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Barbican Chronic Youth Festival: Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets and Conversation with Programmers

Barbican’s Chronic Youth festival feature of Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets can only be described as a haunting insight into loss. Set primarily in a fictional dive bar called the “Roaring 20s”, the film explores the lives of the people within the bar on its last day of business. Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is 96 minutes of observing a group of people holding onto a moment, knowing that all too quickly it will pass. The docu-fiction piece has been the subject of much controversy due to its ambiguous nature, dancing on the line of reality and fiction. Lydia de Matos and Honey Mounce are two of the Chronic Youth Festival Programmers, and I was able to discuss with them their selection of this film as well as their experience in festival programming.

What first inspired you to take part in the Chronic Youth Festival

Lydia: It was this really cool opportunity that I saw advertised online; I knew that Barbican did these creative courses in visual art and poetry, there’s a few around. I applied not really knowing what programming and curation was in the first place, and have been taught how to do it over the past eight months. It’s been incredible.

Honey: I guess I had quite a similar experience. The thing that really drew me in was that all it required was that you love film - that was the only thing the application asked for, to propose a programme that you’d curate. Our group is a really nice mix of people who are super involved in film and make their own films, and people who just really love film. I think together we make a really nice, eclectic group with different experiences and perspectives.

What were your roles in the process of planning the festival?

Lydia: We all took on different roles, it was very open and we weren’t assigned specific roles at the beginning. We all contributed to which features were going to be shown at the start, and some of us got more involved with that element. I definitely was more involved with that role, specifically choosing this film. More recently Honey has been designing our zine, she is an absolutely, incredibly talented designer. It was very open; I’ve been running the social media, and doing some writing and editing, everybody has been able to take on different roles.

Image Courtesy of Barbican Chronic Youth Festival

So this film was one of your favourites and one that you had chosen, could you tell us about what the film means to you and why you chose it?

Lydia: The festival theme almost came about not after we chose the films, but as we chose the films. They had this sort of similarity, and we were trying to figure out and concisely pull that together. For Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, I think it’s quite clear. It’s the last night of a Vegas dive bar, with all of these people who you get to know over an hour and a half. It’s really restricted to the bar and to this one night to the extent that any time the cameras leave the bar, it feels like a sudden claustrophobia has been lifted. It feels insane that you have been trapped in this space so long. It really felt like a time capsule of a specific moment. I was very interested in the docu-fiction element of it; you’re not always sure if it’s real or not. I won’t say anything about that, because I think it’s a matter of personal opinion. We really felt that it was what we were trying to go for with the other films in a different and interesting way.

Was there a film like this that you were particularly attached to Honey?

I know it has been a bit of a big hit, but How to Save a Dead Friend, the last film of the first day of the festival. I was really excited to see it on the big screen. It was the London premier which was super lovely, we had almost a full house, and we had the director do an interview with us which was really lovely. I think it played really nicely with this film because it was a documentary. She filmed it over the course of twelve years and she used lots of different techniques; archival footage, VHS camera, she used drone shots towards the end, and she was filming her friend. It felt like all of these films sort of toyed with this idea of how you film reality and telling stories.

Image Courtesy of Barbican Chronic Youth Festival

For the theme of a time and a place, specifically with regards to Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, in an age post covid and in a society where we are increasingly reliant on technology, do you think that it’s more important to start turning to these forms of media where we see interpersonal relationships and communal spaces that we are losing as a society now?

Lydia: Absolutely, I think this film is incredibly prescient in that it was made in 2016, sort of on the cusp of Trump being elected with a couple of hints to that in the film but its not explicitly present which I think makes it a bit more bearable, but absolutely this image of a bar closing down and a bunch of people losing the community space that they cherish and that’s exactly what happened en mass in a couple of years. We were already dealing with it in London. A bunch of venue closures, live music venues closing pre-covid, then covid closing a bunch of them, and some of them are still struggling to rebuild those audiences. The film isn’t fighting against that so much, but it gives you a really visceral, textured portrait of what that actually means, like outside of numbers, as in ‘x’ number of bars have shut down. So many people have lost their community in that kind of way and they’re all just random people, general people going about their life. What I love about this film is that it's got a lot of people in it that are rough around the edges not perfect characters in any way, and many people might not be able to relate to their daily lives in any way, but most people can relate to the feeling of losing a place that you love, whether its a bar or an apartment that you cherish and the landlord put your rent up, just anything, we have all experienced this over the past few years so much.

Do you have any closing comments about your experience of the festival, or advice for others considering applying?

Honey: My advice would be trust the process, and that everything is going to come together and shape up, it’s been such a lovely celebration. We’ve been working together for eight months, and it feels like it has always been looming on the horizon, and the fact that it has happened now, it feels like everything has sort of magically come together.

The Barbican Chronic Youth Festival took place over April the 22nd to the 23rd, 2023

Edited by Barney Nuttall, Deputy Editor-in-Chief