WOW FILM FESTIVAL | PREVIEW
A week and a half of global cinema comes to YOUR living quarters this month, in lieu of the actual cinemas being open for such business. It’s the Wales One World Film Festival and Rhonda Lee Reali is here to tell you about it.
Yes, we’re filled with ennui and are eagerly awaiting the reopening of the cinemas, theatres, concert halls and all. If you’re sick of regurgitated re-runs and have zoomed through offerings from Netflix, Amazon and other services there is a welcome solution: the WOW (Wales One World) Film Festival, taking place from Thurs 11-Sun 21 March with over 25 films showing.
Because of the pandemic, this festival has like many others moved exclusively online; you can make a donation, but it’s entirely free for those who can’t. WOW Film Festival Director David Gillam says, “It has been really exciting to put together our first online festival. Now people anywhere in the UK can join the party and discover what Welsh audiences have enjoyed for 20 years.”
“We proactively look for the best international films we can find,” WOW’s co-director and co-curator Rhowan Alleyne says. “Often that means following those that are really successful at major film festivals and then seeing what deals we can get; sometimes we find out about films through long term relationships with sales agents overseas.
“However, we do look for films that give a different perspective on the world, that tell stories from a different viewpoint than that you usually see in the western media. We also look for films with global themes, particularly films with environmental and human rights themes.”
This year, WOW is collaborating with even more Welsh festivals – Abertoir The International Horror Festival Of Wales, Japanese animation festival Kotatsu and Cardiff’s LGBT+ film festival/award, Iris Prize – and has asked each to select some films. “We believe we’re stronger by working together, rather than competing against each other,” says Alleyne.
One advantage of the ‘virtual festival’ format is the chance for people to see all the films they want, rather than just ones showing nearby (if that). Will WOW continue screening online in addition to in-person from now on?
“I think we’ll keep an open mind about that one,” Alleyne says. “For years our audiences in Wales have been calling for easier/greater access to the films we screen, either because of where they live being too far from the cinemas where we screen, or because they can’t fit all the films they want to see into the space of one week. Once we’ve seen how this festival works, we’ll be able to make a better call on how to continue digitally as well as returning to cinemas in future.
“A lot of it will hinge on whether we can secure the additional funding needed and grow the team, as doing it online is by no means a cheaper or less time-consuming option for the festival. Without Welsh Government Cultural Recovery funds, we never would have got this far.”
Opening with 3:11 A Sense Of Home, precisely one decade after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. This film – Naomi Kawase’s collection of shorts from directors such as Oscar winner Bong Joon-ho (Parasite), Victor Erice and Patti Smith – explores timely themes of renewal, recovery and home.
More celebratory, and an annual occurrence for WOW, is a toast to International Women’s Day: nearly half the films in their 2021 programme are directed by women, and work by international female filmmakers includes Nothing But The Sun and Made In Bangladesh, by directors Arami Ullón and Rubaiyat Hossain respectively. One of 16 online premieres, the strange and wonderful Sanctorum “imagines the awesome power of nature unleashed to protect the traditional way of life in a mountain villa”: a ‘Green Screen choice’ along with First We Eat, a documentation of a Canadian family’s experiment in food sustainability.
Nowruz – Persian New Year – falls this month, and among the films showing will be the UK online premiere of the restored version of the greatest Iranian movie of all time, The Deer, rarely seen outside Iran. Eerie and otherworldly goings-on happen alongside nature, gods and mysticism in the ‘Strange Films For Strange Days’ slot. Les Saignantes [pictured, top], from a Cameroon set in the future, is one such example. Abertoir’s wit-scaring selections on offer include sci-fi ghost story The Long Walk [pictured, above] and Malaysian folk-horror Roh. A family-friendly menu and LGBT+ shorts offer further enticement.
Attendees can join guests from Laos, Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Colombia, Germany, Canada, Wales and beyond for exclusive Q&As and discussions. Register your favourites in the audience vote, hang out at WOW’s virtual Zoom Bars and stick around for the fest’s final event for this year, a celebration of the UN’s International Day Of Forests. So from the comfort of your own abode, experience near and far lands with WOW!
WOW Film Festival, online, until Sun 21 Mar. All tickets are free but limited. Info and booking: www.wowfilmfestival.com
words RHONDA LEE REALI