2020: That Was the Year That Was

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It’s very hard at this point to think of anything new to say about 2020. Part of what has made the year extraordinary is that our experience of it, in general terms, has seemed so universal. We’ve all undergone loss and confinement. We’ve all had to learn new skills, new ways of communicating, new ways of delivering and consuming cultural activity. But the most glaring and brutal result of the year is the extent to which it has bared the atrocious inequalities in our societies. Hand in hand, it has thankfully also undermined the cult of individualism and shown the importance of solidarity and collaboration. So since any attempt at a summary of GSFF’s year would sound familiar and banal, we’ve chosen to highlight a few of those who have been championing those values in our world of cinema in 2020. 

High fives to the team at Film Hub Scotland for quickly recognizing the changed exhibition landscape and pivoting towards encouraging online activity, while also hosting a regular chat for exhibitors to check in with each other and share experiences. Their support made several initiatives possible at a point when cinemas were closed, including our own collaborative screening series DIVE IN Cinema in July. It was our first foray into the world of online cinema, so we were thrilled to work with a range of local exhibitors, coming together for a celebration of independent cinema across all of our individual remits. Thank you to all those who worked on it and supported it.

Megan Mitchell and Sean Welsh of Matchbox Cineclub were also fast to respond to the crisis, creating a resource hub and discussion forum for indie exhibitors with a much-appreciated emphasis on solidarity. They recognised that online screenings provide an opportunity to improve access for all, and advocated for SDH captioning across all programming. They’ve been working tirelessly all year (make sure to get some sleep, please). 

As shocking stories have emerged of a failure of care towards Front of House staff at CineworldTyneside in Newcastle, the Electric in Birmingham, and others across the arts sector, we want to acknowledge those that have been affected, those that have been speaking out and campaigning for change, often at their own expense, when many in positions of power stayed silent. We also want to give shout-outs to the invaluable work done by Jemma Desai with This Work isn’t For Us, the kindness and thoughtfulness of Tara Judah’s Reflections in Ubiquarian, to Herb Shellenberger who advocated that we #CancelEverything before almost anyone else, and all those who are using their space and energy to work towards a better industry for all. 

We also want to acknowledge those bosses who did right by their staff – hat tip to GFT for furloughing staff at full pay and extending short-term contracts where possible, and to Filmhouse in Edinburgh for making the decision not to open at all this month, ensuring their staff can stay safe and not run the risk of having to isolate over Christmas.

We’re sending a huge wave of whoop to the Netherlands, in particular to our friend Dennis Pasveer. Dennis is the brains and brawn behind Filmchief, our database and online hub. Thanks to his massive efforts and single-minded determination GSFF and many other smaller festivals were able to go online at short notice this year. Fuck Brexit – we’ll continue to work with the best people wherever they may be found.

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Kieran Howe, pic by Kevin J. Thomson

Finally, a standing ovation please for Mr Kieran Howe, the director of our GSFF20 Online Opening Ceremony. We approached Kieran with a minuscule budget and a vague concept, and he immediately signed up. He understood that we were trying to say something about the universal experience of lockdown, and helped us to make something joyous and silly in that brief moment in August when everything started to feel a little bit okay again. Kieran rallied a cast and crew of talented folk at less than a week’s notice, pulled off an incredible and safe shoot (buckets of hand sanitizer), and achieved the impossible – he made Matt dance on camera.

Matt’s Short Film of the Year
World of Tomorrow Episode Three: The Absent Destinations of David Prime | Don Hertzfeldt | USA
Perhaps not the most leftfield choice, but this has been a year for comfort viewing, and in any case Hertzfeldt consistently packs more ideas and emotion into his signature stick figures than almost any live action feature filmmaker working today. The thinking person’s Rick & Morty.

Sanne’s Short Film of the Year
Funnily enough, it’s the same as Matt’s (no, we don’t plan this). Over the years I’ve spoken to many around me about the generosity and humanism in Hertzfeldt’s films. As we approach the end of 2020, I find it hard not to feel numb and disillusioned, defeated by the black hole that has devoured most opportunities for shared empathy, understanding and catharsis. World of Tomorrow Episode Three offers all of those things at a time when we really need them, and that requires a sincerity of purpose rarely found elsewhere. 

There were plenty of other great films to choose from though. You might want to tune in to GSFF21 to find out about them…

Matt’s Cultural Event of the Year
Sleater-Kinney, Barrowland Ballroom, February
Okay, so Janet Weiss wasn’t on drums and maybe the latest album wasn’t their strongest. Who gives a shit? It was loud and packed and sweaty and we drank and danced and spilt beer on ourselves and chatted shit to strangers and ate crappy kebabs on the way home. Bliss.

Sanne’s Cultural Event of the Year
Berlinale 2020, February

It’s not an imaginative choice, but it was the last big festival hurrah pre-lockdown, and that counts for a lot. Plus, unlike Matt, I had some top quality kebabs. 

Before we wallow any further in misery, we’d like to thank everyone for supporting GSFF this year, as well as our team and our wonderful board of trustees. We look forward to seeing you all – virtually and possibly in person – at GSFF 2021 from 22nd to 28th March. Happy, restful holidays.

Matt Lloyd | Festival Director
Sanne Jehoul | Festival Co-Director