Programming Journeys into Film: Challenges and Triumphs

Mandla Rae is the Journeys Community Film Programmer and discusses the decisions made when curating the programme with some of the obstacles.

My initial approach to programming a selection of films for Journeys Festival International on the theme of highlighting issues of displacement and empowering Manchester’s asylum seeking communities was simple: to find films that were neither tokenistic or fatalistic. Many films about displacement, which cater to educating white British audiences, could be traumatic to those with lived experience and I wanted to avoid this.

Whilst our efforts were limited by budget and availability; Reba and I have curated a delightful mix of documentary, animation, and archival features, which centre and celebrate stories about women and women filmmakers.

The ‘Journeys into Film’ programme includes, but is not limited to: He Named Me Malala, Capernaum, We Are Not Princesses and Bhaji on the Beach. We have managed to locate distributors, licenses and fees for all of these and are now working on getting the films in our hands for screening. I think the waiting is the longest part of film programming. The locating of films wasn’t as enduring as I thought it would be. Programmers across the UK were happy to answer my emails and point me in the right direction when my usual haunts weren’t providing me with license results. It was great to meet people I had emailed with questions like this at This Way Up Conference in November and properly thank them.

I really struggled to find the license for The Desert Dancer, a re-telling of Afshin Ghaffarian’s life story, from learning to dance secretly by hacking into YouTube to having to flee to exile in France. I had emailed everyone from Scotland to Spain about the license for this film, (I have even tweeted Afshin Ghaffarian himself).

I thought I would have to give up on the possibility of screening this film that tells a tale that is all too familiar to a number of Iranian artists who are now based in Manchester. On a whim, I tweeted director Richard Raymond and started emailing all the production houses associated with the film on the BFI website. Incredibly, Raymond quickly got back to me with a direct contact to Cross Day Productions and I’ve been able to speak to the lovely Pippa and arrange for this film to be seen again.

The search for non-traditional cinema venues has led us to forge exciting links and collaborations with groups such as Revive, MAC Festival, Screen32 - Stretford Public Hall’s Community Cinema, Longsight Library, and City of Sanctuary. Rather than appealing for people to make the journey to large, out of reach, established cinemas - the project brings the cinema directly to local venues: familiar, welcoming, and easily accessible.

We have consulted with different organisations who support asylum seekers in Manchester in order for service users to make programming decisions with us - Revive and City of Sanctuary. We found that members of the communities preferred for English to be the unifying language in the films we screen at the community venues.

On the other hand, Stretford Public Hall’s Screen 32 board members were more open to films of varying languages as the majority of the audiences at their venue are of a White English background. So, we will be screening Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum at their venue, a decision that was made by the board members voting from a few trailers we had shown them. We will also be collaborating with Muslim Arts and Culture Festival (MAC Fest) to bring OpenArt Foundation’s We Are Not Princesses to Manchester for the first time.

The trailer for He Named Me Malala created an exciting conversation at City of Sanctuary between service users about what kind of message Malala’s story sends out about girls ability to access education in Pakistan and how to dispel these myths in the west and we look forward to a discussion following our screening of this documentary on 24 February at Longsight Library.

To learn more and book tickets, please visit the Journeys Festival International Eventbrite page here and for We Are Not Princesses specifically, please book here.

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