to the Erasmus Hospital in Brussels. This profoundly human documentary is one of our favourites.
The festival will take place from 13 until 24 October. Check out the full programme here.