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In Conversation With Barbican's Chronic Youth Film Festival Young Programmers



Chronic Youth Film Festival
Barbican's Young Programmers 2024; image courtesy of Alan Torres

Ahead of Barbican Cinema's annual Chronic Youth Film Festival, the festival that celebrates the work of the young programmers in this year's Young Programmers Scheme, I sat down with Dalton and Latina, two of the programmers, to talk about the festival and their experience in the scheme.


Both Chronic Youth Film Festival and Barbican Young Programmers scheme are unique initiatives in film curation. Could you start by giving a short overview of the scheme, what it entailed and how you think you’ve benefitted from it?


Dalton: I think the great thing about the initiative was the fact that no experience was needed. I’ve been wanting to get into film programming for a long time, but you’re always faced with these barriers of needing two, or three years of experience; you’re always asking yourself “How am I going to get that experience?” The Young Programmers initiative gives you a six-month programme where you’re literally starting from scratch, learning from Isra from TAPE Collective, one of the best in the industry that I can think of, as well as people from the Barbican. So the workload and knowledge is through the Barbican, you learn their processes and work with the design team to learn how they’ve approached Chronic Youth Festival in the past, as well as that external point of view from Isra.


You learn how to program films, where to find them, working in a team of eleven, so you’ve got other people there too. There were talks about marketing and design—it’s really there to set you up not just with film programming skills, but moving on past that into every aspect of how you’re going to run the festival, how it’s going to appear to the public, which for me was perfect, nothing else like it really exists.


Latina: It’s quite hands-on, we were quite independent. For example, when we were choosing the theme, what kind of post-screening events we wanted, was really dependent on what we the Young Programmers wanted to do. I really enjoyed that part, I think we worked well together because when it came to selecting the films and the theme and everything afterwards, it came naturally.


What were some of the methods you used to retrieve the films? Where did you look, and what were your criteria?


Dalton: I think it was great that we came from very different backgrounds, ranging from 18 to 27 years old. It doesn’t sound like a broad age range but it really is in terms of what we’re into in our different stages of life. First of all, you bring your own tastes of what you’ve previously seen or been into, and then I think you build out from that. What was great for me was the access door that was opened; I think a lot of films that we want to watch and want to have programmed very difficult for general audiences to watch because they might be behind a big paywall, or they might not have been screened for 30 years. Especially when it comes to new films, we wanted to find films that had not been shown before, or shown very rarely, that had fresh voices.


We were given access to the Festival Scope platform, which was brilliant because it organised all the festival films from the last 18 months. Some of them were freely available, but some of them you had to request, which was the first involvement of a bit of tactical work, thinking about what angle we go through with the filmmakers or sales agents to convince them to let us watch these films. That was a great experience because I don’t think any of us had had that opportunity to work with films that might not have even been screened in London or even Europe yet. That for me was big for helping to find these films.


Latina: For the short films we also did an open call to new and emerging filmmakers from all around the world to contribute to the festival as well. Personally, when I was selecting the films, I was also looking at the aesthetics and the narratives of the films. We wanted the festival to be joyful, but we are also talking about transgressions, an alternative form of transgression, so I was focussing more on aesthetics and narrative, and how it was formed in a beautiful way.


Dalton: I think how we started was very broad; we only had one meeting a week and so communication outside these meetings was very important to talk about what we had found that week, having spreadsheets so we could keep track of that. I think it was natural to pick apart what each of us had suggested, which is how we arrived at our theme—it wasn’t the theme that came first, it was an experimentation of films and styles, asking “What is there in common with these films here? What do we want to say with regard to everything that’s going on in the world?” I think that’s where we came to the theme. For example, Gush (2023), which is going to be at the festival, was something I’d found on Festival Scope; I’d known Fox Maxy’s short films, but stumbling upon that film on Festival Scope. We already had Anhell69 (2022) as well, which hadn’t played in the UK outside of one or two festivals. These two films are very similar in their themes, which is how we established a festival around transgressions and misdemeanours, as well as our ideas of the theme being new, joyful voices, and then we worked backwards to think “What else can we film out with the film festival?” I think it was another programmer who was inspired by this theme to research and stumble upon Gaston Kaboré’s Zan Boko (1988), which was just out of his research based on the two films prior.


Chronic Youth Film Festival
Gush (2023): image courtesy of Barbican

I gather that a central question of the programming was ‘How can people reassert their agency and reclaim their narratives’ when those narratives are under threat? Some people see film programming a lot like editing in the way films can talk to each other and synthesise their own narrative—did you feel that building your own narrative out of this programme was important in reclaiming those of the subjects?


Dalton: These programmes are always in conversation with one another, even if they haven’t been before—something new and exciting can come from that. I think working out how these films will be in conversation with each other and which films will do so is down first and foremost to how personally affecting these films are. One of the Programmers, for example, was a huge Gregg Araki fan and was aware that barely any of Araki’s films had been screened in the UK, especially his ‘90s films. They’d had a personal impact on her and she wanted to share this. We managed to stumble across the fact that Strand Releasing had come with a 4K restoration of Nowhere (1997), and we thought that actually, this film was speaking to a film like Gush, which is very of the age at the moment, very “zellenial” in how it approaches youth and connection among friends, and how that can help overcome trauma, Then when you look back at something like Nowhere, particularly the way it approaches similar themes to Gush, these films are definitely in conversation with another, I don’t think anyone has taken that angle before. That all originated from that personal perspective, and I think we’ve gotten on as a group by respecting how these films are personally affecting each of us and one another.


Latina: To add to that, I think when we were selecting the films, we were thinking about how they present different kinds of resistance or transgressions through their themes. We did include very serious and very sad films about decolonisation and about political issues, but we also have very joyful and personal perspectives when talking about personal growth and development. Maybe you’re not breaking with political conflicts but with social norms, or with your friendship group and other intimate relationships. It varies from a societal scale to a personal one, and the type of transgression varies from being disruptive and uncomfortable, but sometimes it can just be absurd and funny. I think we try to explore this theme of transgression, presenting different types of misdemeanours.


Some of the films are a bit older than others, made by a different generation of ‘chronic youth’ exhibiting their ‘misdemeanours.’ How important do you think it is to look to the past and make programmes such as these, of films that perhaps come from a different time and place, in order for the youth of today to define what they want the world to look like?


Dalton: For us, it was about having a very global outlook with the festival, which meant not being pigeonholed into the now because a lot of what came before influences the now. If you take Zan Boko, I think slow cinema is something that has taken off in the last decade, and I think a lot of people want to look at the origins of styles like that, particularly what they’re attempting to do and how they’re attempting to say what they want to say. You look at a film like Zan Boko which is this very early and underseen example of this style of filmmaking, that also fuses elements of satire in there, really incredible music, and you come back to the present and see how it could be a huge influence for young filmmakers who would’ve never got an opportunity to see the film because it’s been out of print for so long. I think for us it was this idea that we are constantly being influenced, and so we need to look back to forge new futures. I think that’s the same with Nowhere as well; Araki was a filmmaker of his time but has since inspired so many young filmmakers as well. I think it’s important to draw those links.


Latina: For the shorts, we had some old films too like A Boy, A Wall and A Donkey (2004), but I think like Dalton said there’s something from the past that still echoes with today, like people’s attitudes towards limitations and censorship, so I think the spirit of the theme is still ongoing, we are still experiencing similar obstacles. We kind of wanted to draw back on those kinds of things, to give young people new inspiration.


It’s almost as if the films weren’t seen much in their time, so it doesn’t matter that they’re older because you’re showing them now in the UK for the first time.


Dalton: Exactly, and I think with the media cycle we have at the moment a lot of us are encouraged to forget what happened yesterday, let alone 40 years ago, and like Latina was saying you take a film like A Boy, A Wall and A Donkey, this Palestinian film, and with everything that is going on with the genocide, this is not a new issue but something that extends way back into the 20th Century. I think it’s easy for us to be pigeonholed into the now and forget that there’s a history there, and we’ve got to raise awareness of what’s come before even though we’ve claimed to have made progress with a lot of things. With the inclusion of Zan Boko, for example, how many of us can see we’ve seen a film from Burkina Faso in the last 15 years? It’s about bringing that past back into the future, and for most of us that’s going to be a completely new experience.


In the nature of the festival and the Young Programmers scheme, if Barbican let you screen your dream double-bill for one night only, which two films would you include?


Dalton: I think I’d start with a short, I’d go for Petit Mal (1977) by the American experimental filmmaker Betzy Bromberg. It’s just an incredible short film from the ‘70s that fuses documentary with avant-garde filmmaking—I think someone referred to her films as “a cinema of touch” and looking to the present day, I think the idea of a haptic cinema has inspired a lot of people, yet I don’t know if many people are aware of the works of Betzy Bromberg, which I guess is true of a lot of female avant-garde filmmakers. I think I’d follow that up with, for me, the masterpiece of Iranian cinema, The Chess of the Wind (Mohammad Reza Aslani, 1976). Again, this idea of a working-class woman breaking out of an affluent, male-dominated atmosphere and forging their own path. Talking about filmmakers respecting the past and looking to the future; Aslani sets the film in the 1920s, but the film has this modern air, and then you get to the end of the film and there’s this huge reveal that really solidifies what we’ve been talking about today.


Latina: I would propose a new film called On the Go (Jullia de Castro & María G. Royo, 2023) from the Locarno Film Festival last year. It’s kind of a road film, which I think is really hard to find nowadays, because sometimes they’ve just become too commercial, but this one I feel like is close to early films like Easy Rider, Stand By Me, the group of friends that are always on the road. The themes are quite interesting, talking about intimate relationships, online dating, people’s perspectives on giving birth, and very specific topics but within generic, Southern Spanish cultures and traditions. It’s a visually compelling film, but its themes are also very interesting, And it’s a film on film, which is really hard to find these days. I would compare it to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Mike Nichols) from 1966, an old British, black-and-white film about very similar themes. It’s about two couples, with complicated relationships, discussing life and their academic careers, what intimate relationships are like and how marriage intertwines with love, hate, and delusion. How do you still know that you love that person or that you’re still dependent on that person after all this, which the film explores, compared to how this is explored nowadays through similar themes?


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