Organisers of Exeter’s Black Lives Matter protest have received death threats and abuse – Devon Live

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Death threats and racist abuse against two women who organised a Black Lives Matter event in Exeter have been reported to the police.

More than 400 people gathered at Flowerpot Playing Fields in Exwick on June 7 for the event named Exeter Peaceful Protest Against Racism (George Floyd).

However, organisers Maia Thomas and Sam Draper have endured a wave of abusive messages, some of which threatened their safety.

The most serious threats have been passed to the police, and they have both vowed to continue campaigning.

activism

Maia told ITV News: [I have had] death threats, messages saying ‘You’re pretty for a black girl, why don’t you use your looks instead of your voice?’

“Messages like, ‘I’m going to throw smoke grenades at you’, saying they are going to attack me. I have to have security in Exeter when I’m at work now.

“So even though this is a good movement, it has put my safety in danger.”

On social media, Maia has received messages which include ‘white supremacy is the way forward’ and ‘white lives matter not blacks, so you need to be dealt with’.

Maia said: “I wouldn’t say I’m scared, but I’m more aware of my surroundings.

“I would rather have to be aware of my surroundings and have my voice heard and have a movement happen than sit back and say nothing.

“If people feel the need to threaten my life just because I want my voice to be heard and to have equal treatment, then I need to do this.”

Alison Hernandez

Mum of one Sam has also been targeted by people questioning why she is choosing to speak up.

She said: “[They say] why are you supporting a black person? And I’m like, ‘why not? She’s my friend’.

“I’m a privileged white woman, I don’t have to go through what Maia and other people have to go through. It shouldn’t be like that.”

Anti-racism

Devon’s police and crime commissioner says she is disgusted by the abuse.

Alison Hernandez told ITV News: “It’s absolutely disgraceful. I want people to stand up for what they believe in, and I will fundamentally support people whatever their view to have the right to say it, and to organise around it.”

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#JusticeForUwa #JusticeForTina #GeorgeFloyd #YourViewOnTVC

Your View, June 1, 2020

There is a current outrage in Nigeria following the gruesome killing of a 22-year-old student, Uwavera Omozuwa and another Tina Ezekwe.

According to reports, Tina was shot dead by 2 police officers on the 26th of May in Iyana-Oworo while Uwa was brutally assaulted and raped inside a church where she went to study in Benin.

Also right now, the US is undergoing a reckoning on racism and police brutality after footage went viral of a white police officer killing a black man – George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than 8 minutes.

What exactly is going on and what do you think about this?

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George Floyd death: After more officers charged, a fragile peace falls over protests | 7NEWS.com.au

The ninth straight evening of protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody kicked off on a calmer note in many parts of the United States on Wednesday — a fragile peace that officials hoped would hold.

In New York City, a curfew started at 8pm for the second night in a row after it yielded less looting, vandalism and violence in the nation’s most populous city on Tuesday compared to Monday night, NBC New York reported.

Watch the video above

Shortly before the curfew began Wednesday, hundreds of kneeling protesters gathered outside Gracie Mansion, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s residence in Manhattan, chanting Floyd’s name and cheering.

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But in Brooklyn, there were clashes just after the curfew began.

A video on social media showed police officers prodding a crowd of demonstrators off the streets with their batons and pushing them with their hands, even as the demonstrators pointed out that the rally was peaceful and that no looting was taking place.

Another showed officers shoving throngs of protesters away, yelling, “Back up, back up!”

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And the New York Police Department’s Special Operations Unit tweeted Wednesday night that mounted officers would be patrolling high-risk areas, “assisting in identifying any businesses that may be vulnerable to looters.”

Some arrests were made in Manhattan, The New York Times reported, although they appeared to be due to curfew violations, not looting.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., hundreds of protesters took a knee in front of a wall of law enforcement officers and National Guard members near the White House.

Some protesters played music and handed out water – in stark contrast to scenes from earlier in the week when, witnesses said, tear gas and smoke were used to disperse demonstrators.

A curfew for the nation’s capital was pushed back from 7pm on the two previous nights to 11pm Wednesday.

Around 8.30pm a large group of demonstrators sang ‘Lean on Me’ outside the White House, illuminating the twilight with cellphones that they swayed through the air.

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The mostly tranquil gatherings came hours after more charges were handed down in Floyd’s death.

A murder charge against Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer seen in a video digging his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes as Floyd pleaded for his life, was elevated to second-degree from third-degree.

And the three other officers who were present while Floyd was on the ground were charged Wednesday with aiding and abetting murder.

All four officers were fired after Floyd’s death.

In announcing the charges, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison addressed protesters around the country who have seized on Floyd’s death as the latest symbol of police brutality and systemic racism in America.

“There’s a lot more to do than just this case, and we ask people to do that,” he said, encouraging others to continue fighting for justice, NBC affiliate KARE of Minneapolis reported.

More from 7NEWS.com.au

Protests with hundreds of people dotted cities in California on Wednesday, most of which had seen no violence by Wednesday afternoon.

In Los Angeles County, where 61 people have been charged during the unrest over the past several days, District Attorney Jackie Lacey had a stern warning for anyone who might get out of control.

“I support the peaceful organized protests that already have brought needed attention to racial inequality throughout our society, including in the criminal justice system,” she said in a written statement Wednesday.

“I also have a constitutional and ethical duty to protect the public and prosecute people who loot and vandalize our community.”

Cities across the country are already stretched thin fighting the coronavirus pandemic, some of them still enforcing stay-at-home orders.

More from 7NEWS.com.au

In Boston, protesters held a peaceful “die-in” Wednesday evening that lasted longer than had been anticipated, but it still ended well before 9 pm, the time local officials had recommended that everyone retreat to their homes because of the pandemic, NBC Boston reported.

Chicago had mostly peaceful protests Wednesday, too, as numerous businesses tried to clean up from looting and vandalism earlier in the week, just as many stores had reopened for the first time in months amid the pandemic.

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Bishop ‘Outraged’ That Trump Used The Bible And Her Church For Photo Op | Crooks and Liars

Anderson Cooper spoke to Mariann Edgar Budde, the bishop of the District of Columbia, who oversees the church Trump used for his photo op yesterday.

“Bishop, thank you for being here. What are your thoughts as you saw what happened and you look at the images now of so many Americans crying out in the streets for law and order, law and order that is applied equally to all of us, regardless of color, regardless of economic status?” he asked.

“Let me be clear. The president just used a Bible and the sacred text of the Judeo-Christian,” she said.

“One of the churches of my diocese without permission as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything our churches stand for. And to do so, as you just said, he sanctioned the use of tear gas by police officers in riot gear to clear the church yard.

“I am outraged. The president did not pray when he came to Saint John’s. Nor, as you just articulated, did he acknowledge the agony of our country right now, and in particular, that of the people of color in our nation who wonder if anyone ever — anyone in public power will ever acknowledge their sacred worth, and who are rightfully demanding an end to 400 years of systemic racism and white supremacy in our country.

“And I just want the world to know that we in the Diocese of Washington following Jesus and his way of love do not — we distance ourselves from the incendiary language of this president. We follow someone who lived a life of nonviolence and sacrificial love. We align ourselves with those seeking justice for the death of George Floyd and countless others through the sacred act of peaceful protest, and i — i just can’t believe what my eyes have seen tonight,” the bishop said.

She said she had no idea this was going to happen.

“I was watching the news with everyone else, and as you might imagine, I have been fielding out phone calls and emails and texts of outrage from my people and from people across the country wondering what on earth did we just witness. I hear everything else that has been said tonight. I was allowed to eavesdrop on your conversation, which is equally symbolic of our civic institutions.

“What I am here to talk about is the abuse of sacred symbols for the people of faith in this country to, to justify language, rhetoric, an approach to this crisis that is antithetical to everything we stand for. Everything that this faith stands for.”

ANOTHER harrowing account from ANOTHER priest working outside St. John’s who says they were run off by tear gas, etc before Trump’s photo op.

Ends with a defiant decree: “I am now a force to be reckoned with.” pic.twitter.com/d9YXAYfS1D

— Jack Jenkins (@jackmjenkins) June 2, 2020

ANOTHER harrowing account from ANOTHER priest working outside St. John’s who says they were run off by tear gas, etc before Trump’s photo op.

Ends with a defiant decree: “I am now a force to be reckoned with.” pic.twitter.com/d9YXAYfS1D

— Jack Jenkins (@jackmjenkins) June 2, 2020

I’ll just note that as someone who was raised Catholic, as I watched him pose with his prop Bible like a game show model, I kept waiting for the book to burst into flames.

Just sayin.’

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Facebook staffers walk out saying Trump’s posts should be reined in | ABS-CBN News

Facebook employees walked away from their work-from-home desks on Monday and took to Twitter to accuse Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg of inadequately policing US President Donald Trump’s posts as strictly as the rival platform has done.

Reuters saw dozens of online posts from employees critical of Zuckerberg’s decision to leave Trump’s most inflammatory verbiage unchallenged where Twitter had labeled it. Some top managers participated in the protest, reminiscent of a 2018 walkout at Alphabet Inc’s Google over sexual harassment.

It was a rare case of staff publicly taking their CEO to task, with one employee tweeting that thousands participated. Among them were all seven engineers on the team maintaining the React code library which supports Facebook’s apps.

“Facebook’s recent decision to not act on posts that incite violence ignores other options to keep our community safe. We implore the Facebook leadership to #TakeAction,” they said in a joint statement published on Twitter.

“Mark is wrong, and I will endeavor in the loudest possible way to change his mind,” wrote Ryan Freitas, identified on Twitter as director of product design for Facebook’s News Feed. He added he had mobilized “50+ like-minded folks” to lobby for internal change.

A Facebook employee said Zuckerberg’s weekly Friday question-and-answer session would be moved up this week to Tuesday.

Katie Zhu, a product manager at Instagram, tweeted a screenshot showing she had entered “#BLACKLIVESMATTER” to describe her request for time off as part of the walkout.

Facebook Inc will allow employees participating in the protest to take the time off without drawing down their vacation days, spokesman Andy Stone said.

Separately, online therapy company Talkspace said it ended partnership discussions with Facebook. Talkspace CEO Oren Frank tweeted he would “not support a platform that incites violence, racism, and lies.”

SOCIAL JUSTICE

Tech workers at companies including Facebook, Google, and Amazon.com Inc have pursued social justice issues in recent years, urging the companies to change policies.

Employees “recognize the pain many of our people are feeling right now, especially our Black community,” Stone wrote in a text.

“We encourage employees to speak openly when they disagree with leadership. As we face additional difficult decisions around content ahead, we’ll continue seeking their honest feedback.”

Last week, nationwide unrest erupted after the death of a black man, George Floyd, in police custody in Minneapolis last Monday. Video footage showed a white officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes before he died.

On Friday, Twitter Inc affixed a warning label to a Trump tweet that included the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter said it violated rules against glorifying violence but was left up as a public interest exception.

Facebook declined to act on the same message, and Zuckerberg sought to distance his company from the fight between the president and Twitter.

On Friday, Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post that while he found Trump’s remarks “deeply offensive,” they did not violate company policy against incitements to violence and people should know whether the government was planning to deploy force.

Zuckerberg’s post also said Facebook had been in touch with the White House to explain its policies.

Jason Toff, a director of product management and former head of short-form video app Vine, was one of several Facebook employees organizing fundraisers for racial justice groups in Minnesota. Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook on Monday the company would contribute an additional $10 million to social justice causes.

Toff tweeted: “I work at Facebook and I am not proud of how we’re showing up. The majority of coworkers I’ve spoken to feel the same way. We are making our voice heard.” 

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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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Minneapolis death of George Floyd: Protests escalate; Trump vs Twitter

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Minneapolis protests escalate as police precinct set on fire, CNN reporter arrested; Trump lashes out at looters on Twitter: What we know

Ryan W. Miller, Jordan Culver, Joel Shannon and Erick Smith
USA TODAY
Published 7:45 AM EDT May 29, 2020

A Minneapolis police precinct was torched late Thursday night as protests intensified following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody this week after a white officer pinned him to the ground under his knee.

Amid the escalating violence, President Donald Trump criticized the city’s mayor and called protesters “thugs.” Twitter later put a public interest notice on that tweet.

Elsewhere in the deeply shaken city, thousands of peaceful demonstrators marched through the streets calling for justice.

There were protests and rallies across the country, too – including New York City, Chicago and Denver. In Louisville, Kentucky, a protest to demand justice for Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old Louisville ER tech shot and killed by police in March, turned violent. Seven people were shot.

Here’s what we know Friday:

State police, national guard clear streets Friday morning

Early Friday, patrols of local and state police and the national guard were clearing the streets around Minneapolis Police’s 3rd Precinct as smoke from the overnight fires billowed.

Video of police and the guard in riot gear and with shields were seen holding lines and marching through the street to push people back.

The heavy police presence came after hours of protests and looting overnight during which little to no police were seen in Minneapolis.

CNN reporter and crew arrested

A CNN reporter and crew were arrested early Friday as state police advanced down a street near the 3rd Precinct.

Correspondent Omar Jimenez was reporting live on “New Day” when police advanced toward him and his crew. Jimenez told police that he was a reporter, showed his credentials and asked where they would like him and the crew to stand so they could continue reporting and be out of their way.

“Put us back where you want us. We are getting out of your way,” Jimenez said. “Wherever you want us, we will go. We were just getting out of your way when you were advancing through the intersection.”

A response by police could not be heard as Jimenez explained the scene. An officer then told Jimenez he was under arrest. Jimenez asked why he was under arrest, but was taken from the scene. The rest of the crew was then arrested as the live shot continued with the camera on the ground.

CNN said later Friday that Jimenez had been released and that Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz apologized for his arrest.

George Floyd video adds to trauma: ‘When is the last time you saw a white person killed online?’

Fires, protesters overtake 3rd precinct

Hours after hundreds of protesters flooded Minneapolis streets – shouting “I can’t breathe” and “no justice, no peace; prosecute the police” – a group of demonstrators overran MPD’s 3rd Precinct, setting “several fires” and forcing officers to evacuate “in the interest of the safety,” according to a police statement.

Protesters celebrated – cheering, honking car horns and setting off fireworks – as fires scorched at the precinct. For hours, police ceded the area to the protesters as windows were smashed, fires lit and buildings looted.

Protesters could be seen setting fire to a Minneapolis Police Department jacket, according to the Associated Press.

Video from Minnesota Public Radio reporter Max Nesterak shared on Twitter showed large crowds around the precinct with rubble and debris thrown about. Nesterak tweeted that Postal Service vehicles were being hijacked.

Follow the George Floyd story: Get USA TODAY’s Daily Briefing in your inbox

Trump calls Mayor Jacob Frey ‘weak,’ Twitter responds with notice

As the city was erupting, President Donald Trump lashed out on Twitter, calling the city’s mayor “very weak” and saying that “thugs are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd.” 

In a tweet just before 1 a.m. ET, Trump said he couldn’t “stand back & watch this happen to a great American City.”

“A total lack of leadership,” Trump tweeted. “Either the very weak Radical Left Mayor, Jacob Frey, get his act together and bring the City under control, or I will send in the National Guard & get the job done right.”

Twitter later put a public interest notice on that tweet.

“This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible,” the social media company posted.

Trump’s social media order: Rule means agencies can review whether Twitter, Facebook can be sued for content

National Guard activated

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz earlier Thursday activated the National Guard at the Minneapolis mayor’s request. The Guard tweeted minutes after the precinct burned that it had activated more than 500 soldiers across the metro area.

Photos and video on social media showed the National Guard moving through the streets around the precinct early Friday.

Target closes 24 stores in Minneapolis-St. Paul area ‘until further notice’ 

After multiple videos of looters causing chaos inside a Target store circulated on social media Wednesday night, the Minneapolis-based retailers on Thursday announced closures for 24 of its stores in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. 

All of the closures are “until further notice,” Target said in a statement. 

“We are heartbroken by the death of George Floyd and the pain it is causing our community,” the company said. “At this time, we have made the decision to close a number of our stores until further notice. Our focus will remain on our team members’ safety and helping our community heal.”

Earlier Thursday, dozens of businesses across the Twin Cities boarded up their windows and doors in an effort to prevent looting.

Minneapolis police at center of George Floyd’s death had a history of complaints

Derek Chauvin, the officer fired for kneeling on Floyd’s neck, and officer Tou Thao, who is seen on the video of Floyd’s arrest standing by, have histories of complaints from the public.

Since December 2012, the officers drew a combined 13 complaints. Minneapolis settled at least one lawsuit against Thao. Since 2006, Chauvin has been reviewed for three shootings. 

They were repeatedly accused of treating victims of crimes with callousness or indifference, failing to file a report when a crime was alleged and, in at least one case, using an unnecessary amount of force in making an arrest.

– Kelley Benham French, Kevin Crowe and Katie Wedell

More news on the police death of George Floyd

How did we get here: What happened to George Floyd

Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was pinned down by a white police officer who held his knee to Floyd’s neck. The incident was recorded on cellphone video that went viral, sparking outrage nationwide.

Floyd died after pleading with officer Derek Chauvin to remove his knee from Floyd’s neck while police were investigating the use of a counterfeit bill at a corner store. Chauvin and the three others officers involved were fired Tuesday.

– Tyler J. Davis

Rev. Jesse Jackson calls for nationwide protests

“The protests must continue, but around the country … protest until something happens,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson said in a visit to Minneapolis, where he called for murder charges over Floyd’s death. He said protests should respect social distancing protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

The Rev. Al Sharpton and Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner who was killed by an NYPD officer, also came to Minneapolis to speak to protesters. 

Protesters should continue to take action until charges are announced, Jackson said. He said black people have been “brutalized without consequence” for decades. 

– Tyler J. Davis

State and federal authorities promise to investigate Floyd’s death

“That video is graphic and horrific and terrible and no person should do that,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said at a press conference. He said investigators needed time to determine if the video showed a criminal offense: “We have to do this right.”

Investigators took an unusual step in announcing an in-progress federal investigation, U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald said. She joined Freeman and other officials in offering condolences to Floyd’s family and pleading for peaceful protests.

Calling Floyd’s death a “disturbing” loss of life, MacDonald promised a “a robust and meticulous investigation” and said the Department of Justice is making the case a “top priority.”

Contributing: Associated Press; Trevor Hughes, Cara Richardson and Steve Kiggins, USA TODAY.

Read more about George Floyd, the shooting and other news

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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.

Image
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.”

Image
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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Tony Allen: the Afrobeat pioneer’s 10 finest recordings | Music | The Guardian

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Listen to a playlist of Ammar’s selections:

Fela Kuti: Roforofo Fight (Roforofo Fight, 1972)




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Roforofo Fight is the earliest cohesive expression of Tony Allen and saxophonist Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat sound: part Yoruba polyrhythm, part Nigerian highlife melody, part calypso swing, and all shuffling swagger. Allen and Kuti had been playing together for the best part of eight years at this point, mixing highlife and jazz, but a 1969 trip to the US proved pivotal, exposing Kuti to the radicalism of the Black Panther movement and leading to the formulation of his militant aesthetic Africa ‘70 band. On the title track of Kuti’s second album to be recorded after the trip, Allen takes centre stage with his undulating groove, slapping the snare on the jaunty offbeats to counter Kuti’s forceful diction. An enticing taste of things to come.

Fela Kuti: Water No Get Enemy (Expensive Shit, 1975)




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Afrobeat rhythms seem deceptively simple: a steadily paced, off-kilter shuffle that holds the beat without succumbing to the western convention of landing the snare on the third beat of the bar. Try to play an Allen line, though, and you soon realise how much ghosting and embellishment is going on below the surface – doubles splayed on the first note of a phrase, kick drums scattered throughout. And yet, the groove remains even when it feels like it might fall apart. Water No Get Enemy is the perfect example: a hip-swaying mid-tempo horn line sits atop Allen’s liquid shuffle while Kuti uses the amorphous imagery of water to outline methods of resistance to Nigeria’s reactionary government.

Fela Kuti: Zombie (Zombie, 1976)




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By the mid 70s, Kuti’s politics of resistance was reaching its peak. Zombie was its most forceful expression, Kuti’s lyrics characterising the violent Nigerian army as mindless zombies. You can feel the force of his frustration through his blistering saxophone as it meanders over the highlife guitar line, while Allen’s snappy, shaker-heavy rhythm is the ever-reliable foundation for Kuti’s social message. The song’s success in Nigeria was not without consequences, leading to a severe beating for Kuti, the torching of his studio and his elderly mother being thrown from a window and killed.

Tony Allen: Nepa (Never Expect Power Always, 1984)

Kuti had a domineering relationship to his bandmates, demanding all recording royalties for himself despite Allen’s role as musical director. As the 70s wore on and the group’s popularity increased, so did the dissent in its ranks. By 1979, Allen had recorded three albums as bandleader and so decided to leave the ‘Africa 70, taking many of its members with him. The greatest recording of his new era is 1984’s Nepa – an attack on the notoriously unreliable Nigerian Electrical Power Authority. Here Allen continues Kuti’s lineage of playful socio-political criticism, this time updating the Afrobeat sound to include dub-inflected electronics and fusion funk. It would become representative of Allen’s all-encompassing musical appetite in the years to come.

The Good, the Bad & the Queen: The Good, the Bad & the Queen (The Good, the Bad & the Queen, 2007)

As the 90s continued and Allen was establishing himself as an architect of Afrobeat in his own right, especially in the wake of Kuti’s 1997 death, his own genre-eating journey was evolving further into electronics and collaboration. A longtime fan of the genre, Damon Albarn enlisted Allen for his supergroup, The Good, the Bad & the Queen, featuring the Clash’s Paul Simonon on bass and the Verve’s Simon Tong on guitar. The sprawling title track is the closest we see Allen to cutting loose behind the kit and producing an unabashed rock sound behind Tong’s voluminous closing solo – a testament to his energetic versatility.

Moritz von Oswald: Sounding Line 1 (Sounding Lines, 2015)




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Perhaps the strangest and least well-known of Allen’s collaborations is that with the techno producer Moritz von Oswald, who replaced his longtime drummer Vladislav Delay with Allen for his 2015 album Sounding Lines. Allen produces a truly remarkable sound: a warped and manipulated series of electronics. The opening track sees Allen superimpose an Afrobeat shuffle on to a wobbly dub that builds over 10 minutes to create a simmering, electro dancefloor odyssey.

Tony Allen: A Night in Tunisia (A Tribute to Art Blakey and the Messengers, 2017)




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Allen’s first love was always jazz and he referenced throughout his life the work of rhythmic mastermind Max Roach and explosive powerhouse Art Blakey as major influences. This 2017 Blue Note recording was a welcome opportunity for Allen to finally delve into those roots and lay down his own interpretations. Across its four tracks Allen tackles some of Blakey’s best-loved tunes, like a straight-eighths Moanin’, but his Afrobeat-inflected Night in Tunisia is a work of genius, transforming the horn line into a punchy, driving vamp.

Tony Allen: Wolf Eats Wolf (The Source, 2017)




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Continuing his jazz explorations, Allen delivered his first album of original compositions as a bandleader for legendary jazz label Blue Note. The culmination of his decades of musical exploration, it interweaves metallic electronics with warm percussion, bright horn lines and that ever-present drum language. On Wolf Eats Wolf, Allen is comfortably experimental, putting a Synclavier to work over a highlife guitar line and Kuti-referencing horns to create an eminently danceable new jazz standard.

Tony Allen and Jeff Mills: Locked and Loaded (Tomorrow Comes the Harvest, 2018)




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Never one to be pigeonholed, on 2018’s Tomorrow Comes the Harvest Allen paired up with techno wizard Jeff Mills to further the electronic experiments he had begun with Von Oswald. Largely formulated for modular live performances, the record has a wonderfully loose, improvisatory feel. It hits its stride on the propulsive Locked and Loaded as Allen’s shuffle dissipates into white noise beneath Mills’s distorting sub bass. Even in the grid-work of Mills’ techno, Allen manages to swing.

Tony Allen and Hugh Masekela: Never (Lagos Never Gonna Be The Same) (Rejoice, 2020)




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In 2010, Allen paired up with trumpeter Hugh Masekela, a longtime collaborator and giant of South African jazz. Rejoice was released a decade later, following Masekela’s death in 2018, and now stands as Allen’s last released recording. As its title indicates, the album is a sun-dappled, joyous listening experience celebrating both artists’ effortless ability to make us shake a leg. Never (Lagos Never Gonna Be The Same) plays as an homage to Kuti and it serves as a perfect reminder that although our musical greats ultimately pass on, their legacy lies in each note, ready and willing to be dusted off, played and reinterpreted all over again.

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