Fasting Abundantly | A Russian Orthodox Church Website

The idea that any Westerner has about fasting is strongly linked with renunciation‚ with giving-up‚ with sacrificing something for God. In the Eastern Orthodox Church however‚ fasting achieves a much richer meaning. Fasting is not only about giving-up‚ but it is actually more about gaining‚ about being able to reach things that are possible only through this spiritual exercise.

In a legalistic understanding of salvation some believe that Christ has come on earth to fulfill a duty‚ to repair an offense that man has brought unto God. His sacrifice on the Cross satisfies this need and mankind enters again in God’s favors. From this perspective fasting is a similar symbol: a personal sacrifice that one makes to step back into God’s grace. This can be anything ranging from giving up chocolate to abstaining from Facebook for the Lenten period. But such frivolous renunciations really don’t cut it into the genuine meaning of fasting.  God doesn’t need any of these sacrifices as He does not need the whole burnt offering of the Old Testament anymore. It is us‚ not God‚ who need the fasting rule.

Reducing the fasting to a symbol‚ to a mere idea of fasting‚ the entire exercise of a fast is perverted. Fasting becomes a theoretical notion that can be achieved through an act that involves little or no effort because‚ at the end‚ is not the fasting that is important‚ but only the idea of fasting.  This intellectual reduction is yet another symptom of our brokenness‚ of the ontological separation between mind and heart. The mind creates an entire new reality that we confuse many times with the true authenticity of existence that only a heart open to God can see.

In this world‚ made-up by our minds saturated with secular values‚ the importance of the complete involvement of the body in fasting is forgotten‚ because for the mind a symbol is enough. But man does not exist in a fantasy of the mind‚ but lives in the real world‚ as a true person‚ body and soul‚ both physical and spiritual.

Christ came to save the world not by spreading only the idea of salvation‚ but coming down Himself‚ taking body from the Virgin Mary and physically becoming one of us; not a ghost‚ not a spirit‚ but flesh and bones. His death on the cross was not a symbol‚ but a painful reality. His resurrection was not a simple story full of morality‚ but the defining moment of a new stage in human existence. By reducing everything to symbols we end up living in our minds and missing genuine life.

In the Orthodox understanding man is utterly aware that living in a physical world‚ with a corrupted and fallen nature‚ the body is subject to passions that affect the state of his entire being. Controlling the body through fasting directs the entire human being towards God‚ because “a body subdued by fasting brings the human spirit freedom‚ strength‚ sobriety‚ purity‚ and keen discernment.” (St. Ignatiy Brianchaninov). In a paradoxical way by starving the body the entire human being is nourished spiritually and is able to “ascend on high‚ to contemplate lofty things and to put the heavenly higher than the pleasant and pleasurable things of life.” (St. John Chrysostom).

We don’t want however to reduce the experience of fasting to a mere vegetarian diet. Fasting is a period of total transformation‚ of metanoia‚ as the Greek fathers call it.  The faster should strive to change his or hers entire way of life‚ redirecting priorities‚ seeking new avenues to God‚ striving for perfection in Christ. As St. Basil the Great says “True fasting lies in rejecting evil‚ holding one’s tongue‚ suppressing one’s hatred‚ and banishing one’s lust‚ evil words‚ lying‚ and betrayal of vows.”

From this perspective we can truly say‚ paraphrasing St. John Chrysostom‚ that fasting of the body is a feast for the soul. A soul liberated from the weight of an overfed body and nourished with the manna of virtues can reach into the spiritual heights‚ free of the passions that drag it to the ground. Such a soul can pray more‚ can forgive more‚ can love more. Fasting is not a simple renunciation but an exercise of love‚ as salvation is not an honor satisfying sacrifice but the greatest act of love ever seen.

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After Trump’s St. John’s photo-op, church leader says “I am now a force to be reckoned with.”

Episcopalian church leaders responded to President Donald Trump’s use of St. John’s Episcopal Church for a photo-op Monday evening, forcibly clearing what was by all accounts a peaceful protest outside the White House with flashbangs, tear gas, and brute force. “I am outraged,” Right Rev. Mariann Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, told the Washington Post, in the immediate aftermath of the staged spectacle. Budde told the Post that the church was unaware of Trump’s intention to use the place of worship for what was essentially a photo shoot with a Bible and that the church does not condone the president’s conduct. “Everything he has said and done is to inflame violence,” Budde said. “We need moral leadership, and he’s done everything to divide us.” The head of the Episcopal church in the U.S., Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, accused the president of using “a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes.”

“He did not pray,” Budde said of Trump’s publicity stunt in an interview with the New York Times. “He did not mention George Floyd, he did not mention the agony of people who have been subjected to this kind of horrific expression of racism and white supremacy for hundreds of years. We need a president who can unify and heal. He has done the opposite of that, and we are left to pick up the pieces.”

The Bible teaches us to love God and our neighbor; that all people are beloved children of God; that we are to do justice and love kindness. The President used our sacred text as a symbol of division.

— Mariann Budde (@Mebudde)

Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, who oversees St. John Episcopal Church, reacts to Pres. Trump’s visit and says police using tear gas to clear out peaceful protestors is “antithetical to the the teachings of Jesus.” https://t.co/F4NBSBmfRU pic.twitter.com/p5Mbi8Ogt2

— Good Morning America (@GMA)

The rector of St. John’s, Gini Gerbasi, recounted in a Facebook post Monday night the moments that led up to the presidential publicity stunt.

The police in their riot gear were literally walking onto the St. John’s, Lafayette Square patio with these metal shields, pushing people off the patio and driving them back. People were running at us as the police advanced toward us from the other side of the patio… We were literally DRIVEN OFF of the St. John’s, Lafayette Square patio with tear gas and concussion grenades and police in full riot gear. We were pushed back 20 feet, and then eventually – with SO MANY concussion grenades – back to K street. By the time I got back to my car, around 7, I was getting texts from people saying that Trump was outside of St. John’s, Lafayette Square. I literally COULD NOT believe it. WE WERE DRIVEN OFF OF THE PATIO AT ST. JOHN’S – a place of peace and respite and medical care throughout the day – SO THAT MAN COULD HAVE A PHOTO OPPORTUNITY IN FRONT OF THE CHURCH!!! PEOPLE WERE HURT SO THAT HE COULD POSE IN FRONT OF THE CHURCH WITH A BIBLE! HE WOULD HAVE HAD TO STEP OVER THE MEDICAL SUPPLIES WE LEFT BEHIND BECAUSE WE WERE BEING TEAR GASSED!!!!

 I am deeply shaken. I did not see any protestors throw anything until the tear gas and concussion grenades started, and then it was mostly water bottles. I am shaken, not so much by the taste of tear gas and the bit of a cough I still have, but by the fact that that show of force was for a PHOTO OPPORTUNITY. The patio of St. John’s, Lafayette square had been HOLY GROUND today. A place of respite and laughter and water and granola bars and fruit snacks. But that man turned it into a BATTLE GROUND first, and a cheap political stunt second.

“I am DEEPLY OFFENDED on behalf of every protestor, every Christian, the people of St. John’s, Lafayette square, every decent person there, and the BLM medics who stayed with just a single box of supplies and a backpack, even when I got too scared and had to leave. I am ok,” Gerbasi concluded. “But I am now a force to be reckoned with.”

*This post was updated with additional comments from Right Rev. Mariann Budde after it was published.

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Gulls, buckets and masturbation: a lighthouse keeper on The Lighthouse | Film | The Guardian

“God, I’m glad I never went to that one,” says Neil Hargreaves, as the closing credits of The Lighthouse roll. Neil is a former lighthouse keeper. I have brought him to see the film – centred around a 19th-century brick phallus on a godforsaken, storm-lashed rock off the coast of Maine – to get the insider’s view.

Actually, first I tried to take the film to him, to the cottage owned by Trinity House where he lives in Harwich, with a view from upstairs over the North Sea (tame today). But the DVD didn’t work, so he gave up his day and came back to London with me, to go to the cinema.

To be honest, I was a little apprehensive: what would Hargreaves – 73, old-school gent, proper polite – make of Robert Eggers’s nightmarish monochrome psychodrama? Of Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson going fabulously and terrifyingly insane in oilskins and knitwear? Of the flying semen, the unspeakable depths to which they plunge, all the way down to Davy Jones’s Locker? But he remains sanguine and stoic. “From a cinematic point of view, it was quite interesting,” he offers. “There is nothing entirely realistic about it.”

So, er, it doesn’t reflect his own experiences? “Oh no, no, no,” he says, quickly.

Hargreaves, originally from Lancashire, spent 16 years on lighthouses and lightships before taking voluntary redundancy in 1988 and becoming a security guard. He could see the end coming, with automation; since 1998, the UK has had no manned lighthouses.

His wildest, most remote posting was the Smalls Lighthouse, a granite tower perched on a rock 20 miles off the coast of Pembrokeshire, where he worked for two years – one month on, one month off, like in the film.

A key difference, though, was that there were three of them. That came about after an incident on the Smalls, a little before Hargreaves’s time in 1801, that changed lighthouse policy. It was before radio, he explains: the two keepers had no contact with the mainland and one of them died. “The other chap didn’t want the authorities to think he had bumped him off, so he kept him on the lighthouse, first inside the kitchen. Then, because they were overdue due to bad weather, he must have started to smell. So he took him out and lashed the body to the gallery round the outer part of the lantern. By the time the ship eventually got to him to relieve him, he had gone mad.”




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Hmm, a few echoes of the film there. After that, there were always three men on a lighthouse. “They were a good bunch of blokes,” says Hargreaves. “I made some good friends and I’m still friends with them. You got the odd one now and again, as you do anywhere, I suppose. The job did attract the odd loner, people who prefer their own company.”

Most keepers had hobbies; he knew a couple who knitted, like Pattinson’s character. Hargreaves made ships in bottles; yes, he spotted the one in the film, floating past in the drunken madness. The pisspot rang true, too; in the Smalls, it lived outside the shared bedroom halfway up the tower, by the window. “There was a streak down the side of the lighthouse,” he says. For poos, it was “bucket and chuck it” from the gallery.

Was there as much masturbation as in the film? “I suppose you’re only blokes, stuck out there a month at a time; some of that might have gone on.”

Did he ever feel like bumping anyone off? “It only happened to me once,” he says. At the Smalls, his first PK (principal keeper; a lighthouse had one principal and two assistants keepers) was an alcoholic. Lighthouses were dry, but this guy would be drunk going out “and you’d have to send him to his bed out of the way for the first two days”.

He was not the problem, though. When he was eventually sacked, it was his replacement who was the problem. “He was a bigot, a racist bigot. Homophobic as well. Watching TV, he would be cursing and moaning and going on about the … He was a real Alf Garnett, in spite of the fact that he knew my wife at the time was from the West Indies.”

Jesus, imagine being stuck on a lonely tower on the edge of the world with Alf Garnett! Instead of killing him, Hargreaves wrote to Trinity House and got himself transferred, to a platform on the North Sea where he spent seven years.

The gulls strike a nostalgic chord for Neil. There is one in the film who taps on the window with its beak, not in a friendly way, and it ends badly. Hargreaves never did that, but he remembers one they used to feed. It had only one leg and had to perform “a sort of crash landing”. He never saw, or did anything with, a mermaid. He did see a lot of lovely sunsets, though.

When Hargreaves left the job in 88, there were 174 keepers working. Many of them are no longer around. There will be a time, in the not too distant future, when there will be no one left who worked on a lighthouse. That is partly why he founded the Association of Lighthouse Keepers. “It wasn’t a job I wanted to walk away from and forget about.”

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Pagan Idols Set Up in English Martyrs Church

Alan Williams

BRENTWOOD, England (ChurchMilitant.com) – A Catholic church in England is facing backlash for displaying Hindu, Buddhist and African idols in front of the altar for a service marking Pope Francis’ pan-religious day of prayer.

On Thursday morning, the diocese of Brentwood tweeted a picture of the idols of Shiva and Buddha, alongside an icon of Jesus the Good Shepherd and an African carving advertising an “interfaith prayer service” to be held at the Church of the English Martyrs, Hornchurch, at 7 p.m.

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Fr. Britto Belevendran, pastor of English Martyrs, Hornchurch

“Pope Francis has appealed for a Day of Prayer and Fasting and Works of Charity for believers of all religions on 14 May, to implore God to help humanity overcome the coronavirus pandemic,” the diocesan website announced.

“In response to this appeal, Fr. Britto Belevendran, chair of the Interfaith Committee, will be leading an interfaith prayer service at 7 p.m. on Thursday 14 May (live streaming).”

“He says: ‘I invite the parishes and friends of other faiths to come together to pray for the healing of the globe and our fragile humanity from the present pandemic,” it continued. “Please join in in whatever ways you can.'”

Within minutes, hundreds of outraged Catholics bombarded the diocese’s Twitter thread accusing Fr. Belevendran of idolatry, syncretism, sacrilege and the heresy of indifferentism.

Catholic commenters hit out at the parish priest: “Shame on you.” “Willfully breaking the first commandment.” “Repent!!! You will suffer hellfire for this!” “This is sacrilege, and I will be contacting your diocesan chancellor.”

Not a single comment was positive or in favor of the interfaith service. 

Within less than an hour of Church Militant contacting the priest for comment, the tweet with the photograph of the idols was deleted. 

“It is ironic that this happened in a church named in honour of the English martyrs whose feast day was only celebrated a week ago,” Catholic journalist Caroline Farrow told Church Militant.  

“These priests, religious, laymen and women gave their lives so that Catholicism could be preserved. While it may have been motivated by good intentions, this act of blasphemy nonetheless spits upon their selfless sacrifice,” she lamented. 

The U.K. campaign director for CitizenGO told Church Militant she is running a campaign attempting to persuade the government to reopen churches: “But you have to wonder that if idol worship is what they are going to be used for, perhaps it’s better they remain closed.”

Farrow added:

You have to wonder what on earth the parish priest was thinking of allowing a 10-armed pagan idol to sit atop an altar. Worse still, that whoever was running the diocesan Twitter account appeared to agree and endorse this act of sacrilege. The bishop needs to be alert to the spiritual dangers of this, all of those involved need a course on remedial Catholicism and some serious reparation needs to be made. 

An Indian convert to Catholicism told Church Militant she was heartbroken by the idolatry: “My ancestors worshipped these idols and I am grateful to the Catholic missionaries who came and preached the Gospel to my ancestors, delivering us from worshipping such grotesque images of wood and stone.”

It is ironic that this happened in a church named in honour of the English martyrs whose feast day was only celebrated a week ago.

“Father Belevendran says he is from India,” she said. “Doesn’t he know how the caste system of Hinduism oppressed us for 3,000 years and only Christianity liberated us? Doesn’t he know the idol he placed on the altar is that of Shiva — the Hindu god of destruction?”

“Is the Bishop of Brentwood so racist that he believes Catholicism is only for white English people and not for brown-skinned Indians like me and so I need to go back to Hinduism?” she asked. “The image of Shiva as Nataraja on the altar conveys the Indian conception of the never-ending cycle of time, which is completely contrary to the biblical linear concept of time.”

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Bishop of Brentwood Alan Williams

Church Militant wrote a second time to Fr. Belevendran asking why the post with the picture of idols was suddenly pulled from the diocesan Twitter feed, asking him why he chose to reject the uniqueness of Jesus, the Son of God, and “install a statue of Shiva (Nataraja) the god of destruction on a table before the altar.” As of press time, Church Militant received no response. 

Brentwood diocese under Bp. Alan Williams is continuing to promote Pope Francis’ pan-religious day of prayer. Another tweet invites Catholics to join in Holy Mass “in response to Pope Francis’ call for interfaith Day of Prayer.”

Meanwhile, following Church Militant’s report on Catholics condemning the pontiff’s day of prayer as “blasphemy” and “sacrilege,” the pontiff has responded asserting that he is not promoting “religious relativism” but human fraternity.   

“Perhaps there will be someone who will say: ‘This is religious relativism and it cannot be done.’ But how can we not pray to the Father of all?” Francis asked in the Santa Marta chapel on Thursday.

“Everyone prays as he knows, how he can, as he has received from his own culture. We are not praying against each other, this religious tradition against this, no,” the pontiff added. “We are all united as human beings, as brothers, praying to God, according to our culture, according to our own tradition, according to our beliefs, but brothers and praying to God. This is the important thing.”

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On What Would Have Been the Launch of Cannes, a Celebration of 26 Film Festivals — and 26 Festival Directors | Filmmaker Magazine

&The Cannes Film Festival and Market

by Kaleem Aftab
in Festivals & Events
on May 12, 2020

Film festivals are all about a community coming together to celebrate an art form that we all love. They were one of the first group of events to cancelled when the coronavirus began to spread. The current crisis in the film industry (and across society and the economy as a whole) — the job losses and closures — made it difficult to publish my look back over my year in film festivals, as I’ve done on an annual basis for Filmmaker since 2014. (Also, I had broken my finger over Christmas so was unable to type for three weeks, which is when I usually pen these articles!) Plus, because last year I’d been to 26 film festivals, a record for me, the piece also took a long time to write.

Twenty-six film festivals is a lot. In December of last year, I promised my partner that in 2020, I would go to fewer festivals. Little did we know that my hand was going to be forced by the tragedy of a virus pandemic. Looking back, I’m so glad I went to so many in 2019, seizing the day like I was in the Dead Poets Society.

Sitting here right now, as Cannes would have begun, I believe we will be lucky to see a film festival happen in a traditional way again in the Fall — if then. For all the efforts to put festivals online, there is nothing that matches the intoxicating atmosphere and excitement of attending. That’s why I go to so many of them. I miss hearing a projector whir and seeing a film for the first time, listening to filmmakers talk about their projects, the conversations with fellow attendees, the pitching of projects, those celebrating great reviews, others commiserating. I even miss the 10-minute standing ovations made more out of courtesy rather than enthusiasm. I’ve even started doing this at home now.

So while it may seem odd to have a look back at 2019 film festival season in May, it also seems so fitting to publish today. Absence has made the heart grow fonder. Right now is a time when the role of film festivals is being analysed more than ever by festival directors, as they decide what is essential, what they have to keep, or for some, what they can replicate online. Most importantly, film festivals have to comprehend how can they stay relevant when the spectacle that is their heart is on life-support.

In my mind, there is nothing quite as exhilarating as attending a film festival. I look forward to the moment of being able to participate in more than 26 festivals in a year. (Just don’t tell my partner!).

The festival director is the public face of a film festival. They guide the program and set the agenda. But who are they? In 2019, I tried to meet as many festival directors as possible, and from time-to-time chat about the poster of the festival. I wanted to know if I could see the personality of the festival director at the event. Little did I know when I started this process in January that I would go to 26 film festivals, either as a journalist, moderating Q and A’s or giving talks on festival strategy. 

Tromsø International Film Festival 

Festival Director: Martha Otte

American Martha Otte first worked as a volunteer at the Tromsø International Film Festival in 1998. By 2005 she became festival director. 2019 was her last year as the position at Tromsø  I’ve known Martha for several years, first meeting her at the now-defunct Abu Dhabi Film Festival. We’ve bonded over films. I’ve appeared on the jury at Tromsø in the past, and this year, she asked me to do the Q&A sessions with Canadian filmmaker Philippe Lesage, following screenings of his excellent coming-of-age drama Genesis.

It takes a kooky personality to want to live in the Arctic Circle, where during the film festival, the sun never quite rises above the horizon. Despite all the darkness, the irony is that Otte is an insomniac. Luckily she’s found a profession where staying up in the dark is a necessary component.

Otte says of her philosophy to running the festival: “We are especially interested in films that are ‘off the radar’ and are not standard festival fare, which doesn’t mean experimental; it just means we want to make our own discoveries.”

I was too busy buying trinkets with Gaspar Noé and chasing the Aurora Borealis to make too many movie discoveries of my own. It’s that kind of place! The one discovery I made was Egil Håskjold Larsen’s Where Man Returned, about a lonely old white man lives in the Arctic wilderness with his dog. He listens to football and shipping news on his radio. It was a metaphor for so many conversations had at festivals this year. 

One thing that did catch my eye was the poster of the festival. It featured an image of a figure dressed in a thawb with the face drawn as the Tromso Film Festival logo. The poster was designed by Christopher Ide (AKA Doffa), of design office Tank, and he has been the go to guy for the festival for a number of years. The image was smart on so many levels. Since 2001, Tromso and Gaza have been twin cities. The festival also had a strong focus on Arab cinema with screenings of Sameh Zoabi’s satire of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict Tel Aviv on Fire, Dalia Kury’s prison recreation documentary Privacy of Wounds, and a section called Arabiyat — the Arab word for women — celebrating female filmmakers from the region and programmed in association with Morocco’s Cinematheque de Tanger.

Rotterdam International Film Festival 

Festival Director Bero Beyer

The next festival I attended was another festival where the festival director was looking to move their life away from festivals. In July, Rotterdam head honcho Bero Beyer announced that he had accepted a job as CEO of the Netherlands Film Fund, commencing in March 2020, after this years’ edition. More recently, it was announced that his replacement would be MUBI acquirer Vanja Kaludje, who had previously worked for the festival. 

2019’s edition was Beyer’s fifth in the post. He’s a confident guy. In the role, Beyer has grown the industry side of the festival and increased the focus on experiences rather than just watching films. The festival takes place when a lot of American eyes are on Sundance, but he’s keen on appealing to the 180 ethnicities found in Rotterdam. “The first thing we want to get right is that the program is representing the world and not just one side of the world,” Beyer tells me on his way to a Claire Denis seminar.

Beyer says of his philosophy to the festival, “We do what others don’t. We always go one step further. What makes us special is the stuff that is slightly crazy and on the fringe of things. People show up to watch avant-garde.”

The film festival posters are part of a campaign living under the umbrella of “Planet IFFR.” Planet IFFR is a concept formulated in 2017, where the emphasis was put on the number of people involved in the movie making process. The various staff on a set are in Rotterdam’s eyes, representive of the cultures and peoples of the world. “This year, we asked what makes us alive? It’s more than facts and truth because they are long gone, facts don’t matter – it’s emotions.” 

“In the poster campaign the faces and the words used to describe the expressions being pulled seem to conflict. There is a happy face, but the poster says angry. These seemingly oppositional emotions are reflected in the films we show. Our cinema doesn’t give you an answer – it gives you a question. The films don’t give you a feeling you have foreseen – they give you an emotion you have not anticipated it’s like a rollercoaster ride without a seatbelt.”

A case in point is Sacha Polak’s Dirty God, an international co-production that blurs fact and fiction by having Vicky Knight, who was a victim of an acid attack, play the victim of an acid attack. Yet from this starting point, a cinematic truth emerges, very different from reality. Or Present.Perfect, the Hivos Tiger Award winner, which is made up of footage of China taken from the Internet by Chicago based Chinese director Shengze Zhu.  

Beyer admits that the pluralism highlighted in the program could be better reflected in the diversity of the staff, stating, “That’s an on-going process.” And one from next year, he’ll presumably be pushing his successor to achieve.

Gothenburg Film Festival 

Festival Director: Jonas Holmberg

Gothenburg is Scandinavia’s biggest film festival, and just like Scandi Noir, it remains something of a mystery to me. It’s the one festival where I make an extra effort to watch the pitching session, where some filmmakers talk about the movies that they intend to make, and also others talk about the films that are deep into post-production. It’s intriguing as there is always something that ends up at Cannes, and not always what you expect. Usually, I hate seeing movie trailers or knowing anything about a film. Nonetheless, somehow I can listen to a Scandinavian auteur talking about their project in intricate detail, and yet see something entirely different on-screen. Is this because of what they say, or how I listen?

I did not know artistic director Jonas Holmberg before the festival. That despite the fact he’s been the head honcho at Gothenburg since 2014, when he was promoted from his position as international film programmer, and I’ve been to previous editions under his watch. His route into festival life was as a film critic. It’s interesting as that once familiar way into programming has gone into decline as dedicated film programmers appear, graduating from film schools, which have recently started hosting courses in curating and curating theory.

Holmberg seemed to be the quintessential Scandinavian when I met him. He dresses well and says all the right things. My younger self would have looked at him like the epitome of cool, but now I find him a little awkward.  He’s also good-natured. When I start by asking him about his poster, his reaction is a sincere, “How wonderful!” There’s a lot to like.

“We have a tradition of asking a local artist to design the poster,” states Holmberg. “They’re given a blank slate to design whatever they come up, and they come back to us with their design. It’s one of the most exciting days of the festival seeing what they have designed.”

It’s a very relaxed way of doing things and it has been that way since 1992. It also means that a look at the festival poster archive is like a journey to a gallery. The theme of the 2019 film festival was Apocalypse, which might explain how I came to watch a movie, Aniara, from the inside of a coffin. Jesper Waldersten was the artist chosen to create the one-sheet and created an eerie yet beautiful work in the style of horror and space movies from his childhood. Think, Alien, David Lynch and John Carpenter, then throw in a bit of Bergman, think of that image in black and white, and with a face populated by figures looking like they stepped out of Jake and Dinos Chapman’s Hell. 

The Scandi vibe was also apparent in Swede Anna Eborn’s fantastic Transnistra, a film that felt like the ’70s even though it is a breakaway state on the border of Moldavia in present day.

Berlin Film Festival 

Head of the Berlinale: Dieter Kosslick

It was Dieter Kosslick’s last stand at the Berlin Film Festival. The year before many prominent German film industry figures called for a change at the top of the Berlin Film Festival arguing that the festival had become irrelevant. The call was heeded and before the festival it was long since announced that his 18th edition would be his last. Kosslick is a unique character. His style and matter is defiantly old school, and eccentric. In his final year, Kosslick programmed a festival that was staunchly unapologetic. No bones thrown to those who criticised him. So the festival was full of challenging choices and featuring buried treasures for those who looked deep into the program. It will be interesting to see how and if that takes changes under the new guard. 

Kosslick attended an event that I organized to celebrate the life and work of publicist Richard Lormond, who had died from an illness a few months before the festival. Kosslick took time out of his busy schedule to say some kind words, and it served as a reminder that the work of a festival director at a festival is more than about selecting films and is also about social interactions. Acknowledging the work of those who help contribute to an event’s success is important as it takes many to put together a great festival.  

Later in the festival, as we sat down to talk about his legacy and the Berlinale poster, I couldn’t help but think that retirement had come at the right time for Kosslick as he was being outpaced by changing times. 

“The bear is our symbol. And for a couple of years now, Swiss artists have been doing our poster,” said Kosslick. “For a couple of years now, the bear has been cruising around going to different locations in Berlin. A lot of people have been asking who are these bears? We thought because it’s the end of my tenure, we would lift the secret of the bear. When the bear takes off his head, it’s the audience that is underneath. The bear is normal people who are on the way to the Berlinale.”

Over the past 18 years, he has worked with many agencies, and they all come up with very different designs, which is evident in the change in the style of the posters every few years. 

“This year, a discussion arose because there was a black person in one of our costumes and we talked about what would be the symbolism of having a black person in a bear costume,” admits Kosslick. “Would it look like discrimination? We wanted to show the variety of the audience that attend the Berlinale, but we have been afraid that if we used it, it would create a discrimination debate. Two people on our poster were from our staff were used as well. I don’t know all of the people personally. We thought about putting me in a costume, but in the end, we believed it was too much.”

The Berlinale like many other festivals this year signed the 50/50 by 2020 pledge to pursued gender parity. “The pledge was a political aim, but I think we are far ahead at the Berlinale,” says Kosslick. We have seven films from female directors in competition and with our staff and selection committee, there are a lot of women in prominent positions.’

Indeed, the film that stuck out most at the festival to my mind was a film screened out of competition, because it had been at Sundance, Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir.

Stockfish Film Festival 

Festival Director: Marzibil Snæfríõar Sæmundardóttir

Taking place in Reykjavik, Stockfish Film Festival is an event that wants to showcase Icelandic films to industry people to film exhibitors, programmers and distributors from around the world. Several Icelandic bodies come together to promote their wares, and it’s a great excuse to go to one of the most beautiful places in the world, with a burgeoning and exciting coffee scene. Yup, already by early March, coffee was my fuel.

The main two strands at the festival are an industry-pitching event, which has an overlap with Gothenburg and a competition programme of short films. There are also screenings of best of the fests, aimed to get the local audiences out of their warm wooden houses and into the fabulous cinema Bíó Paradís. From floor to high ceiling on one wall of the cinema are some fantastic posters designed by local artists to coincide with the release of huge movies, so it’s no surprise that Stockfish take their poster design seriously as well.

Sæmundardóttir has been the Festival Director of the Stockfish film festival since 2015. Before that, she was a writer and director. It was her love of film, and life, that led to her taking on the festival director role. A social butterfly, she brings a lightness and fun air to the event and promoting movies.

“We use a young designer and last year he came up with a version of yellow, which we liked a lot, and that has become the color of the festival,” says Sæmundardóttir. “The poster is exactly the same as last year, except for the dates!”

This attitude seems about right for a festival that knows what it wants to be and has a focussed goal. It’s a festival that has a great atmosphere, mainly because all the films take place in one cinema. They pick at most 25 films, which they consider the best of the fests, in addition to the industry events. The one thing they want everyone to watch is the local short films, which is a good way to start taking notice of local talent, and for local talent to realise that they’ll end up needing to make European co-productions if they want filmmaking to be their job. 

Bergamo Film Meeting 

Artistic Director: Angelo Signorelli

I love going to festivals that are off the beaten track. The Bergamo film meeting is one of those delightful festivals where much of the joy is in seeing classic movies on the big screen. There are new films that play, but I was more interested in seeing Jean-Pierre Léaud turn up to a screening of The 400 Blows, as part of a retrospective on his films, an exhibition of photographs from the set of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Arabian Nights and a retrospective on filmmaker and cinematographer Karpo Godina, an exponent of Yugoslavia’s “Black Wave.” In 2020 they were set to take an in-depth look at Jerzy Skolimowski. It’s a festival that loves outsiders. 

The desire to take a new look at the past is imprinted on the festival’s poster, which gives us a classic French New Wave shot of a young Léaud on the set of The 400 Blows in triplicate. Festival director Angelo Signorelli, who helped found the festival, struck me as a laid back, conscientious type. The easy-living style is one that he is happy to replicate at the festival with a communal ethos. A committee seemingly decides everything. No wonder it’s called the Film Meetings, because, in my two days in Bergamo, it felt like a shared experience, one where good coffee shops were not too far away and talking about films was as important as watching them. 

Signorelli had a similar attitude to the marketing material, “The poster is a collective choice. We liked the image a lot this year. It’s cinematographic, suggesting movement and different perspectives. The central focus is on the repeated image, which is also out of focus. In a way, it speaks about the complexity of cinema. How by looking at the cinema of the past, and the present, we see future trends. It reflects the multiplicity of the sections that the festival has.”

For the past four years, SUQ Republic has designed the poster. “They really understand the philosophy of the film meetings.”

Qumra  

Festival Director: Fatma Al Remaihi

The Doha Film Institute has been doing great work over the years, and industry gathering Qumra continues to be a success. It’s often a sign of confidence of an organisation when they are not afraid to admit to divided opinions and frank discourse. The following conversation between Festival director, Fatma Al Remaihi and DFI’s Director of Strategy and Development Hanaa Issa about the poster for this year’s event was one of my favourite moments of the year. 

Fatma: These images [on the numerous posters] represent the projects that we have, the jewels of Qumra. The principal image for the main poster and front of catalogue is from the first Qatari film in post-production and for us that is huge.

Hanaa: The circle in the poster is kind of our symbol. It reminds of the Q for Qumra and also the camera lens.

Fatma: But the question we had was, do we want to use an image that represented peace, or did we have one that was about war?

Hanaa: We had a long debate.

Fatma: We had different opinions. Do you want to tell him yours?

Hanaa: We had a debate. There was this one behind you, and in terms of artwork, it worked well with the colour and catalogue. I surveyed the office, and some of us felt that highlighting on the book of the projects and on the main catalogue an image of soldiers and war, especially of soldiers killing the farmers in Mexico, that this was perhaps the wrong message to send out to the world. We opted to go for something more peaceful. But then we had this debate around the fact that we do live in a hostile world, there is a lot of unfairness and injustice. Even though we want to highlight this, and make it part of the conversation, I thought to put an image that represented hope was more suited to who we are at Qumra, especially as our projects already contain a lot of stories about war and refugees.

Fatma: Whereas I thought that the world is a mess, and we should highlight it and not be afraid of it, we are not celebrating it, we are highlighting it. We spent the whole day with this discussion.

Hanaa: We argue all the time. We’ve known each other for a long time.

Fatma: It took the whole day this discussion. Going into work that day, I knew that we were going to have this discussion.

Hanaa: Me too, I ate a good breakfast, so I was ready to stand up for my view.

London Taiwan Film Festival UK

Festival Director: Aephie Huimi

I went to the opening day of the inaugural festival. They have a tie in with Stockfish, patly because Festival Director Aephie Huimi has strong links to Iceland and Taiwan. The opening was the UK premiere of Tsai-Ming Liang’s VR cinematic experience, The Deserted, with the director in attendance. I’d inadvertently had a hand in this happening, as I met Huimi through a producing pal friend of mine a number of times. When she revealed she was thinking of putting on a Taiwan Festival in the UK, I immediately mentioned The Deserted and said that she had to screen it. Little did I know that they would then have a retrospective of Liang’s work and he would come to London. It was a small but perfectly formed festival, which is how these looks at national cinema should be.

At first glance, I didn’t know what to make of the poster which seemed like a lot of undecipherable elements around an alien looking sea creature. Then Huimi informed me, “We wanted the poster to be as cute as possible.”

The poster designer, Ting Cheng, was also at the opening night party added, “She wanted something that would represent Taiwanese culture. I wanted something multicultural, and so we got a sea monster drinking Bubble Tea that is made up on the Taiwanese alphabet, which is full of symbols and these different shapes are representative of different cultures.”

Huimi adds, “You cannot define Taiwan in one shape, so every year, the festival will take on different forms, and that is why the sea monster is significant.”

All of a sudden, the poster took on a profound meaning that I’d not been able to see. It was a good reminder, not just of the value of art, but the importance of listening to others, and, of course, reading critics to elucidate and fill in gaps of knowledge. 

CPH: DOX 

Festival Head: Tine Fischer

“The posters for me are part of the core DNA of the festival. I’m so involved in the posters in a way that drives people mad. When we started working, we had external graphic designers, and now I hire designers so that they are employed inside the organisation and work with me for months! Each time I used agencies, I ended up being in massive conflict with them, mainly because, for me, it’s so delicate what you do with posters. When you said posters, I thought this is so fucking spot on, because it’s a nightmare each year, really a nightmare, because it’s challenging to find the balance in the posters from what I believe is the core DNA, namely a very active civic voice when it comes to political activism. You’re addressing something that people need to react to, not only will this look nice emotionally, but really react to it politically. Then it also needs to reflect an artistic profile that deals very much with non-fiction as cinema and as art. It can’t be a poster that will resemble an NGO perspective. So that balance has to be that it’s highly political and activist but also speaks with a more contemporary art, conceptual language. Then it needs to appeal to our audience, which is from young hipsters to grown-up decision makers. It’s a headache because it’s so difficult.”

“This year, I worked with the same graphic designer that I worked with for the last few years. So he works in-house for half the year, being a part of the process and understanding what the film process is about, but also what kind of films we will have. He saw climate change would be a big issue, but how do you do a poster on climate change? That’s almost impossible as all images relating to climate change have been used and overused. Then he came up with this image, with a woman’s breasts that have been sunburnt basically, but that makes it delicate to put out in public. It’s not overly clear what it’s about, but it is about someone who is not careful. We have the Morse code symbols on it to reflect a universal language, and then some images show images of climate change, there is a lifebuoy for example. There are lots of messages in that picture.”

I had started to feel like I’d seen most approaches to festival poster design, and just as I was beginning to tire of asking festival directors about it, CPH: DOX’s Tine Fischer blew me out of the water. But that will come as no surprise to anyone who has watched the festival over the years. She has taken the bull by the horns during her long tenure at the festival. She boldly changed the dates of the festival from the Fall to the Spring when she felt that the market was too crowded. The film choices have been radical, and she’s established CPH: DOX as one of the most exciting documentary festivals. 

The festival was also where I conducted one of my favourite interviews of the year, sitting down with Alex Winter. We discussed Bitcoin and The Panama Papers, as well as sexual abuse in the film industry. And of course Bill and Ted, we drank coffee together a couple of days after the announcement that he would appear in Bill And Ted 3. Of course, it was most excellent.

Panama Film Festival 

Artistic Director: Diana Sanchez

A few weeks before the Panama film festival took place Toronto International Film Festival announced that Diana Sanchez would be taking up a position in Toronto full-time. Much of Sanchez’s fantastic reputation that led to that Canada role has come from how she built up the Panama Film Festival into one of the most vibrant, forward-thinking and fun festivals in the Americas. Of course, from my side, it helped that Panama is home to Geisha Coffee, some of the best and most expensive beans on the planet. A competition-winning brew that would set you back $75 a cup in San Francisco retails for $9 in Panama. It’s still a lot to pay for a coffee, given that great blends retail at $4 here, but it’s not often that one can treat yourself daily to the champagne of the coffee world. The coffee and the festival were marvellous. This year it gave a great platform to films from Guatemala. It showcased how artists are trying to comprehend the human catastrophe caused by the years of dictatorship and, also the American support to the dictatorship. There is a similar sentiment in Panama where President George W. Bush ordered an invasion in December 1989.

In total contrast to the approach in Copenhagen, Diana Sanchez, in a somewhat more laidback manner, informed me that she didn’t get involved in the production of the poster. She is someone who knows what she likes to do and is happy to delegate the other jobs to others. She advised me to chat with Pituka Ortega, the Director and founder of the Film Festival, who was involved in the creation of the poster and appointed the new team that will be in charge of the 2020 edition.

“It’s the first time that we have worked with Cisco Merel, a Panamanian artist to create the poster,” Ortega says. “He works with geometrical shapes, and one of his masters is Venezuelan artist [Carlos] Cruz-Diez. When we spoke to him, he brought this concept to us that within these geometrical shapes that conveyed cinema. Artists are artists, and we just loved it and went with it. It’s a detachment from everything else we have done, and we loved working with an up-and-coming artist. It has opened a window for us to work with other up-and-coming artists from Panama. The unifying factor will be the logo. It represents the festival as a platform for new ideas and talent just like we are doing for a central American and Caribbean platform that we have invested so much energy and thought to, and our resources. ”

CineMAS 

Artistic Director Joe Wihl

Formerly, the United Arab Emirates was host to not one, but two great festivals. Then in 2015, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival closed after eight editions, and last year, far more surprisingly, the Dubai Film Festival closed. Fans of cinema in the UAE went from boom to bust. So it was great to see cinephiles take the matter into their own hands and launch an independent film festival at an excellent venue, Manarat Al Saadiyat (the MAS in CineMAS). It was a film festival designed by cinephiles for cinephiles that lasted a joyous four days, with master classes, workshops and screenings. The festival is a demonstration that good taste can be more valuable than finance.  

“The poster was made in Abu Dhabi by a branding agency who designed all our collateral,” Wihl told me. “We wanted a poster that connected film, cinema and the art world. We are lucky to show films that people don’t normally get to see, so we wanted it to reflect the artistic nature of the festival. The branding agency came back to us with three options, and we chose the one used because the brush strokes showed the interconnecting nature of the art world and film. We have five different colours that we used on the posters to reflect the diversity of cinema and the wide selection of films from around the world.”

Admittedly, it is hard for me not to like the festival director, since I played on the same soccer team as him for several years. He scored many goals in his time, so I wanted to go to support the festival. This festival may end up being a one-off, as rumours abound that Abu Dhabi may re-launch an international festival in 2020. But many rumours circulate here. 

Cannes 

Festival Director: Thierry Frémaux

Cannes makes a massive fanfare out of its poster. It is published before any film announcement and widely shared on social media. Arguably, this year’s poster featuring the recently departed French legend Agnes Varda was the most popular one-sheet in its history. And that is saying something! A great article by Sight and Sound’s Isabel Stevens argued: “Cannes has finally woken up to the power of the poster.” She posited that the photo-shopped reinterpretation of the iconic image of Varda standing on top of cinematographer Louis Stein when filming her first feature La Pointe Courte was created to demonstrate that Cannes is changing. Stevens argued, it “signals that the festival has, at long last, clocked that it needs to change. Does this change go deeper than a clever and overdue rebranding exercise? Only the number of female-directed films in future editions of the festival will tell.”

Sadly, not long after the poster release, the competition announcement came, and this change seemed to be an illusion with complaints circulating about the lack of female directors. The festival still snagged the best film of the year, Parasite, and one of the many joys of the film is the range of great posters that Bong Joon-Ho’s film has inspired by regional distributors around the world.

As for the likeable Frémaux, every year he proves how good he, and his team, are at their job of selecting the year’s best films. Nonetheless, using a classic image from the past shows how much he still looks back when so many people are crying out for him to look to the future. He is an enigma, just like his festival, whose policy to exclude films not guaranteed an exclusive first run in French cinemas seems more and more robust with every passing year. So far, it’s Netflix and not Cannes making changes to how they operate. 

Kultur Symposium Weimar

By June, unsurprisingly I had had my fill of film festivals, so it was a delight to be invited by the Goethe Institute to attend their second Kultur Symposium Weimar. It was an invite-only event that contained talks, performance art, films and debates.

For three days, more than 300 participants from all over the world came together at the Kultursymposium Weimar, including representatives from science, culture, politics, business, journalism and publishing. The first Kultursymposium Weimar took place in 2016 on the subject of The Sharing Game – Exchange in Culture and Society. The second edition from 19 to 21 of June 2019 was entitled Recalculating the Route. It was an incredibly inspiring event, and great to be somewhere where I did not see the same faces, and people were talking about social issues without the conversation being bound to a film. I also didn’t talk to anyone about the design of the poster for the event. Indeed from this point on in the year, my observation on the one-sheet became largely my own again. This event felt like a real marker separating the first part of the year focussing on the branding to the second part of the year, informed by trying to reconnect with the idea of looking at how film festivals relate the realities of the world and present the future. Of course, there were movies, but this event was really about new ideas and building better social groupings. 

London Indian Film Festival

Festival Director: Cary Rajinder Sawhney

The London Indian Film Festival celebrated a decade. It was a big year for Festival Director Cary Sawhney as he also collected an MBE for services to the film industry. His work is getting noticed. I dipped my toe into the festival attending a screening of The Flight, where it was my pleasure to be asked to host the Q and A with legendary Bengali Filmmaker Buddhadeb Dasgupta. It was a lovely event held at the Cine Lumiere in London. It reminded me how lucky I was to be living in London, where almost every night there is some great film festival of some sort or some fantastic filmmaker giving a talk. For the festival to reach ten years, and be more significant than ever, takes some doing.

Oh and I don’t think I looked at the poster. Sorry, Cary! And, really I need to stay in my home time more often! 

Nordic Youth Film Festival

Festival Director: Hermann Greuel

Having started the year in Tromsø, for a week when the sun never rises above the horizon, it was nice to be back in the Arctic Circle for NUFF when the sun never dips below the horizon. I mean, it’s cold whatever the time of the year one is in the Arctic, but on a clear day, when you can actually glimpse the sun it is gorgeous. At NUFF, the efforts to build a politicised film community are what brightens-up every day of this youth orientated festival.  

NUFF is an annual short film festival and film workshop for young filmmakers up to the age of 26. These talents get split into several groups under the guidance of a filmmaker. They have a week to make a short film from scratch. On the final weekend, the freshly made short films screen as part of a short films festival. The mentors included producer Racha H Larsen and filmmaker Egil Håskjold Larsen, whose film Where Man Returns opened the Tromso International Film Festival. The prolific award-winning short filmmaker Mahdi Fleifel, Anders Emblem, whose film Hurry Slowly I had missed at Tromsø International Film Festival but saw at a special here. Inuk Jørgensen from Greenland and Virtual Reality expert Marta Ordeig were also in charge of a group, and composer Rune Simonsen was producing music for the images.

I delivered a film appreciation seminar and hosted a masterclass event with Mahdi Fleifel talking about his short films, which we screened in chronological order, as well as hosting Q&A sessions with some of the talents attending the workshops It was an awesome time!

Festival director Hermann Greuel is such a great personality and so friendly. I wish that I could wipe away the years, and be young enough to be accepted as one of the participants. It’s a truly great event, and one that seemed to be practising the philosophy preached at the Weimar Kultur Symposium. The future is sunny. 

Karlovy Vary Film Festival 

Festival Director Karel Och

Karel Och is one of the great festival directors of our times. He has good taste, hosts a well-respected film festival that has great talents, juries, parties and writing courses. So what’s not to like? Well, somehow on the first night I was put into the world’s most noisy hotel, above a party that went on until 4 am every night. Add to this that the Internet in the basement house in Parasite worked better than it did at the hotel and I wasn’t a happy camper. Thankfully, the next night they moved me to the edge of town, and the smile returned to my face.

Apart from that blip, I saw many unique films. HBO put on a great party. I’d seen so many films at Cannes, that I wasn’t as side-tracked by catching up with Cannes movies as I have been on past visits to Karlovy Vary film festival. It’s a great place to get a taste of films from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. There was an excellent retrospective taking a look at the works of Egyptian maestro Youssef Chahine films. Even though I haven’t been for a few years, the festival seems familiar. Even the poster for the festival is the same design, this year the colours were changed to be black and white. So why is it, that I always leave Karlovy Vary with a but…

Every time I get home I think I’ll give Karlovy Vary a skip next time. But that’s usually because every second year clashes with a big soccer tournament. The festival will be happy that in 2022, the world cup is moving to the winter because of the hot Doha summer, that will probably be the year I’m not invited! The festival has a great press dinner, and at the main festival centre, there is a bar where everyone congregates. However, the festival still manages to get it wrong because it separates the industry, press and guests from each other. There feels like several festivals going on at the same time, which is a shame as really Karlovy Vary should be about breaking down those barriers between the different parts of the film community rather than reinforcing them. 

Locarno Film Festival 

Festival Director: Lili Hinstin

Locarno feels like a bit of a blur. It was the first year that Lili Hinstin was in the Festival hot seat. Her philosophy seems to be that evolution and not revolution was the best way to get her feet under the table. On my first night by the magnificent lake, I met her at an official dinner attended by Palme D’Or winner Bong Joon-Ho and also hosted were those programmers and filmmakers who put together the excellent Black Light retrospective. On the Industry side, the push to support filmmakers from around the world, especially from those areas without traditional support for independent cinema remains strong.

The poster also evolves slightly every year, but it noticeable evolved that little bit more this year, the main indicator of changes. What I like about Locarno is the use of the yellow and black leopard spots, which are always such a unique identifier. It’s also fun. There have been some inventive variations on the leopard theme, especially the kiss poster from the 59th edition in 2006, which remains one of my all-time festival favourites. This year, there was a bold reinterpretation that saw far more playful brush strokes, creating a more abstract version of the leopard, but one that seemed more playful, child-friendly and looking to the future. With it being Lili’s first year, it was understandably difficult to find time to catch her for a conversation on the direction of the festival, which I’m looking forward to doing in 2020

Locarno is a festival that has so much going for it, from the magnificent screenings in the Piazza Grande of more commercially minded films to the selection of more challenging fare in competition and elsewhere. Yet, as with so many other festivals, it has suffered from sales agents no longer using the film festivals as their primary location to source and sell movies. It will be interesting to see how Karlovy Vary and Locarno tackle the hurdles ahead, especially on the side of promoting cinema rather than movies. Festivals such as Locarno and Karlovy Vary have begun addressing this issue by being more supportive of a broader range of critical voices. Still, there must be more effort to make audiences feel part of the movie industry and encourage spectators to make bolder choices, not just at film festivals, but on a Friday night date.

Venice Film Festival 

Festival Director: Alberto Barbera

In the last couple of years, it’s been a surprise that the Venice Film Festival hasn’t just found a space to put the Netflix logo in the middle of the poster, given the preponderance of films from the streamer. I get it. Venice has been the primary beneficiary of the stance taken by Cannes on streaming platforms failure to heed cinematic windows, and they have reaped the red carpet rewards, with more stars in attendance and more media interest. It’s undeniable that Alberto Barbera has done a great job in making Venice a place to launch films, especially award contenders. Although it’s likely that for the second year in succession, unless Marriage Story does pull off an unlikely Best Film Oscar victory, that for the second year, the Oscar winner will not have debuted on the Lido. There is also a well-voiced and, quite frankly well-placed, concern about the dominance of English language films in the Venice competition. Again, the media and the trades desire to push films as Oscar contenders, that will result in them receiving advertising money from studios looking to win awards, is also part of the game. So it’s not in anyone’s interest to complain too much. It’s another example of how capitalism can limit choice, even in art.

Consequently, some great movies that could have done with the status push that can come with appearing in competition on the Lido get somewhat lost in the sidebar sections. I would like to see Venice be a bit bolder in its official selection. But if it’s glam you want, Barbera is your man. He is incredibly slick, has a big fun personality and could have been a character in La Dolce Vita. He is Italian Hollywood.

Even the choice of poster, which I love, reflects this debate. It’s a painted image of a couple being filmed kissing on the front of a boat. It’s a hint towards Titanic more than the refugee crisis, or the debate about how locals have turned against cruise ships, and the worry about climate change. The poster designed by Italian illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti (he’s also created the 2000 edition Cannes poster) emphasizes the water that makes Venice so unique, and the painted image connects the film festival to La Biennale, of which it is part. I liked the poster, and yes, I liked the festival. 

Toronto Film Festival 2020

Artistic Director and Co-Head: Cameron Bailey

I must admit it’s only now that I’m writing this that I’m looking properly at the one-sheet of the Toronto International Film Festival for the first time. The fall film festival season doesn’t allow for much navel-gazing. It’s the moment every year that I forget the sage advice from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off about life moving pretty fast and the need to take stock and look around once in a while. At Toronto, there is no such opportunity to stop. After the curated programmes of Venice and Telluride is the splurge of films in Canada.  The festival ends with the announcement of the winner of the Toronto audience award. Then we are all supposed to guess what will win the Oscars for the next few months. Of the Oscar frontrunners, only 1917 and The Irishman, which debuted shortly after at the New York Film Festival had not screened at this stag. It’s a shame that there is this enormous focus on what goes on in Hollywood in February because great stuff that happens in Toronto gets overlooked as a consequence.

One of which is the mentoring of film critics from underrepresented demographics. So at TIFF, I had the great honor of mentoring Valerie Complex at the festival. It was great to be able to meet up and hang with a young writer, who had exciting and differing viewpoints about films. She’s also making significant headway into the field of criticism, and has a prevalent Twitter account should you want to employ her. Together, we watched Anna Winocour’s space training epic Proxima, which we were still debating the next day. It was a film that grew on both of us, with Complex being the first to admit that the film was better than she initially thought. The joy of movies and not writing immediate tweets and reviews. As with many things in Toronto, it did feel like the critic mentoring scheme was another thing added, and need some refinement and more support from the festival, but it’s a great start for the initiative that I hope will grow. It came as no surprise to me that this initiative was taking place at a festival where Cameron Bailey is the head honcho. Despite all the talk around inclusion, white male critics still have so much more opportunity than women and people of color. And it’s no surprise that Bailey has overseen this initiative given his background. He’s a top programmer, and it won’t be long before his evolution at TIFF becomes a revolution. Of the big fall festivals, Toronto is the one making the most significant effort to bring about change not just to film, but also society.

But back to that poster, it’s a bit abstract and difficult to tell what it wants to be. Maybe I did see it during TIFF, everywhere, I just didn’t realise that it was the visual identity that was supposed to be representing the festival. Having said that, it kind of fits with some of my sentiments about a festival where a lot of films, seem to be put together abstractly, and where it doesn’t quite come together as a whole.

El Gouna Film Festival 

Festival Director: Ihtishal Al Timimi

I have a good rapport with Festival Director Ihtishal Al Timimi from his time at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. Heading to Egypt meant that I had to miss San Sebastian, one of my favourite film festivals of the year, every year. I’m still crying, even if it was well worth the change of water and sun location. El Gouna is one of those friendly festivals, with a real hub where everyone mingles and chats about the movies that they have, or haven’t been watching. Its focus is on films from the Middle East and North Africa, and all of the key players from the region turn up, make plans and plot for the future. It comes a few weeks before Cairo and has a far more curated programme in which most films had a lot going for it. It was one of those festivals with not much to do in a resort late at night, so it was easy to mingle with filmmakers and festival programmers.

The poster is striking, albeit one more in keeping with it a perfume fragrance rather than a film festival. It shows a lady in a red dress walking across a stage from left to right, with the backdrop resembling a film reel. It wants to be modern but can’t help but feel retro. Much like this festival, the poser is a throwback to a bygone era, and that’s not always a bad thing. I’m hoping the festival moves dates to avoid a clash with San Sebastian in the future.

Zurich Film Festival 

Artistic Director: Karl Spoerri

Straight from El Gouna, I crashed into the Zurich Film Festival. This festival, with its green carpets, has been growing in stature every year. It’s the sister festival to San Sebastian and benefits from filmmakers coming straight from the Basque region to Switzerland. Zurich has improved a lot in recent years, but the selection has yet to catch fire. The big Swiss festival, Locarno, has a much more progressive and diverse programme. This year was a watershed for Zurich in many ways as it was the final year that co-founders Nadja Schildknecht (managing director) and Karl Spoerri (artistic director) were at the helm. They will be board members and advisors to the festival from here on in. Some months before the festival started, Zurich announced that leading film journalist Christian Jungen, the chief cultural editor at the German-language Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag, had joined the Zurich Film Festival and would take over as Artistic Director in 2020. The appointment shows that good taste and a long career observing the film industry is still a way into festival curating (despite my earlier observation), especially for celebrations of cinema looking to be bolder in their selection.

One of the changes that can immediately be made, that would highlight a bit more risk-taking, is the creation of more captivating movie posters. I hope Jungen changes this up too. The Zurich Film Festival has a strong logo presence, but the desire to have a visual identity that appears on tickets, festival cars and stationery has led to the uninspiring and corporate logo dominating the festival poster. Where is the fun? The use of the logo on the poster is more bland corporate identity than art. Let’s face it, the formula for many film festivals is the same, you have films, industry talks and events with a bit of glamour on the carpet, it’s the other stuff that stokes the audience imagination that creates buzz. That starts with a good poster.

London Film Festival 

Festival Director Tricia Tuttle

The London Film Festival also went for the abstract approach to designing their visual identity. At first glance, it feels even more abstract than that in Toronto and less cohesive with it’s merging triangles and colours. The British Film Institute said when launching the poster: “Delivered in collaboration with creative agency DBLG, the design continues to develop iconography that was inspired by the beautiful NFT sign on our building at BFI Southbank, which was created in 1957 by Norman Engleback, and harks back to some of our classic Festival artwork from the 60s.” Hmm. If you say so! I’ve been to the BFI Southbank building countless times, and I’m at a loss about the beautiful NFT sign! 

London is my hometown film festival, so I guess that makes me harder on it, in the way that happens in families. It was the first year that Tricia Tuttle was officially in charge as festival head. The year before she was acting head, so 2019 wasn’t her first festival in the hot seat. Her promotion seemed to be an anointment rather than an appointment. I was surprised that there was not a more significant fanfare about the failure to open up the application process, but not too surprised. Tricia is very personable and is well-qualified for the role and probably would have got the job anyway. Also, it’s hard to imagine many clamoring for a position that involves programming a festival around talent that is coming to London for BAFTA screenings so that they can campaign for award season votes. London feels like a hostage to the awards season. 

That being said the clamoring for votes is terrific timing for the festival as it means it gets a host of talent to attend the festival because it’s the early stage of the awards campaigning when producers and studios are still unsure of what will emerge as the frontrunners. Consequently, it struggles to be a festival of discovery or even a festival of festivals, despite the introduction in recent years of competition segments. The surprising omission of Nadav Lapid’s Synonyms meant that this was the first time that I can remember that none of the Berlin, Cannes, or Venice Best Film winners played at the festival. (Someone will no doubt fact check this and prove me wrong!) 

As with any festival that has this many films and star names, the attention gets placed on the usual suspects. While film festivals are the life-blood of smaller independent films, it is harder than ever for them to emerge and break out into the mainstream. It’s a chicken and egg situation. London does try to make this push, but the sheer size and scale of the operation, and the need to get audiences through the door means it usually fails. How hard it is for films to get noticed is the struggle of our times, and it’s even harder persuading a distributor to release it after a festival appearance, which sounds odd given that more movies are coming out each week than ever before. London is just another festival that seems to favor the studios rather than the independents, as it’s easier to get bums on seats and ticket sales for blockbusters, even if the goal is to highlight smaller films and BFI funded films. However, I realize I know I’m more aware of the issues of the festival in regards to the distribution scene in the United Kingdom, as I’m much more often in contact with the local sales agents, distributors and exhibitors, which could be highlighting the problem. I’m sure the same story is being told elsewhere, but it is one that comes into sharp focus for me in London.

Lumière Film Festival 

Festival Director: Thierry Frémaux

When not presiding over Cannes, Thierry Frémaux is the director of the Institut Lumière, in Lyon. The museum and the festival are located within the grounds of the Lumière family house, around the site that the Lumière brothers shot one of their earliest works, Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory in Lyon. It’s often called the first motion picture ever made. The Institut Lumière was founded in 1982, and charged with promotion and preservation of film. Acclaimed French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier is President and Frémaux is its director. It’s a job that Frémaux clearly loves. One of my best experiences in a cinema was watching Frémaux live-present Lumière! A film he directed in 2016, made up of clips and reels of early French cinema. The witty and engaging commentary that he delivers as the reels play is extraordinary and full of passion.

A decade ago, Frémaux decided to launch the Lumière Film Festival, which focuses on the history of cinema with a line-up dedicated to restored prints and retrospectives. There are some new films, presented when one of the many luminaries who come through the festival give a masterclass. Top talent comes, because of the connection to Cannes. The masterclasses are extensive, intriguing and unique, some of the best of the year. Go on their website and listen to the podcasts if you have not done so already, you will not be disappointed. It’s impossible not to have a fabulous time when spent watching the works of Lina Wertmüller, treasures from pre-code Hollywood, and re-mastered classics including 5 Fingers by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Phillipe Garrel’s Liberty at Night.

The Festival poster is in keeping with the cinematic history theme. It’s a poster of Francis Ford Coppola directing on the set of Rumble Fish. It’s in black and white, of course, and chosen to celebrate the fact that Coppola was in town to pick up the festival’s big honour, Prix Lumière. Coppola had a great time. My particular highlight was seeing him introduce The Cotton Club. A couple of days later at The Godfather Trilogy all-nighter, I was struck by how The Cotton Club and The Godfather movies use entertainment as a mask for nefarious activities. It is a great film festival, and a joy to see cinema through the eyes of Frèmaux, in a way that is impossible at Cannes. Bravo!

Red Sea Industry Workshop

Red Sea Festival Director: Mahmoud Sabbagh

The decision to allow cinemas to open in Saudi Arabia after a 30-year ban has brought a vast new audience and film market hungry for cinema. Saudi Arabia, with a population of around 70 million, is full of cinephiles. The cinemas that have been opening have been booked out. There have also been several Saudi films that have started to appear at film festivals. Haifaa Al Mansour’s The Perfect Candidate vied for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. The observational comedy Barakah Meets Barakah by Mahmoud Sabbagh is one of the most popular films from the region on Netflix. It is Sabbagh, a pioneer as a director, who is leading the drive to set up the Red Sea Film Festival, and also the Red Sea Lodge, an incubator for regional filmmakers that’s been set-up in collaboration with the Torino Film Lab. Two of the projects will win a production grant of $500,000. Next year, the Red Sea Film Festival will have its inaugural edition in March.

I jumped at the chance of going to the Old Town in Jeddah for the weekend to meet the filmmakers from the 12 projects selected for incubation. The filmmakers seemed invigorated at workshops where leading industry experts were discussing and dissecting their scripts for just over a week. I watched enthralled as one workshop leader used toys to highlight character journeys and some structural problems. Egyptian filmmaker Marwan Hamed delivered a masterclass, where he discussed his career, including the adaptation of The Yacoubian Building. I was most impressed by the attendance, where the local community sat enthralled throughout and came armed with interesting and intelligent questions. It was a surprisingly more engaged audience than I had seen at other Middle East Film Festival over the years. Cairo usually being the best. 

There was no poster as such, although on the literature that was released, often the writing would come over a photographic image of the Unesco heritage site in Old Town Jeddah. It will be interesting to see what happens in March when the first edition launches. Will the festival be seen as Saudi filmmakers celebrating film for the first time in three decades or will it be clouded and judged by a geo-political narrative? Much will be in the eyes of the beholder.

Films From the South 

Festival Director: Lasse Skagen

I found myself in Norway again, this time in Oslo for Films From the South Film Festival, where I delivered a master class at the Sørfund Pitching Forum on “Festival and Press strategy” to Norwegian producers, international directors and producers. At Sørfund Pitching Forum six selected filmmakers from Latin America, Africa and Asia pitch their films that they hope will be backed by the Norwegian film fund in 2020. One of the great advantages of this fund is that you don’t have to invest the money in Norway, but you need to woo a local producer, who will then be your Norwegian co-production partner. The standard of filmmakers is extraordinary. Two of the filmmakers pitching at the event had won Lion of the Future awards, for best first film at the Venice Film Festival.

So I didn’t attend a film at the Films from the South Festival. This was a festival that for me was about helping filmmakers further their career. In Oslo, I was the one in control of the show, or more accurately the Powerpoint presentation. It’s great to talk to filmmakers directly in this way. The aim of the talk is to give them an idea of a strategy that might attract the media to their films, including which festivals they might get the best results at, and when or where they will need to employ publicists, find sales agents, or just do it on their own. It always amazes me that independent filmmakers have to be both architects and realtors, they plan, create and when they have finished their film, they then realise that it’s up to them to sell their films. Even if they have a great team behind them, or working with them, often festivals can be a confusing and demoralising place for a filmmaker. 

I looked through the Films from the South catalogue, and it was an impressive list of films that were screening, and Sørfund can be proud of the success the films they’ve funded have had, especially last year. The screenings highlight how there are so many great filmmakers around the world, and how much stimulating and fascinating work gets created each year. On the minus side, it’s demoralising to see so many amazing films get ignored. As for Lasse Skagen, who is also the Artistic Director at the Oslo Festival Agency, and has been at the Oslo Films from the South Foundation since 1997, our paths didn’t cross, but I admire his work. I was in contact with the SORFOND team. As for the poster for the festival, I have only just looked at it now, and have to say I like it. A rainbow of paint is segmented to show the sun high in the sky casting a shadow down to the sea, a clear distinction of the world between the North and the South. Although some may balk at my interpretation as it can also be looked at as a representation of privilege. 

Ajyal 2019 

Festival Director: Fatma Al Remaihi

If you have made it this far, I salute you. You must be as exhausted as I was by the start of December. For my last festival of the year, I was back in Doha at the Ajyal Film Festival. This time it didn’t seem like Fatma Al Remaihi and Hanaa Issa argued very much about the poster, as it was in the spirit of the posters from previous edition, featuring an explosion of colourful splintered geometric shapes creating a circle with no borders. The use of the white background, a change from the previously used black background, made it pop out even more.

It’s been a few years since I’d been to this festival, and I have to say I was very impressed with how much better it is now, then from it’s baby years. Ajyal’s excellent goal is to foster a love of cinema in children and young adults. There are 96 films screened from 39 countries, with the juries for these films made up of these young spectators, split up into various age groups. Each age group were given 4 to 6 movies to watch and judge. There were also workshops for the 400 jurors from 41 nationalities, including 40 international jurors. 

I delivered a quick talk on how to watch movies and criticize them. What was surprising was how little help they needed, and that they were open to the fact that film criticism can come in many forms these days, not just print, but also with memes, video streaming and just chatting to your friends over a milkshake. It was the perfect end to an exhausting year, and as I finally finish writing this up, I realise that I went to a hell of a lot of events last year, and it’s impressive how non-repetitive and unique each festival is.

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Russia’s Putin Wants Traditional Marriage And God In Constitution | News | Peacefmonline.com

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Russian President Vladimir Putin wants marriage to be defined as the union of a man and woman in a revised constitution, ruling out gay marriage.

It is among several constitutional amendments proposed by Mr Putin, which are set to be put to a public vote.

Critics see the proposals as a move by Mr Putin to keep a hold on power after his presidential term ends in 2024.

The package includes a proclamation of Russians’ faith in God and a ban on giving away any Russian territory.

The territorial amendment would strengthen Russia’s hold on Crimea – a Ukrainian region it annexed in 2014 – and the Kuril Islands, disputed with Japan since World War Two, according to Vladimir Mashkov, a renowned actor-director involved in drafting the new constitution.

Mr Putin also proposed an amendment on “historical truth”, to protect “the great achievement of the people in their defence of the Fatherland”.

He has railed against what he sees as foreign attempts to diminish the enormous sacrifice made by the USSR in World War Two. The defeat of Nazi Germany cost an estimated 27 million Soviet lives.

Mr Putin is in his fourth presidential term; he has been the dominant figure in Russian politics for 20 years. His presidency has been marked by a revival of Soviet-era symbols, conservative values and the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church.

He surprised the nation in January with plans for constitutional changes that include transferring some powers from the presidency to parliament.

While most Russians identify as Orthodox Christians, the state is officially secular. The current constitution dates from 1993, when then President Boris Yeltsin was embracing Western democracy and capitalism.

Mr Putin’s drive against Western liberalism has included a controversial ban on disseminating “gay propaganda” among young Russians. The ban – condemned by many liberals and the European Court of Human Rights – has been used to harass gay rights activists.

The constitutional reform bill was approved by the Russian parliament’s lower house – the State Duma – in January, and Mr Putin’s amendments were introduced in time for a second reading next week. The Russian legislature is dominated by Putin supporters.

A public vote on the constitutional revision is scheduled for 22 April, but before then it has to get final approval from parliament and the Constitutional Court.

A Russian political analyst, Konstantin Kalachev, told BBC Russian that the proposals were “a mixed bag”. “It turns out that our forefathers gave us faith in God and the ideas of communism,” he commented, but added: “Putin is a mirror for the majority of Russians”.

Many of the amendments were submitted to Mr Putin by prominent social and cultural figures appointed to a constitutional working group.

Political scientist Grigory Golosov criticised the changes as “political”. “The constitution we have indicates that the state should be free of ideology. So I think these changes are inappropriate.”

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‘I have no intention to be rewarded’: Grab driver says after giving free ride to passenger whose father died, Singapore News – AsiaOne

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Most Grab drivers take us to our destinations. Some go the extra mile.

One Grab driver is being praised for making a difficult day just a little better for one rider when he waived the fare and even gave her an ang bao after learning that her father had just died.

Nasran Zainal’s good deeds first came to light when the passenger, who remains unnamed, took to Facebook to share their encounter on Feb 28.

She had booked a ride on Feb 26 heading to Singapore General Hospital to visit her father, who had died earlier that day.

“I booked a Grab ride from home to SGH and got a driver who was travelling along PIE (Pan Island Expressway) and three minutes away. I was with my aged mum,” she wrote.

“After a while, I checked the app and suddenly saw that he was along ECP (East Coast Parkway) and the waiting time turned to 11 mins.”

Feeling confused, she messaged Nasran to clarify and explained their reason for heading to the hospital.

Nasran, 34, sent his condolences and explained that he had to make a detour as he had been at an exit along the expressway when he received the booking, but assured them that he would pick them up nonetheless.

At this point, she was “already very appreciative” of Nasran, she said.

But there were more surprises to come.

When they reached the hospital, Nasran handed them an ang bao, saying it was a “small token”.

“I rejected it and said ‘don’t need’ as I felt really paiseh (embarrassed) of him doing that [sic]. After some haggling, I accepted the small token as he was really insistent.”

The second surprise came the next day when she received a refund of the $11 fare.

After enquiring with Grab’s customer service personnel, she found out that the driver had requested the refund as a “goodwill token”.

Addressing Nasran, the passenger wrote: “You are really a shiny gem who went the extra mile. Anyone who knows Mr Zainal, please pass the message to him. Thank you.”

The post quickly attracted over 6,400 shares and some 800 comments singing Nasran’s praises.

One commenter wrote: “We salute you Mr Zainal. You are a very kind and compassionate man. May God bless you and your family.”

Another said: “A great man with a wonderful heart. May you be blessed with good health and happiness. Drive safely and thank you for your kindness.”

Speaking to AsiaOne on Mar 2, Nasran explained:

“Upon hearing that her dad passed away, I really felt sad for the family. In my heart, I said I should do something for the family.

“I have always believed we should do something for the community and help anyone whenever they need, regardless of race or religion.”

In response to his good deed going viral, Nasran was modest and self-effacing, saying that there were others who had “done much more” than him.

“Honestly I really didn’t expect this to be viral as I have no intention to be rewarded for what I have done. I feel blessed and thankful to all the people who have been sharing this news and sending good wishes for myself and my family on social media.”

AsiaOne has reached out to Grab for comment.

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Church and State in Montenegro: between National(istic) and Imperial Policies | Political Theology Network

A crisis is brewing in the tiny ex-Yugoslav country of Montenegro. There are massive street protests, attacks on priests, and fights in the Parliament. Various domestic, regional, and international actors, interests and policies are at stake here, giving us the opportunity to learn important lessons about national (and nationalistic) ideological projects, and the role of religion and international (also imperial) aspirations in their creation. And yet, mainstream Western media has shown little interest in the matter. One can speculate why.

The Government of Montenegro proposed new legislation on religious organizations called “The Law on the Freedom of Religion,” which was approved by the Parliament on December 27, 2019.  A draft version of the document is available from the website of the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights, both in the local language and in English. The legislation generated significant controversy due to its treatment of religious organizations, their internal procedures, as well as their property.

Article 4 specifies that:

“Prior to the appointment, i.e. announcement of the appointment if the highest religious leaders, a religious community shall confidentially notify the Government of Montenegro (hereinafter: the Government) about that.”

Article 16, § 1 requires that the application for registration of a religious community shall contain:

“The name of the religious community, which must be different from names of other religious communities and must not contain the official name of other state and its features”

For many, the most problematic article is 52, found under the
section “Transitional and Final Provisions”:

“Religious facilities and land used by the religious communities in the territory of Montenegro and for which is found to have been built or obtained from public resources of the state or have been in state ownership until 1 December 1918, as the cultural heritage of Montenegro, shall be the property of the state. Religious facilities for which if found to have been built on the territory of Montenegro from joint investments of the citizens until 1 December 1918, shall be the property of the state.”

The law caused an outrage among the members of the Orthodox Church
in Montenegro. Let me sketch some of the background which will, hopefully,
render the current crisis more intelligible.

There are four Orthodox dioceses (belonging to the Serbian
Orthodox Church, i.e. Patriarchate of Peć) whose territory is fully or in part
located on the territory of Montenegro. The Orthodox Church (i.e. these four dioceses)
is, by far, the largest religious organization in the country.

The majority of both the clergy and laity view the new legislation as a purposeful targeting of the Church by the Government. They interpret Article 16, § 1 as specifically crafted against the Orthodox Church, as the above-mentioned dioceses in Montenegro belong to the Serbian Orthodox Church. However, the Article 52 appears to be a much more serious threat. Many these churches and monasteries are centuries old, predating even the formation of the modern state of Montenegro. If enacted, Article 52 could lead to the confiscation of Church property and its sacral objects.

Why would the government do this? Why would it go against the Church,
in a country where a significant majority of the population considers itself
Orthodox? This is where things get complicated.

Arguably the chief political authority in Montenegro, over the
past three decades, has been Milo Đukanović. He assumed the office of prime
minister in 1991, and has been in power ever since, performing the roles of
prime minister and president interchangeably (with a couple of years of break,
2006-2008, and 2010-2012). This style of rule brings to mind rulers in other
parts of Europe who have de facto been chief figures in the political
life of their countries for long periods of time, regardless of the name of the
office they would hold in a given moment. Not all long-lasting autocrats are
the same though: There are those who “we” (in the West) do not like very much,
since they refuse to obey us (branded as “evil autocrats”), and there are “our
kind of guys,” who are submissive enough to the Western political and economic
centers (branded as “democratic rulers”). Milo Đukanović, of course, belongs to
the latter group. During his pontificate the country joined the NATO alliance (in
2017), and he has successfully resisted a stronger Russian influence in the
country.

Đukanović, once upon a time, was loyal to Serbian president
Slobodan Milošević, and his allies in Montenegro. However, he switched sides just
in time, and his chief project became an independent Montenegro (proclaimed in
2006) and close cooperation with Western governments, military, and
multinational corporations. This where problems with the Serbian Orthodox
Church in Montenegro begin, in particular with the most prominent figure of
Montenegrin religious life—Metropolitan Amfilohije (Radović). At times partners,
at other times in conflict, this turbulent relationship between the politician
and the metropolitan has ended up, as of now, in an open battle.

Đukanović’s vision of independent Montenegro and the new
Montenegrin identity also includes the vision of an autocephalous (“self-governed”)
“Montenegrin church” which would be loyal (some would suggest obedient as a much better word choice) to the State (i.e., his regime). Amfilohije and
other bishops do not seem to share the same vision. For them, there is no conflict
between an “authentic” Montenegrin identity and Serbian identity, and therefore
no problem with the Orthodox Church in Montenegro being part of the Serbian
Orthodox Church. (Nota bene, many figures and structures within the Serbian
Orthodox Church are by no means innocent in the political games that have been
played in the region, particularly when it comes to Serbian nationalism and the
policies of various autocrats from Belgrade, but that is a topic for another analysis.)

To foster a new Montenegrin identity, Đukanović’s regime started
to promote “Montenegrin Orthodox Church” as an “autocephalous” organization,
headed by the colorful figure of Miraš Dedejić. According to some sources, Dedejić
used to be an admirer of Slobodan Milošević and his policies. He had also been a
priest of the Ecumenical Patriarchate until he was excommunicated by Patriarch
Bartholomew. This organization is not recognized by any of the canonical
Orthodox Churches. Even Đukanović’s support has not been full or unconditional.
One is tempted to say that its purpose has primarily been to put pressure on Amfilohije
to follow the “right path.”  

This is how one can understand the recent actions, at least in one
of their complex and intertwined dimensions: Just as the Ukrainian political
leadership was advancing the (formerly) uncanonical church structures and their
autocephaly in the hope that it would strengthen Ukrainian national identity, as
well as the political elite who championed the project, Montenegrin leadership
might hope that promoting one group, which would be loyal to one political
project and obedient to the political authorities (Amfilohije has not proven
himself in that role), would lead to the recognition of autocephaly of that
group, with same or similar political results. Probably working out of these
hopes, the regime has, then, threatened the confiscation of Church property of
the “disloyal” Church, which is quietly accepted (if not blessed) by the
Western political centers. The trade seems straight-forward, based on a
widely-practiced strategy: “We” (political/economic centers in the West) will
turn a blind eye to violence, undemocratic policies, the autocratic style of
rule, breach of various rights, and so forth, and “you” (local political
elites) will ensure that the (military, economic, political) interests of those
centers are protected and advanced locally.

An obstacle in the case of Montenegro (unlike in the case of
Ukraine) is the fact that the Ecumenical Patriarchate does not seem willing to intervene
to support the formation of a new autocephalous Church, which would advance the
local national identity, being closely connected to the State. Not yet at least,
and not with Miraš’s team as a new autocephalous
church. It seems that there is awareness that right now there are no credible
candidates in Montenegro who would be willing to lead a potential autocephalous
church, neither there is popular support for such project.

For those less familiar with Orthodox ecclesiology, it is worth noting that in Orthodoxy there is no equivalent role to the one of the Roman pontiff. Orthodox ecclesiology has advanced the principle of conciliarity instead of the (universal) primacy of power of one ecclesiastical/imperial center. This does not mean, of course, that there have been no attempts of ecclesiastical seats to assume such power. Indeed, just as the seat of Rome infused the universalist aspirations to power into the emptied shell of the Western (Roman) Empire, so the bishops of “New Rome” (Constantinople) have occasionally aspired to assume both universal ecclesial, and even political authority (at times when the Empire was weakened). This universalism is reflected also in the title of the bishop/patriarch of Constantinople – “Ecumenical” – as the authority of this episcopal seat, as well as the authority of the (Roman) emperor, should ideally stretch over the entire oikoumene (inhabited world). What one can see, based on the recent actions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, is the (renewed) aspiration to usurp a position within the Orthodox world which would be, in some aspects at least, comparable to the position which the Roman pontiff gradually acquired in the West. This, predictably, provokes a lot of criticism.

The entire episode can thus be understood as yet another example of how the whole concept of autocephaly, the way it is generally understood and practiced in “Orthodox countries” nowadays, is highly problematic. If autocephaly is understood as something “naturally” linked to national/ethnic identities (and/or nation states), it is both theologically unacceptable and very harmful to the body of the Church in long term. Serious Orthodox ecclesiology does not operate with the concept of “national Churches,” although it has been widely (and mistakenly) used both in the public discourse and, sometimes, in academia. Local Churches (i.e. dioceses) are organized as administrative regional ecclesiastical unites, that gather the faithful of a certain territory (for the sake of serving the Liturgy) regardless of their ethnicity, nationality, gender, class, race, etc. The predominant culture or customs have always been embraced in the Orthodox tradition, leaving a trace on how the service is conducted, which language is spoken, etc. However, the identity of the Church is not derived from the ethnic, national or other identities of the majority population of a certain territory, but from the Eucharist as the icon of the Kingdom of God. This is why an autocephalous Church makes sense as a self-governing administrative organization of dioceses of a certain region, having one of the local bishops as their own “head” (having the title of metropolitan, archbishop, pope or patriarch), but not as a “national” institution, or a Church of certain ethnic group (which, following Orthodox ecclesiology, amounts to nothing less than a heresy).

In practice, however, just as local ecclesiastical and political
elites are eager to exploit the (seriously flawed) understanding of autocephaly
as “national institutions,” for the sake of their own power struggles, so is
the Ecumenical Patriarchate. (Neo)imperial policies of ecclesiastical centers
(in this case of Phanar) can thus be very similar to the (neo)imperial policies
of States; both try to manipulate local nationalisms to their own advantage.
Therefore, if they serve the (neo)imperial agendas of “New Rome,” local
nationalisms and local “national” churches will be blessed. If they don’t,
local nationalisms and their cravings for autocephaly will be condemned in the
name of (neo)imperial “universalisms.”

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Naira Marley soaring amidst controversies

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Naira Marley
Naira Marley

…Why he’s dominating Nigeria’s music scene

By BENJAMIN NJOKU

The Nigerian music scene in recent times has been saturated with lots of talented music stars, who are redefining the space and creating their own buzz. One of such wave-making stars is Azeez Adeshina Fashola, popularly known as Naira Marley.

Marley burst onto the country’s music space like ‘a colossus’ and suddenly stole the hearts and minds of many lovers of music in this part of the world. It still seems like the pop sensation dropped out of nowhere unto our collective music ears.

Before last year, not much was heard of the Agege-born rapper. Even after the release of his 2017 hit “Issa Goal”, which featured Olamide and Lil Kesh, Naira Marley was still not a name to be reckoned with in the Nigerian music scene. But it was after releasing his hit song, “Am I a Yahoo Boy” featuring popular musician Zlatan Ibile, where he alleged to have declared public support for internet fraud. Naira Marley became the name on everyone’s lips.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission,EFCC had arrested him alongside Zlatan and three other persons. They slammed an 11- count charge bordering on credit card fraud, car theft and Cybercrime against Naira Marley. Thus started a legal battle that culminated in his detention for 35 days. Many believe the EFCC arrested him because of his alleged support for internet fraud and his claim that cybercrime is a form of reparation of the wealth stolen from Africa. That was the beginning of his journey to stardom.

While the trial lasted, the controversial singer was busy creating buzz on social media. His fans were not deterred from protesting against his arrest outside the EFCC headquarters in Lagos.

READ ALSO: Davido is the king of African music – Miraboi

Marley was quoted to have said in an interview that their rage was understandable. “Because they know the system. They knew what [the EFCC was] trying to do and they followed what happened. They knew I shouldn’t be getting arrested for what I’m saying. Freedom of speech! I should be allowed to be saying what I’m saying. But the EFCC said I was supporting fraud, because I said I have no problem with these people.”

Today, Marley remains one of the hottest artistes that have dominated the mainstream music chart in Nigeria and diaspora. His fan base has continued to increase on daily basis, just as he’s not free from troubles. Recall that in November, Marley set social media agog when he tweeted that a lady with a big butt was better than one with a Master’s degree. Few days later, the lewd singer alongside his siblings and cousins landed into another trouble after they were accused of stealing a car. But unfortunately, the court early this year dismissed the theft case and the singer walked away a free man.

Marley is a phenomenal singer who has a lot going for him. His journey from prince of Peckham to cult figure in Lagos, represents his evolution into a bonafide intercontinental rock star: selling out shows across Africa, and trailed intently both online and off by his mass of obsessive followers, called the ‘Marlians’.

Named after the Nigerian currency and known for his anti-establishment spirit and viral dance crazes, Marley’s wave connects the West African diaspora to their roots as he delivers his lines in a syrupy mixture of Yoruba and English.

Like Eedris Abdulkareem, Terry G and Bobrisky before him, Marley has been able to traverse between public hatred and adoration. On social media, he’s the most talked about Nigerian singer at the moment. While he’s yet to break into the international scene, Marley is currently enjoying the buzz he’s creating with his music back home. He’s in a lane of his own that politely ignores the commercialism of Afro-pop. To many, Marley is using his music to promote immorality and a generation of valueless youths, while to others, his music is awesome.

RnB singer, Asa described Marley’s music as “awesome.” Just as some twitter users once called out the ‘Puta’ hit maker after he declared that his songs can cure depression. They complained that his songs are noisy and senseless and “the only thing his songs can do is that it can cause depression rather than cure it.”

Since he burst onto the UK music scene in 2014, with Marry Juana, a song he wrote with his friend Ma Twigz, the Agege-born, Marley has been banging out hit after hit. In November 2019, the controversial singer sold out the almost 5000 capacity 02 Arena for Marlian Fest in three minutes. Tickets for the Marlian Fest which held on 30 December 2019 at the Eko Convention Centre, Eko Hotels, Lagos also sold out. There was chaos at the venue as fans tried to gain entrance into the concert.

But believe it or not, Marley is a singer you will hate to love. At present, the rapper is not just the rave of the moment, he is arguably the most popular artiste in Nigeria today. But the negative influence of Marley’s songs on the youths is unimaginable. This Marlian fever, like the era of Makossa has taken over the streets of Lagos and everywhere you go, men, women, the young and the old, the affluent and the poor are quick to claim they are Marlians with glee; and the buzz word “I am a Marlian” hits you like an unforgettable dream.

The lewd singer currently has a huge fan base. They call themselves Marlians. His songs and dance steps are inspiring a new generation of morally debased youths, who follow him around. It seems the youth would be his followers for a long time, except something serious is done. They revel in being “outsiders’, and as a trademark, they are disrespectful of rules and agents of law enforcement.

From the dance step, ‘Soapy,’ that has popularised the habit of masturbation to his off and on life inside prison to his recent dance step called ‘Tesumole,’ Naira Marley has continuously been a source of controversy and confusion in the Nigerian music scene.

It’s not for nothing that a clergyman, Chris Omashola, early this year took to his Twitter page, where he shared a series of prophecies concerning Nigeria. He warned that Marley is a demon and his music is inspired by demons, to destroy the youths in Nigeria.

“In 2020, God told me, Naira Marley is A Demon, He is Satanic and should repent before it’s too late. His songs are demonically inspired to destroy the Destiny of The Youths of this generation, Nigerian youths should desist from calling themselves Marlians. #ACOProphecies2020,” he tweeted.

Marley’s fans have since dismissed the clergyman’s warning, as they sent him threat messages; while he himself reacted by sharing screenshots of the pastor’s leaked sex tapes with an interesting caption. “To all Naira Marley’s fans aka Marlian. Please what’s your final judgment on this #NairaMarley and Apostle Chris Omashola case.” . Then on another occasion he tweeted: “Jesus never went to church.”

That’s not all, a certain mother reportedly cried out on social media after her teenage daughter was suspended from school for being part of a Marlian cult. According to the woman, the school caught over 25 girls who were members of the cult, including her daughter.

The teacher had found underwear in one of the girls’ bags and when she was questioned, she revealed that she was part of a cult whose members do not wear underwear to school on certain days.

It was, however, ascertained that the girls don’t wear pants, while the Marlian boys don’t wear belts.

However, it’s said that being a marlian has its ups and downs, from the rumoured beltless trousers for boys and underwear free girls who all believe in the marlian philosophy. You suddenly behold a boy next door who identifies himself as a Marlian, and ready to dance his Marley’s latest dance steps , ‘ Shaku shaku and Soapy (a demonstration of someone pleasuring him or herself through dance) and you are taken aback.

Despite the legal battle and the backlash against him, Marley’s fan base continues to rise., just as the singer is not relenting on his resolve to rule his world. On December 30, 2019, Marlians thronged the Eko hotel venue of the maiden edition of his headlining show, ‘Marlian Fest’ to keep a date with their music idol. While performing at the show, the singer announced his new record label, Marlian Records and resident presented the four artistes who are signed to his music imprint. He equally won his first major award at the 2020 Soundcity MVP Awards, held at the Eko Convention Center, Lagos Nigeria.

The Marlian President beat Tiwa Savage (49-99), Chinko Ekun (Able God), Prince Kaybee (Banomoya), Shatta Wale (My Level), Burna Boy (On The Low), Rayvanny (Tetema), Zlatan (Zanku – Legwork) to clinch the award for Viewers’ Choice for his viral song Soapy. And it was a major boost to his music career. But one wonders how far Naira Marley can go in this journey?

The post Naira Marley soaring amidst controversies appeared first on Vanguard News.

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Crush That Crush: Pastor Adeboye Of RCCG Sparks Twitter ‘Fire’ With His Statement About A Lady

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Pastor Adeboye of RCCG

Pastor Adeboye Gives Advice On Marriage

A series of tweets on Wednesday by Pastor Enoch Adeboye, the General overseer of Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) has caused sharp contentions on Twitter.

The revered cleric had shaken a table when he decided to address the issue of married people who still have crushes on other sexes apart from their spouses.

Pastor Adeboye noted in his submission that many who failed to deal with the issue of ‘crushes’ are now dealing with bigger issues of infidelity and even adultery.

He urged Christians to take their marriage seriously, challenging them to cut off whatever could make them contemplate adultery.

He then said: “Today, I will be focusing on the married. It is sad that many married people are still having crushes with persons apart from their spouses. “If there is any fellow aside from your spouse you are admiring unduly, you must see such a person as the devil and get rid of them immediately.”

Pastor Adeboye then went ahead to cite an example of how, he charged his “son” to sack his secretary whom he has been admiring at work – a submission that has attracted different reactions from Nigerians.

He said: “One of my sons once told me that he was always excited to resume in the office every Monday because he would get to see his secretary again. I told him to fire her immediately. Nothing and no one is worth your marriage.”

One of my sons once told me that he was always excited to resume in the office every Monday because he would get to see his secretary again. I told him to fire her immediately. Nothing and no one is worth your marriage.

— PastorEAAdeboye (@PastorEAAdeboye) January 29, 2020

He said many other things on how to protect one’s marriage but many have chosen to focus on his ‘order’ to sack the lady.

See some reactions that have trailed the statement by Pastor Adeboye:

Even people that won’t let their partners keep besties of the opposite sex are condemning Pastor Adeboye…lol

I don’t agree with his thread but most of you won’t say pim if your partner pulls that move.

Infact you’d even feel “special” talmbout “cut him/her off for me”

Abegi!

— UG (@UgwunnaEjikem) January 29, 2020

After dragging Pastor Adeboye on Twitter today,they will rush to redemption camp tomorrow to tap from his anointing 🙄

— Sister Tinu 🦅 (@Bami______) January 29, 2020

If a Feminist says.

“Men are scum, they can’t hold their sexual urges”

Una go complain.

But Pastor Adeboye instead of telling His Son to Man up and bury his sexual urges.

Told his boy to sack a staff for merely existing.

U lot are defending it.

Low quality men🤝 hypocrisy

— William Ukpe (@William_Ukpe) January 29, 2020

“Pastor Adeboye, Crush that Crush is for married people, right? That means the son & secretary are not single, right? That means for your MARRIAGE to work, no room for David & Bathsheba drama, right?

Take the lessons & stop this follow the crowd mentality.

— Michel_231 (@231_michel) January 29, 2020

My sister if you chase away your help cos you feel she might tempt your hubby then you have no right to blast Pastor Adeboye. Like the only crime your help commited is developing breast and growing into a beautiful woman. Everyone is woke on social media ,hypocrites..

— Mercenary (@Ifeatu9) January 29, 2020

pastor adeboye told his son to sack his secretary because of the excitement he get around her

Mathew 5:29 If your right eye causes you to stumble,gouge it out & throw it away

People criticizing adeboye are Christians who don’t read bible

Stop adding civilization into religion.

— QUDUS (@QdPaper) January 29, 2020

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