There’s plenty to be delighted by in this year’s Leeds International Film Festival programme but for today’s #HydeParkPick we wanted to focus on the rich and varied short film selection. On long days where digital meeting after digital meeting and the strange state of working from home have taken their toll, these bite sized bursts of narrative have been a perfect route into a rich world of filmic delight.
Yesterday the Leeds Short Film Awards winners were all announced and you can find that full list along with the statements from the Juries on their decisions here.
For tonight’s Pick we thought we’d highlight one of our favourite films in the Louis le Prince International Short Film Competition, Bella (2020, Greece, directed by Thelyia Petraki).
Based on the letters Anthi sends to her husband while he is working abroad between 1986-1987, Bella is an incredibly evocative period piece set just before the fall of State Socialism at the end of the Cold War.
Shifting fluidly between observations about the children as they grow and the changing state of her country at a point of major upheaval, Bella is a beautiful balancing act between the personal and the political. While her letters may be written to her husband, in the way Petraki has chosen to only share Anthi’s side of the exchange there is something desperately lonely and isolated in the film which resonates with the situation we find ourselves in now in 2020, witness to great change and trauma but unable to touch, to connect.
You can view Bella in the programme Family Unties: International Short Film Competition 6, available from the Leeds Film Player up to the 30th November for £3.
Director, Daniel Kokotajlo’s exploration of a Jehovah’s Witness family in crisis has been praised by the faithful and apostate alike – and is today's film recommendation.
Single mum, Ivanna (Siobhan Finneran), is struggling to raise her two daughters, Luisa (Bronwyn James) and Alex (Molly Wright), in a religion that is publicly mocked and often misunderstood. When the eldest daughter, Luisa, is disfellowshipped (a kind of excommunication), her mother and sister are expected to cut ties with her unless she chooses to return to the faith.
The family-torn-apart is a story often told when Jehovah’s witnesses are discussed, and it would be easy for Kokotajlo (a former Jehovah’s Witness himself) to scapegoat the overbearing mother or the rebellious daughter, but these tropes are thankfully avoided. Instead, each of the three women are sympathetically portrayed, with the actors given the time and space needed to really explore the subtleties and nuance of their characters.
There is a stark and brutal look to the film, with cinematographer Adam Scarth focusing the viewer on the individual rather than the congregation. Often using thin, fluorescent lighting and a muted colour palate, the presentation speaks to the ascetic and essentially insular nature of life in the faith. In fact, when Apostasy screened at Hyde Park Picture House, some of our more seasoned regulars couldn’t help but point out the technical failings of the film’s lighting, while the Jehovah’s Witnesses in attendance (both current and former) praised its authentic look.
With no easy answers and no sugar coatings, Apostasy is a relentless depiction of the prices paid in pursuit of a life without compromise.
You can watch the film on BBC iPlayer, until Monday 23rd November – part of the British Film Premiere season from BBC Film and the BFI.
Are you 16-19 years old? Do you have something to say?
Applications for the BFI Film Academy Leeds are now open! Delivered by Leeds Young Film, this is an exciting way to learn about filmmaking with leading industry professionals.
No previous experience needed – just a story to tell and a voice to be heard. For more information and how to apply, visit: leedsfilm.com.
To see the kind of amazing work you could be making as part of the Academy, visit the BFI Player – where you'll find a selection of past films, all made by young filmmakers, available to watch for free.
Today we’re celebrating Trans Awareness Week (13th - 19th November), which raises the visibility of the transgender community and the issues they face. It also provides an opportunity for transgender people and their allies to advocate for the education of the public, and to share their stories and experiences.
What better way to do this by sharing two films from this year's Leeds International Film Festival, Leeds Queer Short Film Competition.
Curated by the magnificent Leeds Queer Film Festival – who sadly had to cancel their own festival this year – they’ve programmed a brilliant selection of 14 new international shorts, focusing on LGBTQ+ stories.
The Name of the Son (El nombre del hijo, 2020)
Screened earlier this year in the Berlinale 70 Generation strand, Martina Matzkin’s short is a tender film of acceptance and understanding. As he begins to go through puberty, Lucho’s process of transition brings to light his father’s insecurity about how to maintain a loving bond with his son.
Playback (Ensayo de una despedida, 2019)
In a moving tribute to a group of Argentinian drag queens and transgender women, Playback is a documentary made up of VHS footage of their shows in the 80s and 90s. As their friends and loved ones began to die from AIDS, they filmed loving memorials, creating their own happy endings.
We’re celebrating another week of #LIFF2020 with the magnificent Balloon (气球 / Qi qiu, 2019). If you’re going to see a film about Tibetan sheep farmers this year - make it this one.
Balloon (气球 / Qi qiu, 2019), is a poetic, beautifully observed drama, centred on the earthy normality of farming life during the 1980s, when China imposed strict family planning laws.
Whilst a delicate balance of tradition, spirituality, belief and modernity puts pressure on the farmer’s lives, more specifically, Balloon exposes how these pressures and that oppressive law combine to prevent women making decisions about their own bodies. However, the film is far from a difficult or depressing watch that this might imply. Playing with the multiple meanings of the balloon itself, director Pema Tseden shifts around layers of humour and good-naturedness with the lightness of wind blowing across the grasslands where the family live.
From the patches of bright colour throughout the gentle cinematography, to the prejudice that threatens to burst the thin membrane of their happiness, and particularly in the comedy and fun that the film creates, when the two unruly boys mistake a condom for a balloon. There are of course mistakes, tragedy and sorrow in all our lives, but this is tempered by the bonds of humanity, the strength of love and the forgiveness of families.
A thoughtful evocation of Tibetan culture, and a meditation on birth and rebirth, Balloon is available on the Leeds Film Player until 30th November.