“This festival is a unique experience that you can’t get anywhere else,” says Aesthetica Short Film Festival director

Aesthetica Short Film Festival director Cherie Federico

NEXT year will mark the 20th anniversary of Cherie Federico moving from New York to York.

By then, the founder of Aesthetica Magazine, the Aesthetica Short Film Festival and Aesthetica Arts Prize will have lived longer in her adopted home city than her native United States.

In 2002, she came to York to study at York St John University and…stayed, seeing possibilities within these historic city walls for artistic innovation.

This is her busiest week of the year, hosting the Aesthetica Short Film Festival, now in its 11th year and bigger than ever, running from Tuesday to Sunday – and online until November 30 – with a remarkable 500 films; themed strands and guest programmes; masterclasses; an industry marketplace; VR (virtual reality) lab; interactive media lab; a celebration of the New Wave of filmmakers; mentoring sessions; networking opportunities and a Sunday awards ceremony.

“It’s become a very significant British film festival, and our ticket sales are healthier than ever,” says Cherie, as the festival restores live screenings in 2021 after last year’s entirely digital event for home viewing only. This year, you can watch in person or online or a hybrid combination of the two each day.

“People are buying hybrid passes to be able to soak up everything in the city – films, masterclasses, panels and discussions – over the six days and also to have full access to the virtual platform to catch up on films and masterclasses until the end of the month.

“There are more films showing than ever before because we’re offering the chance to experience them in different ways; some programmes are online only, some are in-person only, so there are some distinctive programmes, but there’s also cross-pollination between the two formats.

“The thing that has changed this year is that we’ve organised the films into six strands, which came about in response to the pandemic.”

ASFF’s films span documentary; advertising; narrative; animation; artists’ film; comedy; dance; drama; experimental; family friendly; fashion; music video and thriller. “The programme is still organised thematically by genre, but these films now move into different strands too,” says Cherie.

“I was thinking, ‘what are the key things that unite the films in this year’s programme?’, and I came up with How It Was, How It Is, How It Will Be, thinking about the past, present and future, focusing on extraordinary stories in the everyday.

“Strand Two, Humanity On The Edge, addresses ‘Crisis’, whether looking at the effect of climate change or the pandemic; Black Lives Matter;  LGBTQ+ issues; human rights; women’s safety. There is no more ‘normal’. It’s an idea that’s become redundant. Crisis has become a defining characteristic of life in the 21st century.”

Cherie continues: “Strand 3, When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade, is about hope, optimism, positivity. The glass is half full, as we take a lighter look at life to remind us of all the joy and beauty around us, as we take a moment to admire the power and resilience of the everyday person.

“Strand 4, Pleased To Meet You, explores Connections, how relationships are formed, and considers how the digital age has altered the way we build, maintain and cut ties, maybe irrevocably.

“Strand 5, Mirror, Mirror, looks at identity, how we decide who we are or, perhaps, who we want to be;  how you see yourself, whether you’re holding a mirror up to society or to yourself, and how the way you see yourself is often very different to the way other people see you.”

The sixth strand, Nobody’s Free Until Everybody’s Free, addresses how segregation, racism, marginalisation and discrimination are systemic issues deep-rooted within society. “They are part of many people’s daily experiences,” says Cherie. “We must recognise that in the fight to establish true equality.”

In further festival highlights, New Wave introduces the next generation of filmmakers, with ASFF being the only British festival to offer a strand dedicated to graduate filmmakers, under such titles as The Art Of Limitation: Creativity Under Constraints (Saturday, City Screen, 3.30pm to 5.30pm).

The Guest Programmes have been curated by Rachel Pronger, originally from Bradford and now living and working in Berlin after deciding “it’s now or never to move”. 9/11, Twenty Years On is the subject of three programmes at Bootham School: Memories, Monuments (earlier today); In Search Of (Saturday, 3.30pm) and The Fallout (Sunday, 2pm).

“Part One looks at how did we get to the point where people steered planes into the Twin Towers; Part Two covers the day itself; Part Three considers how that moment led to a rise in populism and nationalism, and how you end up with Trump in the White House,” says Cherie. “That moment, 9/11,  galvanised some very dangerous attitudes harking back to 1939.”

Look out for a sound installation at Spark: York, a new location for the 2021 festival, where the sound of a rainforest is accompanied by a CO2 monitor. “The more people that fill the room, the quieter the room becomes,” says Cherie.

For the first time since the first lockdown in March 2020, The Basement at City Screen, York, is open,  playing host to the VR Lab for ten 360-degree films and six immersive experiences each day from 11am to 8pm.

The week’s masterclasses are welcoming the likes of filmmaker Peter Strickland (Katalin Vargo, Duke Of Burgundy); rising director Prano Bailey-Bond (Best Experimental Film winner for Man vs Sand at 2013 ASFF; debut feature film Censor); Hyena writer-director Gerard Johnson; actor Maxine Peake, discussing “acting as authorship”, and The Father producer David Parfitt.

So too are: stop-motion director Anthony Farquhar-Smith (Fantastic Mr Fox, Corpse Bride); rising star Gamba Cole (from Stephen Merchant’s BBC series The Outlaws ); Industrial Light & Magic’s VFX supervisor Julian Foddy and feminist filmmaker Sally Potter (Orlando, The Road Not Taken).

Still to come are: Senna, Amy and Diego Maradona documentary filmmaker Asif Kapadia (Yorkshire Museum, Saturday, 3pm); God’s Own Country and Ammonite writer-director Francis Lee, the Yorkshireman who “doesn’t often do” such Close Up encounters (Yorkshire Museum, Saturday, 6pm) and Alice Seabright, who has written and directed episodes of Netflix hit Sex Education (Yorkshire Museum, Saturday, 6.30pm).

A Sunday streaming at 1pm brings together actor and Primetime founder Victoria Emslie and Lizzy Talbot, intimacy coordinator for Bridgerton, who will discuss the tasks and techniques involved when working with an intimacy coordinator, one of the stage and screen’s increasingly important new roles.

“It’s quite remarkable how many big names we have taking part in the festival,” says Cherie. “It’s a huge, huge festival and it’s really important for people in York to realise the scope and the breadth of a festival that takes place in their city.

“It’s major cultural programming, and I’m proud of the dynamic we bring to the city’s cultural agenda. It’s extraordinary to be able to do this and we’re proud that we brought £2 million to the York economy in 2019, the last time we had a live festival.

“This festival is a unique experience that you can’t get anywhere else, and that’s what makes it so special: the combination of films, the masterclasses and the venues around the city; the union of the historic and the contemporary.”

Please note, ASFF is applying a stringent Covid-safety policy. “For admission, if you have had two jabs, you must show your NHS Covid pass; if not, you must have proof of a negative Lateral Flow Test that day.  There are no exemptions,” says Cherie. “We’re determined to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 at the festival.”

For full details on the 2021 Aesthetica Short Film Festival programme, go to: asff.co.uk.

Aesthetica Short Film Festival goes online for biggest and longest fest for 10th year

“Aesthetica Short Film Festival 2020 will be the most exciting yet,” says director Cherie Federico

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.