The Easter holidays are approaching and that also means that BIFFF is taking over the capital. The 39th edition of the festival was presented on Thursday. This time, there will be no horror, thriller or science fiction in Bozar, but in your own living room. Because necessity forces BIFFF online too.
When BIFFF had to cancel the entire planned edition in March 2020 due to corona, no-one thought that the 2021 edition might also be cancelled. But the second and third corona waves are again upsetting the plans of the programmers busy with this year's festival. Getting together is still not allowed so the original idea of holding a “hybrid edition” – partly online and partly on location – was scrapped.
“We noticed that the online version of (short film festival) Anima was a great success, so that has reassured us a bit. Like the optimists that we are, this is an opportunity for us to test out new ideas,” says press officer Jonathan Lenaerts. But he also says that this experiment cannot be repeated. “For us, an online festival is the antithesis of a film festival. A festival is a place of encounters, an eminently collective event. We will definitely go back to a physical edition in the future.” Although it remains to be seen whether the venue again will be Bozar, the traditional home of BIFFF.
A noose around the neck
Last year, the film industry largely came to a standstill. Putting together an interesting programme was no easy task for the BIFFF programmers. “Especially as we had no clarity about our format for a long time,” says programmer Chris Orgelt. “First, we were going for the hybrid edition. When the chances of a physical edition diminished noticeably, that became a noose around our neck. A lot of films, which were very suitable for the BIFFF, disappeared from the selection because they were reserved for a physical premiere once the cinemas open again.”
Postponing the BIFFF until later this year, as fellow festival Offscreen did, did not feel like an option: “Some of our staff only work for us in this period, and not all year round. Besides, a lot of events have already been postponed, so the calendar is pretty full. And who says that festivals will be possible in, say, June? Also, next year is our 40th edition, we will have more than our hands full with that,” says Orgelt.
“One thing we certainly did not want to do: base the programme on the coronavirus,” Orgelt continues. “A fellow festival wanted to make a programme with only films about the pandemic. But that is about the last thing we need. We have heard about nothing other than corona for a whole year, we really need something else,” says Orgelt laconically.
One exception confirms the rule: Host, a British horror film that conquered the world at lightning speed, not coincidentally because of its recognisable setting: the film of barely 56 minutes is one long shot of a Zoom conversation during the pandemic. Although it does involve a botched séance and the intervention of an evil spirit.
The programme includes 48 films (three world premieres, nine international premieres and four European premieres) and 63 short films: fewer than in a normal edition, to give the audience some breathing space. “Part of the programme includes the 'infected section': eleven films from last year's cancelled programme, which we still want to present to our audience,” says Lenaerts. The opening film is The Shift, a Belgian-Italian film about a terrorist attack in a Brussels school. “A strong, symbolic film that we dedicate to all the caregivers, the soldiers without weapons, who are working for us in this bizarre year,” says Lenaerts.
BIFFF guarantees a colourful mix of genre films from all over the world: films such as Possessor (by Brandon Cronenberg, son of The Fly director David), Son and Honeydew (starring Sawyer Spielberg, son of Steven) have already done well at American film festivals. The documentary De Dick Maas methode zooms in on Dutch cult director Dick Maas, known for The Lift, Amsterdamned and Flodder.
With Hail Satan and Horror Noire, a documentary about the important role of African-Americans in American horror history, BIFFF also keeps its finger on the pulse of the social and political situation in the US. “At the end of the day, I think we have managed to put together a nice programme. A consolation in the last few miles to the post-covid era,” says Orgelt.
As always, BIFFF is also a place of Asian discoveries – Signal 100, Slate and Extro to name a few – and of films where “out of the box” is the code word. With Aporia, the programme also offers the first genre film from Azerbaijan. Cyst, a film about a “giant man-eating cyst” sounds like a film made especially for the particular BIFFF audience.
The distinctive BIFFF atmosphere might not be very noticeable in an online setting. That's why there is also the “BIFFF zone”, with animations, Q&A sessions with guests, competitions and surprises. Those who wish can also have a “BIFFF pack” delivered to their home, containing drinks, goodies and comfort food.
The programme can be viewed on the BIFFF website. The films are available to watch from 6 April at 7 pm via online.bifff.net. Each film costs 3 euros. Unlike in normal editions, there is no time schedule: fans can watch the films whenever they want, within 48 hours after ordering. “Even though it is online, a film can be sold out. So be sure to order your film in time,” Lenaerts adds.