What is the Fate of the Middle Place? This title of our Young Filmmakers’ new short film refers to their future vision of Berwick-upon-Tweed. The question could be asked of the festival itself, where it acts as a middle place, a meeting between our local communities and the international communities of artists and filmmakers, and one whose destiny is being shaped by both internal energies and external crises.
Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival was created by artists in 2005 and solidarity with artists and filmmakers has always been at the centre of our activities. Over the last year in particular we have looked to better address how the pandemic has heightened already hostile conditions for the production and exhibition of the moving image globally.
Joining us as Head of Programming for the 2021 Festival, Jemma Desai’s research interests into the connections between social justice, and work practices in the arts, have helped shape the programme taking place from 10-30 September.
“This last year after seeing and experiencing models of mutual aid and the solidarity economy both within and outside our ‘industries,’ we have convened around the idea of ‘Mutuality.’ This has meant a focus on creating more opportunities to gather, collaborate and form partnerships. This year New Art City, Open City Docs, Cinenova, Spike Island, Circuit NZ, CREAM Westminster, Berwick Visual Arts and National Film Archive of India have provided vital resources, skills and expertise and deepened our engagements with unstable forms of cinema worldwide. Building on Peter’ s artistic direction in the last five years and the team’s decision last year, we have continued to focus our budgets on bolstering fees for artists at this time of uncertainty and have removed the remaining competitive elements to what was formerly the Berwick New Cinema Competition. This year the “New Cinema Awards” is again a place of gathering and sharing the newest work that has shifted us collectively as a group of programmers. The fifteen filmmakers in this section each receive a £400 fee and a share of the prize money of £2000. We make no distinction whether their film is a feature film or a short.
We have reflected on the language that festival structures, workers and audiences have internalised and how that might hinder our abilities to care for those we work for and with. How has language such as “submission” contributed to ideas of exceptionalism? How is the language of authoritarian neutrality and “judgement” upheld when we invite a “jury” to preside over our selection? Sitting with these contradictions has proved challenging and at times impossible to resolve. In a year where artists entrusted us with their work in ever greater numbers and our ability to screen them has been limited due to resource and public health constraints, we begin a period of inquiry and reflection on the ways that our Call for Entries operate, led by the research of our Associate Programmer Alice Miller. In recognition of the subjectivities involved in festival selections, we will be finding ways during the online unfolding of the Festival to be more transparent about the processes, subjectivities and constraints that go into the decisions we make every year. Choosing not to have a Jury preside over our selection this year is partly a decision to reject the language of punitive criminal justice, but also a gesture to reorient the ways we draw attention to the ongoing relational work by artists, writers and interlocutors who bring their expertise, their passions and subjectivities to audience’s experiences of films in our programmes every year. As every year, these people will provide valuable insights as respondents on work we, as a team, have already deeply engaged with in the selection process and we will be sharing full details of this community of collaborators in the next announcements as our live programme is further confirmed.”