The Wales One World Film Festival (WOW) has, since its founding in 2001, celebrated the riches of world cinema. Described by The Guardian as ‘the excellent Wales-wide travelling festival’, WOW brings an eclectic selection of films from around the globe to cinemas across Wales. The five cinemas taking part in the 2014 festival are Chapter Cardiff, Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Clwyd Theatr Cymru Mold, Taliesin Swansea and Theatr Mwldan Cardigan. Here, Festival Director David Gillam talks about why and how he set up the WOW Festival, and selects a few personal highlights from this year’s programme.
WOW began when I approached Alan Hewson at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Sybil Crouch at Taliesin Swansea, and Tony Whitehead at Chapter to see if they’d each give me a week in their cinemas to try out a world film festival. I had been on a few festival juries in Europe and saw that there was a real appetite for world cinema there; and I thought why not here in Wales too? People may not have heard of the film, or the director, or the star, but they are interested in Cuba, its culture and what is going on there. Luckily for me that hunch turned out to be right. The first year went spectacularly well with sell-out shows all week in Aberystwyth.
My aim was, and still is, to show the stories people ‘over there’ are telling each other, what is important to them. That is not at all the same as the TV coverage we get over here, which is determined by the lens of what is deemed ‘newsworthy’ about, say Kenya, for example.
Frankly, I am amazed to find myself still running the festival thirteen years on.
The films are my choices, personal, idiosyncratic, occasionally perverse or wayward. But I hope that all tell powerful stories that illuminate our world and the way we live now. Stories of the dilemmas people face, the choices they make, and the consequences of those choices.
Quite often I have chosen certain films that show the world through a child’s eyes – Jafar Panahi’s The White Balloon is one of my favourites. This year the festival opens in Chapter on Friday 21 March with the Wales Premiere of the world’s first movie about kids in global cinema, A Story of Children and Film from director Mark Cousins. Mark’s Channel 4 TV series The Story of Film was described as ‘a love letter to the movies’ and his new film could be described as a love letter to childhood – its surrealism, loneliness, fun, destructiveness and stroppiness – as seen through 53 films from 25 countries. I am really looking forward to having Mark come to Chapter to introduce the film and give a Q&A on the festival’s opening night.
The festival opens simultaneously in Aberystwyth playing the lovely gentle comic romance The Lunchbox accompanied by an Indian meal in the Arts Centre café – I try and incorporate food and social occasions into the festival as much as possible! The film is about two mismatched personalities who exchange notes in a tiffin box but never actually meet.
Something else that is in the spirit of WOW is working with Wales’s increasingly diverse communities. With the WOW Women’s Film Club, we are planning a series of pop-up events taking our screenings into the heart of the vibrant faith and cultural communities in Cardiff. The first event is ‘Best of Bollywood Live’ with the Bollywood Brass Band, hosted by the Gujarati community at Grangetown’s Samaj Centre, who will be cooking for 350+ on the night of Saturday 22 March!
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is helping WOW to organise a Palestinian Cultural Evening at Chapter on Tuesday 25 March. There will be speakers, authentic mezzes from Falafel Wales and live music from Cardiff based oud player Salih Hassan and Côr Cochion.
Although I am not normally a horror fan, this year we have teamed up with Aberystwyth’s Abertoir Festival for the UK premiere of The Second Death (La Segunda Muerte), a cleverly scripted Argentinian supernatural thriller with beautifully atmospheric cinematography (Aberystwyth Arts Centre on Monday 24 March).
Occasionally WOW shows a film or two from Wales too. Delight was shot in the hills around Aberystwyth and features many local faces including The Life of Brian actress Sue Jones-Davies. Welsh director Gareth Jones will give a Q&A following the Wales Premiere in Aberystwyth on Wednesday 26 March.
Then there is a whole array of intriguing and moving films (eighteen in total!) covering the globe from Paraguay to the Philippines. Do not miss the thrilling Sundance Audience Award winner Metro Manila made by British director Sean Ellis, nor the delightful Winter Nomads, a documentary about the last shepherds to follow their flock round the mountains of Switzerland. Strikingly beautiful black and white imagery and music evoke a Gypsy way of life that is gone forever in Papusza, the story of the Polish Roma poet Bronisława Wajs. There is a rare chance to see two films from Kenya – Nairobi Half Life and Something Necessary.
The 2014 WOW Wales One World Film Festival runs from Friday 21 March to Wednesday 9 April. For more details about the programme and booking go to: www.wowfilmfestival.com.
Banner photograph from ‘Nairobi Half Life’, directed by David Tosh Gitonga