What to watch at LFF: Why this is the year to try our Experimenta programme

Who are the people who dare to ask difficult things of us in these difficult times?

5 October 2020

By Helen de Witt

King of Sanwi (2020)
London Film Festival 2020

When we find ourselves in times of such inequality, discrimination, violence and what feels like sheer madness leading us only closer towards the edge of the abyss, some may question – what value art? As we sit at home, restricted in our movements and powerless against the pandemic, anger stirs but sometimes finds it hard to focus on its object.

What can artists do for us in these times? Why give ourselves over to watching artists’ film online? And why these artists’ films in Experimenta? 

Desperate for answers, it’s easy to fall into the tendency of relying on familiar narratives. Stories that may pacify us in the short term but whose panacea quickly fades away. At worst, these can be a form of escapism that restricts us from facing the need for greater change, and the fraught territory that goes with that. Surely, what we now need most are films that challenge the idea of easy solutions. But more than that, films that ask questions of us. Where are we in this narrative? How do we position ourselves in terms of these issues? What are these films asking of us? What must we do now?

Who are the people who dare to ask these difficult things of us in these difficult times? They are artists with the courage to show us the things we do not want to see, who make demands that we cannot ignore. The ones who take risks with the unpalatable or dare to suggest that our very being is on shifting sand and we need to shift.

Missing Time (2019)

As programmers, we don’t start the process of selecting films for Experimenta with curatorial themes in mind, but what has emerged throughout the programme is the importance of investigating the past in order to correct the future. The films in the Exposing Territories programme examine different kinds of repression and containment (Cage (Breath)). Found footage obliquely uncovers atrocities in imagery of intimated violence that flows through colonial domination (Strange Object, The Map Makers, Missing Time, Apparition).

Other films are about resistance to such repression and reappropriation of the cultural imaginary (No Archive Can Restore You, King of Sanwi and Happy Thuggish Paki). The subject should not be blamed for their own appropriation, and so takes it back. In Leave the Edges, unable to be contained any longer, African diaspora creatively springs forth in many beautiful ways. Stand back and admire, or joyfully join in.

Speculative Futures is about the power of transformation. Rebellious, queer acts that change people and their worlds (Jello, Passage, Glenville, Here Is the Imagination of the Black Radical, Down There the Sea Folk Live). Films that prove that the way things are now is not the way they have to be. They project values of care and compassion into possible futures by putting young people at the centre of the frame (No Go Backs, The End of Suffering, Ferocious Love).

Here Is the Imagination of the Black Radical (2020)

In the feature film Sound for the Future the past and the present clash, and the young encounter the old with hilarious effect. Rebellion through music that transcends time. 

The artists in the programme present films about the urgent issues of our time. They tell us that history is not over, that the past is still present as a pernicious force. For some that means they are impoverished, excluded and their very lives are at risk purely because of their heritage or circumstances. It’s therefore essential that these films relegate the power of the past and promote alternative futures so we can avoid the abyss. 

By putting these programmes together, we want to ask what possibilities can be forged through acts of solidarity? Despite our isolation, how can we connect as individuals, artists, curators, writers and educators who are passionate about collaborating in a spirit of generosity to achieve change? 

It’s wonderful that Experimenta 2020 online is more accessible and equitable than ever before – all the short films are free. Please do watch them all and attend the discussions. Experimenta may be smaller in scale this year, but it certainly isn’t in its scope for radical ambition.