One of the pleasures of living in Gothenburg is the annual film festival. It takes place around the end of January and beginning of February and Mrs SC and I usually manage to see a few films at least every year. On occasion we’ve taken time off work and binged. From experience I know it’s possible for me to see three films in a day, but not more. I seem to get sensory overload after about seven or eight hours. But I know people who watch five or six films a day and claim to be able to absorb them all.
Choosing the other
Even when I don’t take time off work, I usually contrive to see 8 to 10 films during the festival. (That works out as one a day on average.) And I try to see films that are the sort I would probably never see otherwise. I try to see a film from every continent, to see art films, experimental films, genre crossovers. If faced with a choice between a film in English or Swedish on the one hand, or a film in Georgian or Hausa or an Austronesian language on the other, I try to choose the other. It means I’ve seen some wonderful films over the years, as well as quite a number of weird ones. And, to be sure, some duds. But I’m rarely bored.
During the festival period Gothenburg’s cinemas are packed with people and all the cafés and bars around the cinemas are full too. The festival takes over one or more venues for lectures, seminars and ceremonies – there are opening ceremonies and closing ceremonies and award ceremonies and parties. You can experience as much as you want in the limited space of our little city. It’s not Berlin, or Cannes, or Sundance, or Venice. (To be honest, I’ve not been to any of them, so how would I know?) But it is the largest film festival in the Nordic area in terms of films and attendance. In 2020 the festival showed, I think, more than 500 films and had over 100,000 visitors.
It’s also a petri dish of diseases. Both Mrs SC and I expect to go down with something during the festival or directly after. Usually colds, sometimes a flu. The most spectacular in my experience was when I caught chickenpox, presumably during one of the first two or three films that I saw. I gave up my tickets to my brother-in-law and spent the festival week and a fortnight after pocked and scratching at home in bed.
So it’s not at all surprising that this year in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the organisers decided to run the festival online. It was a slimmed down version. There were 50-odd feature films (and 13 short films in two packages) to choose from, and all the festival goers were watching from home. All but a cartoon figure’s handful. (You know that cartoon figures only have three fingers, don’t you?)
There were three venues where a single person could view films in a rather special way. The 700 seat Draken cinema, which is the home cinema for the film festival, was open for one visitor per film throughout the festival. Scandinavium, which is Gothenburg’s sports arena and seats 12,000 was open for one person for each film in the five days between the 2nd and 6th February. And in the biggest PR exercise of the festival, one person was picked out of more than 12,000 applicants to sit in a cinema room set up in “The Lonely Lighthouse” off our stormy west coast. The lucky winner got to watch all of the films, and blog about the experience.
Negatives and positives
I certainly missed a lot of the surrounding experience of the film festival this year. The going out and meeting people. The excitement of standing in the queues to get into the theatres. Overhearing people’s discussions as they file out after the film is over. I missed all the travelling about town from one venue to another. The experience of seeing films in real cinemas and lecture theatres, the old opera house and school assembly halls, in art galleries and churches. I missed not being able to see a film from every continent. (I don’t believe there were any films from Oceania this year.)
But I didn’t miss falling ill again.
And there were other positives. It was possible to fall asleep during a showing and not worry that you were going to disturb your neighbours by snoring. Because your only neighbour was already asleep. (I don’t think I have ever nodded off in a movie theatre during a film, certainly not during the festival. But this year two films sent me to sleep. And one I actually gave up watching. No, I’m not going to tell you which, but it won an award.)
Film festival high points
For me, the top films of the festival were as follows. (Bear in mind I only saw 13 of the 50-odd features). In descending order of greatness… (Links go to the appropriate page of the Internet Movie Database.)
- Dear Comrades directed by Andrey Konchalovskiy
- The Father directed by Florian Zeller
- Another Round directed by Thomas Vinterberg
- Flee directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen
- Limbo directed by Ben Sharrock
- Tove directed by Zaida Bergroth
- Night of the Kings directed by Philippe Lacôte
And I’d like to include a special mention for one of the short films in the 2121 package. (“Some of Sweden’s foremost film makers envision the future a hundred years from now.”)
The one I liked the most of these was…
- Lyckad upptining av Herr Moro (The Successful Defrosting of Mr Moro) directed by Jerry Carlsson
So, that was my 44th Gothenburg Film Festival. It was good, but I will very much appreciate getting back to normal next year, if that’s possible. (I do hope it’s possible.)