The Scottish Film Festivals Offering a Window on the World

Against the odds, three of our favourite festivals return this autumn. After months of lockdown, the fresh new perspectives of Africa in Motion, French Film Festival UK and Scotland Loves Anime should be cherished – and offer more than simple escapism

Feature by Jamie Dunn | 05 Nov 2020

Mirror or window? That’s a question that’s often asked about the nature of cinema. Do the movies reflect the best and worst of society back at us? Or do they give us an opportunity to escape to new worlds? Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, it’s film's capacity to transport us beyond the handful of rooms in which we’ve been quarantined that’s been most welcome. Our screens have taken us to happier times, when touching another human being wasn’t outlawed and isolation wasn’t prescribed by the government. By living vicariously through these images, we’ve felt less trapped and alone.

“Cinema has always managed to transport people outside of their everyday lives and that’s especially important at the moment,” agrees Richard Mowe, director of French Film Festival UK, which returns this month, bringing with it newly minted Francophone stories from around the world. “We all need wider horizons and a bigger picture to remind us of how life was and how it will assuredly be again. It’s a way of preserving one’s sanity and satisfying the primaeval urge of listening to the stories of others.”

This chimes with Africa in Motion’s director Liz Chege. "For many, as always, the arts have been absolutely crucial to keeping us all sane during these trying months,” she says. “Providing options for people to participate, watch and listen to a variety of art forms has brought a sense of calm and serves as a reminder that we are a global community that need each other.”

The transportive powers of cinema and its ability to bring us together, even when we’re apart, are keenly felt in Mowe and Chege’s festivals, which return this autumn despite the increasingly trying circumstances for film festival exhibition. They join Scotland Loves Anime, which has been running since 26 October. Africa in Motion will present its 15th edition entirely online, while Scotland Loves Anime and the French Film Festival, in their tenth and 28th years respectfully, take a hybrid approach, blending IRL events in cinemas with online screenings.

A global pandemic is not the ideal situation in which to launch your debut festival programme, but that’s exactly the situation for AiM’s newly appointed director has found herself in. There was no question of not going ahead with the festival. “It was important for us to continue sharing the work of incredible talents across the African continent and the diaspora,” says Chege. “We want to lead by example and continue to support marginalised voices and express perseverance.”

While all the screenings are online, Chege tells us that she hopes households and bubbles across the country can create their own festival atmospheres. “I'm particularly excited that families can sit at home, interact and enjoy the festival together, not just in Scotland, but across the whole of the UK. For example, we have a digital 'dine & view' to go along with our screening of Algerian film 143 Sahara Street, where one of our partners, Kuche, provided an Algerian recipe that people can make at home and enjoy while watching the film.”

Mowe was similarly determined for the show to go on, despite the difficulties that COVID-19 brings. “Putting together a festival takes almost nine to ten months, so earlier in the year we had to make a decision to go ahead rather await events unfolding,” he tells us. With the mighty Cannes cancelled, along with many other film festivals, the hunting grounds on which Mowe and his team find new titles were diminished, although that hasn’t made this year’s programme any less rich than previous years. 

Spurred on by the success of hybrid editions of Venice and London film festivals, Mowe’s programme, as well as featuring screenings at 28 cinemas across the UK (although all subject to change if local lockdowns crop up), will also include strand fff @ home, a week of online screenings from 27 November to 4 December. This fff @ home strand features seven titles, only one of which (How to be a Good Wife, starring Juliette Binoche) is shared with the physical programme. “We felt it important to keep faith with independent cinemas who seem to be faring better than multiplexes at the moment,” said Mowe. “The festival will be in 28 different cinemas from Oban to Plymouth – and programmers, despite being faced with difficulties, have welcomed the festival back on their screens.”

Solidarity with indie cinemas is also the story with Scotland Loves Anime this year. While the majority of their lively programme mixing old and new Japanese animation is available with a pass on streaming site Screen Anime, they’re also screening two new films (3D anime adventure Lupin III: The First and oddball music comedy On-Gaku: Our Sound) at their regular venues Glasgow Film Theatre and Edinburgh Filmhouse, as well as Belmont Filmhouse, Aberdeen. Furthermore, the festival will be sharing its 2020 proceeds with GFT and Filmhouse, and is running a crowdfunding campaign to help support these independent institutions.

“Supporting cinemas through what has been a tough year is something really important to all of us at Anime Limited and Scotland Loves Animation,” says Andrew Partridge, founder of Scotland Loves Anime. “We can't wait to show off what the festival has to offer on Screen Anime and help out our friends at both the Filmhouse and the Glasgow Film Theatre as much as we can."

Back to the original question: mirror or window? While the opportunity to immerse yourselves in a frothy Gallic comedy like Emmanuel Mouret’s Love Affairs from the FFF programme or dive into the Afrofuturist perspectives of AiM’s shorts should be embraced, escaping one's own head isn’t the only reason why we need film festivals in our lives. For one, they give space for perspectives and stories that don’t always make it into the mainstream cinema conversation.

This is certainly the case with Africa in Motion. “In a year that has galvanised so many across the world in support of #BlackLivesMatter, reckoning with racial and migration injustices, #EndSARS and many other movements, we wanted to continue elevating these voices and showcase a variety of stories that interrogate the contours of our dreams, obstacles, joys, love, hopes and all the territories in between,” says Chege. “We are also a women-led organisation and continuing to bring female-led stories to the forefront is paramount to us.”

The French Film Festival’s determination to go ahead this year is no less political. The significance of celebrating the cinema of France in the year the British government officially cleave us from our friends across the Channel isn’t lost on Mowe. “The festival began in a spirit of optimism in December 1992, the same year Edinburgh hosted the Summit of the European Council,” he says.

“Funding was awarded for an arts festival giving a cultural reference to the occasion – and the French Film Festival was one of the beneficiaries. Almost three decades down the line, the festival has proved the worth of that investment and confidence, even if this year marks the end of the transition period and the exit of the UK from the EU. The FFF remains proud of its Europe-friendly credentials.”

Mirror or window? Well, the answer is clearly a bit of both.

Three French Film Festival UK must-sees

How To Be A Good Wife
From Kieślowski's Three Colors: Blue to Malle's Damage to Denis' High Life, Juliette Binoche has proven herself one of the most compelling dramatic actors of her generation. She gets fewer opportunities to show off her comedic chops, however, so we're keen to see her let loose in this playful farce set in a 1960s finishing school, with Binoche playing a stuffy matron teaching young women how to take care of their future husbands. fff @ home, 27 Nov, available for 24 hours

What was it Philip Larkin said about mums and dads? Tommy, the 11-year-old girl at the heart of Bruno Merle's latest, can probably relate. It's the day before she starts a new term at school, but the chances of her making it back in time look unlikely as she's on an increasingly disordered summer holiday with her feckless parents. A wildly off-beat road movie that's been called the "French Little Miss Sunshine", this looks like one of the gems of the FFFUK programme. fff @ home, 29 Nov, available for 24 hours

Just Kids
After the tragic death of their mother two years ago and now the suicide of their father, three siblings are left to fend for themselves when the eldest of the three, just a kid himself at only 19, is awarded guardianship of his little brother (10) and sister (17). As you might imagine, things don't go smoothly, with each orphan working through this sudden loss of their parents in their own way in this tender drama. fff @ home, 2 Dec, available for 24 hours

Three Africa in Motion must-sees

I Am Samuel
An intimate vérité documentary following the young gay Kenyan man of the title, as he embarks on his tender first relationship, and all the hardships he faces by being open about whom he loves. 7 Nov, online

Our Lady of the Nile 
Gorgeous adaptation of Scholastique Mukasonga’s semi-autobiographical novel set at a Rwandan Catholic girls’ boarding school. Set in 1973, the class division between the pupils reflect the tensions that will tear their nation apart in the 1994 genocide. 26 Nov, online

Air Conditioner
Left-field humour and sci-fi tinged strangeness abound in this idiosyncratic tale from Angola following an easygoing security guard on an odyssey to find his overbearing boss a new aircon unit. 28 Nov, online

Three Scotland Loves Anime must-sees

Weathering with You
A beautiful tale of awkward teenagers finding each other and falling in love amid a climate apocalypse from Your Name director Makoto Shinkai. Watch on Screen Anime

Lupin III retrospective
An overflowing collection of films and series featuring the outlandish adventures of the world's most wanted master thief, Arsène Lupin the Third. Watch on Screen Anime

On-Gaku: Our Sound
A stylishly minimalist deadpan music comedy about three knuckleheads who give up their thuggish ways and form a band. 7-8 Nov, Filmhouse; 15 Nov, GFT

* All in-person screenings subject to change at late notice *

Africa in Motion, until 29 Nov,
French Film Festival UK, until 17 Dec,
Scotland Loves Anime, throughout Nov,