CINECITY is celebrating two whole decades of brilliant cinema with an even more ambitious programme of screenings and events. Bringing together the best in world cinema on Fri 11 – Sun 20 Nov, it’s firing up locations across Sussex with a diverse programme of premieres, previews, treasures from the archive, live soundtracks and talks.
Revolving around the tagline of ‘Adventures in World Cinema’, the festival is a treasure trove of overlooked masterpieces, explorations of other cultures and future hits. “It’s trying to give a bit of space for foreign language and independent films which might otherwise struggle to get screen space,” says CINECITY Co-Director Tim Brown. “We’re trying to connect different audiences with films which can slip below the radar sometimes.” A need for films to be good is obvious, but organisers also aim to include at least 50% female directors. Then added to the fold are restored older titles and those which deserve an opportunity to shine.
“It might mean a little more ‘work’ for us and audiences, as inevitably some of the directors are less well-known,” adds Brown. “But you can trust us. We look at a lot of films…” He describes the process as being a little like panning for gold. And much of it is based on relationships with creatives, other festivals and distributors. A lot of the programme has also picked up awards at Cannes, Sundance, Venice and Berlin, but has yet to be shown in the UK. “We all need someone in all areas of life, who can alert us to the best bands to hear or films to watch. In such a noisy world we need people whose opinions you trust.” Starting with a long list of suggestions from friends and colleagues, and all the work he’s been monitoring through its development, establishing a final selection involves watching hundreds of movies throughout the year.
The result is a festival which gives audiences a first sight of highly anticipated titles ahead of UK release and showcases many others from around the world. It’s staging a vibrant selection of one-off screenings across Brighton & Hove and in Lewes and Worthing – including some less-traditional venues. It’s something the organisers delight in, previously staging site-specific screenings in places like the Royal Pavilion Music Room and SEA LIFE Brighton.
Coming to Kingston’s Parish Hall, is a unique screening of Wolf Rilla’s Village of the Damned. Adapted from John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos (which saw a small-screen version this year), it features an idyllic community where all the inhabitants suddenly fall unconscious. “It’s a beautiful bucolic village, with a lovely hall. It just seemed appropriate to show it there.” While production took place in Hertfordshire, Wyndham lived in Midhurst while writing the source book. So, there’s every chance this terrifying and morally ambiguous story of brood parasitism was inspired by the numerous small settlements across Sussex.
For the festival’s 20th year, it’s arriving with a post-covid brand and encouraging people back into cinemas. “As with all the arts and cultural activities, we really need people to go back to what they were doing before. It’s not a competition, but people are streaming things more than ever. So, we’d like to remind people about the cinema experience, and how special it is. We’re all in new territory. Nobody really knows how things will pan out in the future.” Going to the cinema is still special. There’s a collective experience, the screen is bigger, the sound is better, and it can turn into a real event. “You’re also more involved and you’re properly switching off and becoming immersed. It’s priceless really. Festivals sort of amplify that really. There are one-off screenings, and seeing it like that does make everything a little bit special.”
There’s a powerful horror strand coming to this year’s festival. Composers Elizabeth Bernholz (aka Gazelle Twin) and Ivor Novello Award-winning Sarah Angliss explore the art of scoring for horror with producer Jennifer Handorf (Prevenge, The Borderlands) in the Savage Noises live event. Their talk will be followed by a haunting 30-minute choral performance of some of the main themes from Amulet, performed by Sarah Angliss with vocalists Sarah Gabriel and Melanie Pappenheim, and percussionist Stephen Hiscock. There’s also the ghastly lure of a special screening for F.W. Murnau’s influential Nosferatu, featuring a live score performed by Elizabeth-Jane Baldry, the only silent movie harpist in the world.
Live cinema has been an important part of CINECITY since the festival’s first edition twenty years ago. This year sees Ennio Morricone’s magical score for The Battle of Algiers enhanced by Asian Dub Foundation. A blend of breakbeats and North African influences bring an alternative edge to Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 masterpiece.
The festival has forged a reputation for presenting successful work long before their general release. It opens with the massively-anticipated She Said. Directed by Maria Schrader, Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan star in this powerful thriller about the New York Times journalists who exposed the horrifying extent of Harvey Weinstein’s serial abuse. “It is an exciting aspect of it. Obviously, it’s before the awards season, so you don’t know how things will play out. Often there’s not even trailers for the things we’re showing and you’re able to see things before a critical consensus has formed around them.” In turn, CINECITY closes with Empire of Light, Sam Mendes’ Oscar-tipped love letter to the collective experience of film, starring Olivia Colman as the manager of a 1980s South Coast cinema. “It feels like an appropriate film to close the festival. To be able to see that on the big screen at the Duke of York’s is perfect.”
There is a more serious side to the festival. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed offers an intimate account of ground-breaking photographer Nan Goldin. Directed by fearless journalist and film-maker Laura Poitras (Citizenfour), it won the Golden Lion at the recent Venice Film Festival for its profile of a fascinating career and activism. There’s also a special screening of the incredible thriller 1976, where a woman puts her privileged lifestyle in jeopardy as she fights to help people during Pinochet’s regime in Chile. Closer to home, Georgia Oakley’s debut feature, Blue Jean, has just won an Audience Award at Venice Film Festival with its quiet and soulful drama about a closeted PE teacher in Thatcherite Britain.
To reflect world events, CINECITY is running a programme of works from Ukraine, in collaboration with the British council and Ukrainian institute. There’s two classics from the 60s which perfectly show the culture at that time, and two completely new dramas. These include Sergei Parajanov’s Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, a colourful and beguiling mix of folklore, dream-like mysticism and religious iconography. While the overlooked Brief Encounters, directed by Kira Muratova, is a beautifully unfolding love triangle with echoes of the French New Wave. “We wanted to put a package together to be shown, not just in Brighton, but Cornwall, Leeds and Cambridge as well. Cinema is that great way to understand other cultures, and some incredible films have come out of that country.” Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk’s debut, Pamfir, is part thriller, part dark fairy-tale set in western Ukraine on the eve of a traditional carnival. Winner of the Directing Award in the World Dramatic competition at this year’s Sundance Festival, Maryna Er Gorbach’s Klondike is a fiercely uncompromising study of a couple trying to live a normal life amidst ongoing strife.
Presented in partnership with Screen Archive South East and the University of Brighton, CINECITY is supported by the BFI Film Audience Network, awarding funds from the National Lottery. Through special screenings, talks and unique performances, it seeks to help audiences understand more about cinema and what inspires filmmakers. And cinema is all about prompting conversations about our place in the world. “You can come out of a film, have a chat with someone and realise it’s almost like you’ve seen something different. There’s so much to look at, take in and digest. That’s why so many good films demand repeated viewings.”
Cinema can introduce us to new experiences and transport us to different places. You might hear sounds and languages you’ve never heard, or see unimagined costumes, food, narratives and landscape. “Obviously we want to be entertained, but there is an innate human need to hear stories or find out more about other people and cultures. It’s the next best thing to travel.”
CINECITY comes to venues across Sussex on Fri 11 – Sun 20 Nov.