York’s recent film festival was an eye-opener for Jayne Shipley
I remember a time when it was still possible for a local lass to get a little poem, published in Aesthetica magazine.
The early editions were more poetry and prose than visual art but from its early beginnings, it sought to reflect on contemporary themes and to reach out beyond the city walls.
These days, the magazine is a glossy affair, highlighting artists’ work from across the globe. The print quality is so stunning, you could frame each page.
This month, Aesthetica’s ASFF (film festival) brought “the world’s best short films together in one showcase”.
As a citizen of York, I am grateful ASFF chose, for the fourth year, to bring the festival to the original home of the magazine.
In one weekend it was possible to see films from guest countries such as Japan, Lebanon and Iraq, in the same arena as archive footage from the Yorkshire Film Archives. Walking around the streets of York sporting your ASFF lanyard, you could feel the palpable buzz of the city.
I was in the fortunate position to have won weekend passes. I am not known for my lucky streak, it has to be said, and it is even rarer for me to win something that I really, truly, genuinely want.
The week before, I had been wondering how I could justify buying a ticket when we run the Corsa on recycled air these days, and there is knack to getting hot water out of the decrepit boiler.
I had resigned myself to the fact that I may not be able to go at all. If I did, I would have to do the impossible and choose just one of the screenings, carefully priced at £5 and to stop goading myself with the festival guide, which was almost as beautiful as the magazine.
It is no exaggeration to say “I was over the moon” with my prize.
As a winner, I still struggled with the overwhelming choice available, with 300 films in the programme. The one thing I did know was that I wanted to see documentaries.
I am nosey. I like to see how other people live. And with documentaries, there is always an element of drama and always the potential for comedy.
In Sexy Shopping, Miah, a Bengali immigrant working in Italy, makes his own amusement in his desperate attempts to sell from his “shop” an assortment of goods attached to every inch of his jacket.
The sub-titles let the audience in on his private jokes and you cannot help but love this man.
Few people seem to want to buy from Miah but he keeps his spirits high by making friends with other workers on the night streets.
He wants to be honest with his wife and makes a film for her to tell her that “life is hard here” and that he cannot yet send the money that he has promised her, and that it will take a while to save for the bike for his son.
In Italy “they keep talking of the crisis. What crisis?” Miah gets into a disagreement with an Italian woman. A friend has to explain to her – “he sees you can still eat, can still drink”. In defence, the woman points out, “but maybe tomorrow you won’t see me here again”.
I loved this film and the insight it gives us to the financial difficulties faced by Italians and by the immigrants trying to make a living there. It proved a poignant reminder that poverty is relative.
My favourite film of the weekend was in the same screening – the documentary Radio Silence.
The film-maker, Duncan Cowles, is on a personal journey to find out why he finds it difficult to communicate with his father.
During a car journey from Scotland to Yorkshire he is given, what he describes as the perfect opportunity to talk to his father. The journey passes in silence and the awkwardness between them is excruciating.
Cowles goes full circle, reaching out to his extended family to find out clues about his father’s relationship with his grandfather, and eventually he has the all-important conversation with his father.
All three generations have used filmmaking as a means of recording their lives, so we get to see the young Cowles as a shy boy, not quite knowing how to respond to the camera (and his father).
It is a simple premise for a film, but it is beautifully edited right up until the last frame, when Cowles’ father looks to the camera as if he might say something, but chooses to wave and smile instead.
In other genres, a drama from Taiwan The Free Man, is tragic, atmospheric and memorable. A-Jie has been given a chance to work in a laundry and is counting down his days on parole.
Throughout the film, starched shirts hang a brilliant white in perfect contrast to the dismal life A-Jie has left behind and the gruesome reality of the new life he has entered.
Ironically, as an art-blogger, I failed to find time to watch any artists’ films, compromising a little to watch some comedy with the hubby, and in complete contrast, devoting some time on Sunday to view Filmed And Not Forgotten, the First World War archives.
Everything I saw at ASFF, reminded me how lucky I am.
The art to see in York now
If you are looking for some lovely art this month, your luck is in. Here are some of the highlights.
Blue Tree Gallery are running a competition to win a beautiful print by Giuliana Lazzerini. Simply ‘like’ and comment on their Facebook page.
Giuliana’s Tuscany Exhibition is at the gallery on Bootham from November 24 to January 17.
The Acomb Explore and York Learning Community Mosaic has been completed and now has pride of place in the Acomb Explore garden.
The project was led by York Learning tutor, Donna Taylor. Donna worked with a group of adult learners, who designed the piece to reflect the old meaning of Acomb – Acum, meaning “place of the oaks”.
The aim was to produce an artwork which would be brightly coloured and textural to further enhance the sensory space, which was created with the help of Greenshoots.
Winter’s Mark – contemporary blown glass at The White Room Gallery from November 22
Steve Ronnie – “His work, often collaborative and participatory in nature, spans art forms to produce interactive pieces for publication, exhibition, installation and/or performance”. Steve has been commissioned as PH1 Artist in Place, New Schoolhouse Gallery, from November 25 until December 20.