TWO of York’s four cinemas, Cineworld and the City Screen Picturehouse, are temporarily closed but the Aesthetica Short Film Festival is responding to Covid-19’s 2020 challenges to the film and events industry with its biggest programme yet.
What’s more, the tenth anniversary edition of this annual autumn highlight of the York culture diary will run all month, from November 3 to 30, rather than the six days first planned before lockdown. No wonder, director Cherie Federico calls it “this beast of a festival” that promises to be “the most exciting yet”.
ASFF 2020 will be held on your phone, TV set, tablet and computer, at home rather than around the city of York, in the necessary concession to taking the festival online for digital and live-streamed events.
“I gave myself an August 1 deadline to decide what festival we should hold, so what I was doing all the time was planning two alternative festivals: a hybrid one, both live and online, or a fully virtual one,” says Cherie.
“So, I’ve been doing double the work. August 1st came and I’m really glad to have made the decision then, as this is now going to be a massive, massive event with more than 100 events taking place online.
“My idea was that it would have to be a bespoke and special experience, something that people would invest time in, which is why we’re extending it to a month, with a month’s pass letting you have a festival in your front room, where you can connect with this amazing independent film content.
“Our festival supports creative industries, brings new to the attention of audiences and continues our ethos of the past nine years, but this year you have to log on online.”
Cherie had no qualms about making the festival digital for 2020. “Most people have a smart TV now, so the concept of watching films at home was already happening,” she says. “Running a festival that can be seen on your TV is almost keeping up with the times, so our festival is transferable, though it’s not replaceable as a live event.”
Films in competition at ASFF 2020 will span animation, documentary, drama, dance, fashion and thriller. This year they will be released in six strands from November 3 to 8, with no fewer than ten programmes per day under the strand titles of Just Another Day On Earth; Humans And Their Environment; Connections: People, Places and Identity; Breaking Down Barriers; Reclaiming Space: Universal And Personal and Keep On The Sunny Side Of Life.
That adds up to 60 films a day, 360 screenings in all, with festival viewers invited to acquire a Festival Pack comprising a festival bag, printed programme, lanyard, the latest edition of Aesthetica magazine and VR [Virtual Reality] cardboards.
“If you’re wondering how you can experience VR films at home, you can order a VR Aesthetica headset for £5.95 online from our website,” says Cherie.
“We’re also probably the only festival that has printed a programme this year, but we felt it was important to mark the tenth anniversary that way.”
Cherie hails another plus point of going digital. “You can pursue your particular interest like being able to watch all the documentaries in the festival if that’s your specialism, so you can create your own festival, but we also want to encourage people to do something they would not normally do, by watching all six strands, each chosen to raise important questions about the world we live in today,” she says.
These cumulative strands of short and feature-length films will be released to virtual passholders from 8am daily and will be available via the festival’s online viewing library until November 30.
ASFF 2020 also will feature 21 guest film programmes, taking in such themes as the climate crisis, new technology, Black Lives Matter and human rights. “Basically, we’re covering every topic that we’re facing as a society, so it’s a really poignant look at the world we live in now,” says Cherie.
Further highlights will be ten showcases for new talent, an online industry market and an industry programme of more than 50 masterclasses, spotlights and panel discussions, giving insights into film productions and exploring filmmakers’ motivations and expertise.
Actress and writer Maxine Peake will give a masterclass, and among the guest speakers will be Oscar-winning director Andrea Arnold; BAFTA-winning filmmaker Sarah Gavron; BIFA-winning and Emmy-nominated documentarian Jeanie Finlay; Oscar- winning sound designer Glenn Freemantle and double Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Paul Franklin (Inception, Interstellar). So too will be animators, cinematographers, editors, production designers and representatives from Film4, BBC Films and Framestore.
One name leaps out from the masterclass programme: York-born Dame Judi Dench discussing her career on screen and stage on November 8 at 4pm. “I’ve been trying to get Dame Judi involved ever since we started the festival, and she said ‘Yes’ this time because of her connection with the city,” says Cherie.
“She’s very happy to lend us her support and expertise to our programme and we’re delighted she is taking part. It was confirmed six weeks ago when normally our programme would have been signed off.”
Looking ahead to next week, Cherie says: “The best thing with ASFF is that you always get a memorable experience, and 2020 will certainly be that with 300 films in competition and 200 other films showing.
“No stone has been left unturned in thinking about what the visitor experience should be like this year and how we can make it special. The digital festival is well designed, navigation online is easy, and we even have an instructional video on how to use this platform.
“Tickets are sold per house, so it becomes very good value for a family of four, and we’re still doing programmes for young children and young adults and still working with schools, where films will be screened this time.”
Tickets are available for 24-hour, seven-day and one-month film and industry passes, as well as a film-only pass for November. Go to asff.co.uk for tickets and to download the full programme.