Festival Report: Leeds International Film Festival 2020

Filmmaker and writer Lucy Rose sinks into her sofa for the festival's online edition this year

27 November 2020

I’d wager all that’s left in my wallet - though it’s a modest amount - that most creatives have had a very hard time coping with both lockdowns. Especially emerging filmmakers. Navigating through the film industry is a difficult task at the best of times, and now an unstable political climate and COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on people’s creative and personal lives worldwide.

With this in mind, I attended Leeds International Film Festival from the comfort of my own home.  To begin with, I was quite sad as I plugged my HDMI cable into my laptop and sunk into the couch, but I was quickly swept away by the festival’s shorts programme. At times, I even forgot that I wasn’t in a cinema. Perhaps this was on account of the vivid storytelling, or perhaps I just wanted to escape the confines of my living room. Either way, LIFF allowed me how to do so.

LIFF has been the first festival that I’ve attended since March this year, partially because of my financial circumstances, and partially because I was wary of attending a festival at home. What I love the most about festivals is the union of kindred souls, both familiar and strange. Having said that, I do not believe that the experience of a festival was lost by taking part online. I really enjoyed my time watching the films LIFF curated, and so while I do believe there are disadvantages to the online experience, the spirit and soul of what a film festival is and should be was captured by this digital event.

The online experience exorcized me of my COVID anxiety for two reasons: the first being that I didn’t have to leave my home and risk getting infected or infecting someone else. The second was that I could live out my anxieties through the stories that others so ardently told as part of LIFF’s programme.

While the world is trying to get back up on its feet, events like this have never been more important. At the beginning of the first lockdown, I found I was anxious but also motivated to work, and so I spent the time working to no end on development. The second lockdown however has brought with it a wave of fatigue. I think like most people, I feel burnt out, exhausted, and pretty fed up with the pandemic on top of the poverty that is festering beneath the surface of the UK at the moment. Having spoken to lots of other creatives, I know that they feel the same. They feel like they’ve been put into a tomb of sorts.

Going to LIFF has lit a fire in me. I am burning once again with ideas and inspiration, and I credit that to the immense diversity shown within the programme. I could see myself and others and our stories. The films with themes of LGBTQ+ identities, and stories with working-class backdrops gave me a feeling of hope; the working-class stories in particular because this is not the easiest time to be working-class. Though the full collection was a stunning exploration of identity, for me the stand-out film was One Milagro from the mind of Karla Jimenez-Magdaleno. Its blend of visual poetry and narration made for an extremely cathartic viewing experience.

A film in the festival’s horror strand - Samuel Dawe and Paul Holbrook’s Hungry Joe – also stood out to me because of its prominent working-class setting. It’s through these stories that we are able to see ourselves on screen and why our own battles and tragedies matter, even under the guise of fear and trauma.

Over this pandemic, on very bad weeks, there have been times when I have gone without food, and seeing that narrative on screen – even as a backdrop to the central conflict – made me feel more seen than ever before in my life.

In the animation strand, I particularly loved Patrick Smith’s Beyond Noh; it’s not a film I would usually watch, but it spoke to me about culture and how, through history, we’ve not changed that much since the conception of civilisation. I think this is especially important for animation, because while commercial animation is extremely accessible, it doesn’t always challenge me in the same way as more experimental work. The animations of LIFF challenged my school of thought.

In a similar vein, watching the films from both the Yorkshire Short Film Competition and Leeds Queer Short Film Competition were among my favourite collections because again, there was a huge variety in which I could find myself and people I know on screen. To me, this is why we make cinema.

A final thought on these strands: I think that it’s important as an emerging filmmaker to know what kind of work is in-demand. It has given me the opportunity to think about how I want to frame the themes, stories and issues that are important to me moving forward. There are a handful of filmmakers that I will follow closely after LIFF because I thought that their work challenged me and moved me.

For me, the online festival experience not only works, but is essential for the times that we are moving into. It is accessible, user-friendly, affordable and most importantly, there is still a feeling of being connected to others, both personally through the stories and professionally through the sense of industry surrounding the festival itself.

Catch up with Lucy’s films and writing here.