This year’s European Film Festival goes virtual with an excellent line-up of twelve brand new films, all of which are premiere screenings in South Africa. Of these eleven films are screened free of charge and one will collect a fee towards a worthy cause.
Emphasising her support for the festival’s continuity despite the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic, EU Ambassador to South Africa, Dr Riina Kionka, said: “Twelve films in eleven days shows the determination of this European partnership to overcome difficult circumstances. Since my arrival in South Africa, this is my second European Film Festival: I can tell you that it is a cultural highlight not to be missed. In addition, I invite you to participate in the various special events lined up during the Festival!”
Old Worlds and New
Invoking a moment of reflection, and the opportunity to reset our attitude to the world and our 2020 circumstances, this year’s 7th edition of the European Film Festival, is about Then and Now, with the films inscribing an arc from Old Worlds to New.
Starting in the Middle Ages, this year’s Austrian film is based on the story of Narcissus and Goldmund, written by Nobel-prize winning author Hermann Hesse, and directed here by Oscar-winning Stefan Ruzowitzky (The Counterfeiters). It examines the powerful bond between two very different characters, amidst the dichotomy between religious monastic life and the passion and adventure of secular life.
Moving forward a few hundred years, there are two reflections on wars of the 20th century.
After World War 2, when most countries around the world were focused on recovery and rebuilding, the small country of Lithuania remained in a war situation as locals resisted Soviet occupation for about another 15 years. Sharanas Bartas’s film In The Dusk dramatically takes us into that desperate time and place. From the same era, but focused in a different part of Europe and Africa, Home Front is a Belgian film directed by Lucas Belvaux, where painful memories of the time of the French colonial war in Algeria explode into the present, opening up chapters of a toxic past which is still not fully spoken of today.
Marco Bellocchio’s award-winning film The Traitor takes us into the 1980s when a whistleblowing mafia boss-turned-informer triggers the largest prosecution of the Sicilian mafia in Italian history. A riveting insight into the operations of one of the world’s most notorious crime syndicates.
The German film Curveball, directed by Johannes Naber, is a thriller that catapults viewers into the 21st century. In a sober warning about how terribly easy it is to slip into war, this is a fact-based story about how a lie regarding chemical weapons, sets in motion a chain of events that results in the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, forever changing the global political landscape.
On a much lighter note, the Spanish film directed by Bernabe Rico, One Careful Owner, tells how a woman buys a new home with a certain ‘inconvenience’, namely that the 80-year old current owner will remain living in it until she dies. The two very different women in this story will form an unlikely friendship filled with tenderness, emotion and much laughter.
Another film focusing on female relationships, and in this case a mother-daughter relationship, is the French film Proxima, by director Alice Winocour, about a French woman astronaut who is forced to consider her priorities of family versus career.
There are two stories of unique emancipation and self-discovery – the first is the Dutch film, Becoming Mona, directed by Sabine Lubbe Bakker and Niels van Koevorden, in which we follow, from childhood through to adulthood, Mona’s struggle to break free from the stifling constraints of a life lived in service of other people’s egos. The UK film this year is Bassam Tariq’s Mogul Mowgli, starring Riz Ahmed as a rapper on the verge of a big international tour when he gets cut down with a severe illness, causing him to confront his Pakistani/English culture, and himself.
The Polish film Sweat by director Magnus van Horn focuses on a fitness motivator who has become a social media celebrity and influencer – it’s about how she wrestles with the nature of her popularity and what loneliness and intimacy mean in her world, all highly pertinent issues in this modern digital era.
The festival also includes two powerful documentaries. The Irish representative, The 8th, is about the highly emotive and divisive topic of abortion and women’s reproductive rights. Here, three award-winning women directors, Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy, and Maeve O’Boyle, follow the grassroots activism of the campaign to repeal the 1983 8th amendment (which criminalised abortions) in a defining moment of Irish history.
Finally, bringing us right up to date, is a film which focuses our attention on one of the greatest crises humanity has ever faced, climate change. Nathan Grossman’s deeply personal Swedish documentary I am Greta follows the teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg from her one-person school strike to her astonishing wind-powered voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to speak at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York City.
“These films give us much to think about, a common theme in all of them being Relationship,” says Peter Rorvik, curator of the festival. “The wide range of relationships deal with antagonism, dominance, and dependency; with competition and conflict; with cooperation, friendship, and love; with class, race, and culture. It is also about relationship with ourselves, and with our environment, and the eco-systems of which we are a part. We cannot always control our circumstances, but how we manage these exchanges will mark our place in the world. This selection will not just entertain, but contribute to our awareness of relationships, guide our actions, and inform our ongoing journey of discovery of the world and ourselves.”
The 2020 edition of the European Film Festival is virtual and accessible online across South Africa only. The film screenings are free, except for I am Greta, whose entry fee of R50 serves as a fundraiser for a climate action group who will be awarded screening proceeds after the festival.
Look out for the full programme of screenings and special events on https://www.eurofilmfest.co.za/
Bringing the best of European film to South Africa’s home screens, the European Film Festival 2020 is a partnership project of the Delegation of the European Union to South Africa and 12 other European embassies and cultural agencies in South Africa: the Embassies of Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden and Wallonie-Bruxelles International, the French Institute in South Africa, the Goethe-Institut, the Italian Cultural Institute, and the British Council. The festival is organised in cooperation with CineEuropa and coordinated by Creative WorkZone.