REVIEW: Encounters Film Festival 2020 — Digital Edition!
This year’s festival has the usual dizzying number of shorts, Q&As and interactive events, for a fraction of the ticket price.
2020 sees Encounters’ first digital edition. Like all our beluvvied annual opportunities to rub up against each other, Europe’s premier short film and animation festival (and my local!) has moved entirely online. The festival team has put together a programme reminiscent of their familiar vibe, crossed with the newly-familiar ‘online event’ experience. Blending a VOD-esque video player with live online watch-togethers, filmmaker Q&As, workshops, and an interactive strand, Encounters has managed to recreate a satisfying, broad platter of their usual magic, with some of the key flagship elements — all for a ticket price of £10.
The usual staggering number of shorts are available — 250 in competition— for an extended three weeks (ending Oct 11). The reduced price in no way indicates a shortage of work, given the festival cycle has continued to benefit from the best of 2019s intake into this year. But there are plenty of films screening that were made in lockdown, highlighted by a split of the 90-second Depict competition programme with one strand dedicated to some wonderful little slices of our new tailspun life.
250+ films might feel intimidating — but this will be familiar to regular festival-goers, and the online watch-when-suits-you format makes fitting in all you want to see much easier. The player is structured into playlists, helping navigate the comedies from the horrors, the guest programmes from the student competition. My only real criticism about the digital edition is that some of the programmes appear more than once in various playlists on the player — Depict, for example, appears once as its own full programme (including all three regular, lockdown, and Georgia strands) and then again in individual strand playlists. Rather than highlighting the volume of films, so many playlists contributes to the initial overwhelm that there’s just too much to get through.
But — minor tech niggles? It wouldn’t be 2020 without them. It’s absolutely worth the ticket price to browse through the numerous playlists — with guest programmes from other festivals and orgs such as Queer Vision, Oska Bright, Nahemi, and Bristol Palestine Film Festival, it’s hardly a gamble to think there’s a playlist that might move each of us. A particular highlight of mine is the student category — Michelle Brand’s Any Instant Whatever is a Norman McLaren for the 21st Century, a bright fever dream in which the sweat is replaced with relaxation. Cutting by Olivia Parkinson and Micah Hinchcliffe also deserves a special mention for the tight, understated story and performances gleaned by such young artists.
I noticed as I started watching that it was most often the very short pieces that hit home. Perhaps nearing the end of a very long, news-and-issue-saturated year, I’m desperate for the short and whimsical to distract me; if deep emotion or a message of some kind is being delivered, it’s needed in as swift a mode as possible. That said, I’m still working my way through the excellent two-volume programme on contemporary Britain, The Uncertain Kingdom; full of longer pieces about shame, blame, and the quaint bleakness of our tiny domineering island. I’m grateful for the reminder of how uniquely raw and hilarious British film can be, no matter how underfunded.
The digital edition can’t replace in-person normalcy and connection, but the festival team has pulled off an ample sequel, for a very fair price.