DEBORAH: TALKING ABOUT TREES (2019)
Removing cinema from our lives this year will have been a struggle for many of us and I certainly have sorely missed my weekly trips. Making up for it by watching films online, or on TV has been ok, but well, I’m sure you know, it’s just not the same.
An online highlight for me was being invited to Other Cinemas’ Weekender in July, which showcased films from black and non-white filmmakers. One film shown over that weekend, which really drove home the importance of not giving up on the cinema experience, was first time director, Suhaib Gasmelbari’s 2019 documentary, Talking About Trees.
Gasmelbari’s tender, thoughtful study of four friends, all former filmmakers who sadly haven’t worked properly since the collapse of Sudan’s film industry following a 1989 military coup, striving to reopen a derelict, outdoor cinema near Khartoum is a gentle, delicately-made delight: humorous and touching as they navigate permits and licensing, canvass local audiences and cope with setbacks with humour and extraordinary patience. It is not just a study of the love of watching, or making film, but of friendship and determination.
(I loved this film so much that I urged Abi to get it for the booking scheme and conference in September, which of course she did, and I hope your audiences will enjoy it too when we can all be together again.)
JAQ: DENZEL WASHINGTON
Watching films during lockdown has been a curious and changing experience for me. I have missed the gentle hand of the cinema programmer, guiding you towards both the new horizons and undiscovered gems. Left to my own devices, my attention span has wandered dramatically from comforting re-watches (Wild at Heart, Akira, all of the Nightmare on Elm Street films), to new online only releases (Bacarau, Pennisula, The Happiest Season) to more recently settling on anything starring Denzel Washington.
Choosing a focus (all the films of one actor) has helped slow the endless doom scroll associated with online streaming platforms, and catered to my deep love of a theme. Some of my favourite Denzel films have included The Pelican Brief, The Manchurian Candidate remake by Jonathan Demme and Crimson Tide – all of which I watched during the week of the US elections, and all of which felt eerily prescient.
SARAH: LES MISÉRABLES (2019)
Les Misérables was one of the last films I was fortunate enough to see at the cinema this year before the first lockdown was announced in March, and it has stayed with me ever since.
Set in a deprived suburb of Paris, it follows Stéphane as he navigates the simmering tensions between different neighbourhood groups in his new role on a tactical police unit. Covering issues including race, poverty, class and corruption, it is a blistering and brutal film that never lets up for a minute!
ELLIE: ROCKS (2019)
One of my favourite films that I’ve watched this year is Rocks. With a hugely talented cast of mostly young, first-time actors, Rock succeeds in being both authentic and heartfelt. A powerful British film about the resilience and power of teenage friendship that had me laughing one moment and crying the next.
ROSIE: IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD (2016)
Although I sorely miss going to the cinema, I have spent this year watching lots of films that have been on my radar for a while but I never got around to watching. Some of the ones I loved the most are Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Summer 1993 and Crooklyn. However, one that has really stayed with me is In This Corner of the World.
I watched this film on Netflix in lockdown and it became an instant favourite (even if it did break my heart). The film tells the story of Suzu, an imaginative artist growing up in Japan during the Second World War, and the events that led up to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The depiction of everyday life in 1940s Japan is really interesting and, despite the extremely dark themes, the film still manages to have many warm and funny moments. I love animation, and the style of this film is so beautiful – switching between traditional manga and the watercolour/ pencil-drawn style illustrations of Suzu’s sketchbook. Highly recommend, but get the tissues ready!
ABI: THE WATERMELON WOMAN (1996)
Very difficult to choose just one favourite film I’ve watched this year but The Watermelon Woman really stood out for me. It’s been on my list for too long and it was such a treat to watch. It’s joyful and poignant, feel-good and contemplative and I love a film that can oscillate between these emotions. Filmmaker/actor/writer, Cheryl Dunye brings such freedom and creativity to her storytelling it is a pleasure to follow her on her journey.
Some special mentions: Wild Rose, Thunder Road, Good Time, Kes, Thelma, Ghost, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Wadjda, Breakwater, Adult Life Skills, Be Natural: The Alice-Guy Blache Story, Again Once Again.
Alice in the Cities is Wim Wenders’ fourth feature film, and is somewhat responsible for turning the director from a fairly obscure member of the New German Cinema movement into international art-house darling, paving the way for later hits such as Wings of Desire and Paris, Texas. It tells the story of a writer, Philip, unexpecedtly and somewhat reluctantly accompanying a young girl, Alice, from New York to West Germany. The unlikely pair’s strange situation gives rise to many moments of quiet profundity, giving the film a real introspective charge.
AND SOME PICKS FROM OUR BOARD OF TRUSTEES…
BECKY: SAINT MAUD (2020)
Saint Maud is a truly affecting and original UK horror from first time feature director Rose Glass. Compelling performances from Morfydd Clark and Jennifer Ehle as a caring nun and her terminally ill patient.
RICO: ANTEBELLUM (2020)
During Lockdown I was lucky enough to watch Antebellum, starring Janelle Monae. A quintessentially black horror film that delves into to the destructive force of the inherited will of the confederacy in America. Wonderfully made, and a real nuggets of a film in a bleak time.
GEMMA: GIRLHOOD (2014)
This year I loved getting to know the work of Céline Sciamma. At the start of the year I had the pleasure of watching Portrait of a Lady on Fire which I loved for its cinematic style and its beautiful performances.
Yet Sciamma’s film that really stuck with me this year was Girlhood. It’s portrayal of intersecting challenges and inequalities, its depiction of friendship and its honesty, are what for me has made it the film that has stayed with me the most this year.
SUKAYNA: ZODIAC (2007)