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Two overlapping film festivals to enjoy in Brussels this September

23:08 24/08/2021

For pandemic reasons, two normally separate springtime film festivals, the Brussels Short Film Festival (BSFF) and the Brussels International Film Festival (BRIFF) are taking place with overlapping schedules at the end of the summer this year. 

The BSFF runs from 28 August to 5 September, overlapping with BRIFF from 1-11 September. “They are both together and not together,” co-director Céline Masset says of the two festivals. “So they will have separate moments and simultaneous moments. The result will be a major gathering of film people with a mingling of movie creators of both the short and feature-length forms for a greater whole than the parts.

“Festivalgoers can expect an intense few days with lots of screenings, competitions, themed programs, workshops, guests of honour, get-togethers and unique moments that will be cherished.”

For the BSFF, the international competition is particularly fertile this year courtesy of the coronavirus crisis. Filmmakers couldn’t travel last year and so this year there are 18 programmes of competing films instead of the traditional 12. And in the national competition, 20 of the 45 films selected are world premieres. The “next generation” competition is also extra large this year with 57 films selected, of which 36 are international and 21 are Belgian.

For the out-of-competition programmes there are many different themes, including boxing, humour, Latin America, very short shorts, trashy shorts, and two programmes of Portuguese films. Additionally the free screenings at the Mont des Arts are back.

The European Short Film Audience Award is a sort of Eurovision for short film. Ten films awarded the audience award at 10 different festivals across the continent now compete against each other, with the audiences voting to make one of the films the winner among winners. Just to keep things even, and much like Eurovision, people are not allowed to vote for their country’s entry.

Meanwhile, with an expanded section devoted to the professionals, this fourth BRIFF invites, more than ever, all those involved in movie-making to share their knowledge, their experience and their points of view on the future of cinema with events that deliver technical secrets or create effective networking.

“We have expanded our events for professionals and for youth with numerous workshops, training sessions and masterclasses such as the Brussels Co-Production Forum and the Screenwriters’ Day for the professionals and the Filmmaking Workshop and the Film Reviews Workshop for the youth,” Masset adds. “It is very important for us to facilitate the expansion of film work in all its facets in Belgium.”

For the BRIFF, the selected films from China, Europe, Argentina, Mexico and Taiwan for the international competition and for the directors’ week competition carry a common message: Things must change.

Witnesses to the great problems that occupy the front page every day, or mirrors of their interior selves, the protagonists of the selected films express, sometimes with humour, sometimes with emotion, the instability that threatens them and the forces that push them towards a new world.

“Le Monde Après Nous, New Order, Nous Tous, Soy Libre and Bigger Than Us are all movie titles that underline that theme, of the general imbalance, of these existential questions that urgently need answers,” says Masset. “What does it mean to be alive today? How to give sense to our lives in this world mistreated by humankind’s indifference? The films selected all consider these questions and answer them or address them in different ways.”

Out of competition, we have Michael Keaton’s new film Worth, based on the true story of the attorney who had to decide how to allocate the reparations funds to people whose lives were up-ended forever by the World Trade Center attacks.

In a different register, we have a preview screening of Benedetta, Paul Verhoeven’s latest film, a tale of visions of Christ and intra-convent sexual seduction taking place in 17th century Italy.

There are also two documentaries on the Congolese Rumba, an infectious music that seduces everyone but also had strong significance for the Congolese independence movement. To complete the event there will be a live rumba concert at the BRIFF Village at the big top on Place de Brouckère.

To top things off, the closing night features a preview screening of Denis Villeneuve’s highly touted film adaptation of Dune.

Written by Richard Harris