The Silk Road Film Festival is held annually in March in Dublin, Ireland, and this year the fourth instalment of the festival is running from the Thursday 10th to Monday 14th. It’s an enjoyable and unique long weekend of world cinema. So what makes the Silk Road Film Festival so special?
Essentially: its uniqueness. Often, large film festivals serve simply to promote a general feeling of anticipation for now-studio-bought or high end indie films in the run up to awards season, whilst sidelining the more diverse and arguably more interesting works, under the very guise of promoting them. This is a huge generalisation of course, but one of the biggest selling points of film festivals is that they introduce audiences to films that they wouldn’t have otherwise experienced. From near and far, shorts and feature-lengths, even animated pictures. Why would anyone go to a film festival to see a film a month or so before it’s available in a multiplex? Film festivals are about presenting something different and new.
Given the recent widespread criticism of the Academy with regard to diversity, the Silk Road Film Festival seems like a perfect antidote.
With this in mind, the Silk Road Film Festival is a remarkably special experience, with a solid mantra and a history and as broad as its programme. For centuries – indeed, almost two thousand years – the vast scope of Eurasia was connected by a series of complex trade and communication routes, the group name of these of course being the Silk Road. The Silk ‘Road’ (obviously, there was far more than one route taken) was far more than just the Chinese silk trade – it represented the internationality of people, from diasporas to trade, to politics and economics. A huge mix of people had their fingers in the Silk Road pie; the Chinese, the Persians, the Syrians and Somalis, the Greeks and Romans, the Armenians and Indians, to name but a few. It is this great melting pot of culture that the Silk Road Film Festival aims to promote. This festival shows films from an amazing variety of regions and cultures and as a result, it’s an amazingly eye opening experience.
In the festival’s own words, “Human beings have always moved from place to place and traded with their neighbours, exchanging goods, skills and ideas”. That, in a nutshell, is what the Silk Road Film Festival is all about. Featuring cinema of the Middle Eastern, African, Persian, Arabic, Asian, Mediterranean and European flavours, the festival’s greatest strength is its diversity. Indeed given the recent widespread criticism of the Academy, (and on a wider level of Hollywood in general,) with regard to diversity, the Silk Road Film Festival seems like a perfect antidote to this – an inclusive, not exclusive club.
Take Muayad Alayan’s Love, Theft and Other Entanglements, for example. The synopsis: Mousa steals the wrong car – what he believed to be just another Israeli car that he could make money from turns out to have a somewhat kidnapped Israeli soldier tied up in the boot. This leads him into in near farcical journey, on the run from Palestinian militias at one turn, Israeli intelligence forces the next. Or Road to the Sky, directed by Yi Wang, about one man’s efforts to cooperate with rural Chinese bandits, whilst somehow solving the problem of there being not enough working-age people to help set up a now-essential trade route for Chinese supplies to aid in the fight against Japan in 1938. If these synopses aren’t at least teasing your cinematic curiosities, perhaps you’re getting a little stuck in the Hollywood-mire? It’s time to get un-stuck.
The festival also hosts a series of exhibitions, panels and chats with world-renowned industry experts and guests.
The Silk Road Film Festival is the perfect collation of languages, cultures, religions, regions, intellectualisms and, fundamentally, art, that makes a film festival memorable, and, dare it be pretentiously said, important. Put simply, what is the point of watching the same sorts of films over and over again simply because they’re in big cinemas, when one could support a whole range of brave, new, innovative and exciting films whilst enjoying them all at the same time?
The festival also hosts a series of exhibitions, panels and chats with world-renowned industry experts and guests, as well as (free!) courses and workshops for those wishing to learn something new. This is a big selling point, and it fits neatly into the festival’s aims to narrow the language and regional boundaries between peoples, fostering a collaborative cross-cultural mesh of creatives. This facilitation of international contacts is an admirable attempt to make and experience films that bring people together, and this, to be sentimental, is just a lovely idea, and exactly what a film festival should be about, particularly one with such an obvious international outlook and feel.
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The Silk Road Film Festival looks like one of the most interesting and unique cinematic experiences going, and a good excuse to visit Dublin if nothing else. With a rich history and a firm core concept behind it, as well as an exciting lineup for 2016, the festival looks set to have another great year. Keep an eye out.
By Oliver Rowe