Borderlines Film Festival comes of age

Borderlines Film Festival is back for its 18th consecutive year in 2020. Now one of the largest, best-attended film festivals nationally, it will take place over 17 days from Friday 28 February to Sunday 15 March in 30 locations across three counties of the Welsh Marches: Herefordshire, Shropshire, Powys, as well as Malvern in Worcestershire.

Borderlines ranges over 2,000 square miles of rural Britain, bringing films and related events to venues of different size and character, from multi-disciplinary arts centres, theatres and assembly rooms, to village halls, community cinemas, a church, a pub and a cluster of pop-ups. In this sparsely-populated area of the country, the festival attracted a record 21,678 attendances for its 2019 edition.

A total of 280 screenings, more than ever before, are planned for 2020. A total of 80 features and around 30 shorts will make up the programme. These films will be supplemented by guest speakers, exhibitions and additional moving image events.

The Independent Cinema Office programmes Borderlines and secures a generous proportion of film titles screening at the festival prior to their UK release. These previews comprise approximately 30 per cent of the programme as a whole.

As Festival Programmer, Jonny Courtney, says: “It’s the appetite of the Borderlines audience for great cinema, both past and new, that makes it such an exciting festival to programme.”

Headlining the programme is the winner of this year’s Palme D’Or at Cannes, Parasite, from South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho, in with a chance of being the first non-English-language film ever to win the Best Picture Oscar. Acclaimed as a masterpiece and full of surprises, it weaves intriguing social satire wittily with suspense as a destitute family gradually insinuate their way into a rich household.

Eagerly awaited will be festival favourite Hirokazu Kore-eda’s follow-up to Palme D’Or winner Shoplifters, showing on preview at Borderlines. His first feature set outside Japan, The Truth, pits screen legends Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche in a powerful drama of family conflicts.

An exclusive preview of his latest film Blackbird will be introduced by prominent British film, television and theatre director, Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Venus, Le Weekend). Blackbird is an exquisite remake of Danish drama A Silent Heart, with Susan Sarandon as a terminally ill woman spending her final few days with her husband and grown-up children.

Ema, the latest film from Chilean director Pablo Larraín (Jackie, Neruda), is an incendiary drama, a clash of relationships, conflicting art forms and wilful desire, full of stunning imagery and mesmerising modern dance.

Iranian curator, writer and filmmaker based in Britain, Ehsan Khoshbakht, will present Filmfarsi, his found footage essay that salvages a whole genre of low-budget thrillers and melodrama that flourished for a brief period before being completely suppressed following the 1979 Iranian Revolution .

Other previews for 2020 include films from Iceland – Grímur Hákonarson’s (Rams) comedy The County about a widowed farmer who sets out to fight injustice and corruption in her rural community – and from India – the impressively titled The Gold-Laden Sheep & the Sacred Mountain in which Himalayan shepherd Arjun remains attuned to the vagaries of mountains and weather until news of a crashed jet promises quick riches. From Brazil comes the crazily inventive Bacurau, a science-fiction Western hybrid that reflects deep social unease.

More foreign language titles showing prior to national release are The Perfect Candidate, Haifaa Al Mansour’s first Saudi film since Wadjda, again featuring a strong female lead, and the engaging And Then We Danced in which a rival triggers the sexual awakening of traditional Georgian dancer Merab within a repressively anti-LGBTQ+ society.

Two British films showing on preview are set in very different coastal towns. Hope Gap stars Bill Nighy and Annette Bening as a couple facing fractures in their long marriage while Run, the atmospheric new feature by Scott Graham (Iona) homes in on fish factory worker Finnie taking stock of his life and dreams.

Playing at Borderlines shortly after their release are several new adaptations of classic novels, two of them, likely front-runners at the BAFTAs and Oscars: satirist Armando Iannucci’s highly anticipated version of The Personal History of David Copperfield, and Greta Gerwig’s fresh, radical Little Women. A new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, will also screen at the festival.

In feel-good Military Wives, from The Full Monty director Peter Cattaneo, Kristen Scott Thomas leads a group of servicemen’s wives who form a choir while their husbands are absent serving in Afghanistan. Meanwhile Mr Jones by Agnieszka Holland tells the story of a Welsh Western Mail reporter who travels to Moscow to interview Stalin and does some critical investigative journalism on the way.

Many previews and new releases showing at Borderlines at Borderlines 2020 are F-Rated, highlighting films written and directed by women. Among them, Rocks, the remarkable third feature by Sarah Gavron, about a teenage girl left to fend for herself and her small brother. Using non-actors, it is a nuanced and vivid account of growing up in in a multi-ethnic community in East London, as well as an affirmation of the power of friendship.

Three films from China will bring together new releases So Long, My Son and Long Day’s Journey into Night with the classic The Horse Thief (1986) in which a Tibetan man struggles to provide for his family (final titles to be confirmed).

A strand of films within the festival, with striking black and white cinematography, focuses on the sea. Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse is a full force two-hander with Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as a pair of lighthouse keepers on a long solitary watch off the coast of New England. This is complemented by British indie sensation Bait, shot on 16mm film by filmmaker Mark Jenkin. It takes place in a Cornish fishing village where traditional ways of life and community confront opportunist, modern values head on.

A trio of documentaries, set primarily in the Middle East, pinpoint women in conflict zones. For Sama, which won both Best British Independent Film and Best Documentary at the recent BIFA Awards, is journalist Waad Al-Khateab’s inside account of five years of war in Aleppo, Syria. Midnight Traveller, shot on three mobile phones, follows the harrowing journey of an Afghan couple and their two small daughters from Tajikistan into the European Union via Hungary. The Judge provides rare insight into Shari’a law through the eyes of the first woman judge to be appointed to the Middle East’s religious courts.

Awards contender Portrait of a Lady on Fire by French director Céline Sciamma will be screened alongside two of her earlier films Tomboy (2011) and Girlhood (2014). A further retrospective will follow the career of director Miloš Forman (1932–2018) from his Czech New Wave origins (Loves of a Blonde, The Fireman’s Ball) to his Hollywood peak (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus).

Among the special presentations for 2020 will be Roma Cinema, spotlighting a magical new documentary The Deathless Woman by Roz Mortimer, who will be present to introduce the film. In it, a Roma woman, buried alive in Poland during World War II, returns with a ghostly narrative that reflects on the growth of the Far Right in Eastern Europe. Accompanying shorts will be curated by Lisa Smith and Charles Newland from Travellers’ Times.

A continuing collaboration with Bristol-based South West Silents brings two major German Expressionist silent films from a hundred years ago, with live piano accompaniment by Stephen Horne, to The Courtyard in Hereford (The Golem) and to Malvern Theatres (The Cabinet of Dr Caligari).

Another classic, Powell and Pressburger’s 1947 Black Narcissus, nuns in the Himalayas in full Technicolor, pops up with a pre-screening supper at All Saints Church, Hereford City.

Local production company, Catcher Media, continues its Heritage Lottery Funded Project Herefordshire Life Through a Lens with three exhibitions in Hereford (The Courtyard, the Museum Art Gallery and HARC county archives). Original archive prints of photographer Derek Evans and his colleagues John Bulmer and Jennifer Bowen show alongside contemporary work, including that of Emma Drabble and Clova Perez-Corral. There will also be darkroom workshops and seminars and the film Carousel will screen in Flicks in the Sticks venues across the area.

The Rural Media Company will again join Borderlines for its annual showcase of work by young people taking part in the BFI Film Academy. Rural Media will also stage a 3-day Virtual Reality event at The Courtyard through its Invisible Arts Network. A seven-minute VR film will replicate the experience of travelling down the River Wye, while an augmented reality demonstration will signpost to an installation in the city.

Two schools screenings will take place at The Courtyard Hereford in collaboration with Into Film Midlands. For primary schools, the film will be environmental documentary 2040 while The Peanut Butter Falcon will play for secondary schools.

After a highly successful debut at the last festival, Open Screen returns to Hereford’s Left Bank. Filmmakers from Herefordshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire and Powys show and talk about their recent work with their peers and a public audience. A limited number of one-to-ones with the BFI NETWORK Talent Executive for the Midlands, Alexzandra Jackson, will be on offer, as well as a Talent Mixer supported by Film Hub Midlands.

Borderlines will join the Culture Declares Emergency movement in the New Year (press details to follow) and the 2020 festival will incorporate climate change documentaries Aquarela and 2040, as well as the Japanese anime film Weathering With You.

B2, Borderlines’ fringe film festival for 16–30 year-olds that launched in October 2018 will return as part of the main event with screenings curated by Arts Alive/Flick in the Sticks’ new cultural coordinators in Shrewsbury and Hereford.

See www.borderlinesfilmfestival.org for more.

Photo caption: Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in The Lighthouse.