The inaugural Festival of Commonwealth Film

Posted on 27/03/2018
By Mike Freedman

Something amazing happens when I watch a film. I sit down, it begins, and if it’s any good, I’m transported to another world.

The screen is a window, and through it I can see into any situation, any character’s experience, any culture. That’s why I find myself so frustrated with the state of cinema most of the time. The offering at the multiplex is often uniform and bland, not to mention bad as well. The story-lines are cut frequently from the same pattern. There is even a book called Save The Cat that explains the methodology, if you can call it that, for writing a ‘good’ script. Most of the films I see are in the English language, and sadly, when I travel, the local cinemas are stacked with Hollywood films, and if there are British films on offer, they are usually costume dramas.

I Am Not a Witch, witch features in the inaugural lineup, won the BAFTA for ‘outstanding debut’ in February 2018

But what about all of the other stories? What about the voices of the people from the Commonwealth countries that don’t speak English as a first language? Each with its own rich and unique language, culture, and heritage.

That’s why I’m so honoured and excited to be co-ordinating the first-ever Festival of Commonwealth Film, at the British Museum on 14 and 15 April. Over two days, we will be showing seven feature films, as well as a short film programme and a 360º virtual reality film. We have films from the Bahamas, India, Malta, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Tonga, United Kingdom and Zambia. Directors from nearly all of the films will be coming to meet the audience and answer their questions. In one very special case, we’re hosting the UK Premiere of a documentary on human trafficking, Not My Life, which will be followed by a Q&A not only with the director but also Sanjoy Hazarika, the Director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, about the scourge of modern-day slavery.

We’ll be sharing stories about transgender activists in Tonga, fishermen in the Mediterranean and Caribbean, modern women struggling to reconcile tradition and modernity in India, sisters fighting to protect their land in Pakistan, and an eight year-old girl accused of witchcraft and threatened with being turned into a goat.

Through the immersive magic of virtual reality, we have the powerful story of a woman imprisoned for twenty years despite being entitled to release, who is ultimately freed through the persistence, tenacity, and love of her son.

So many stories, so many windows looking in on places, situations, and people that I simply would never see anywhere else. All brought together with the support and commitment of the Commonwealth Foundation, Commonwealth Writers, and the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. For two days, the British Museum  will be where we bring the richness and diversity of the Commonwealth to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear.

When I’m exposed to a good piece of cinema, I leave feeling like I’ve had a good meal. Whether it’s a drama, where I’ve been emotionally affected, or a comedy, where the endorphins from a good therapeutic laugh are still coursing through my system, the end result is the same – real cinema acts on me, and in its way it changes me somehow, so that I’m different when I leave.

With a cafe open all day to relax in and talk about what’s been seen, and early bird prices at £7 (2 tickets for £10) with 50% off for concessions, it will be an incredible weekend of cinema and culture that we sincerely hope will become a regular event bringing the best cinema from across the Commonwealth together in one place.

Now please forgive me, but I have to go back to making sure it all comes off without a hitch – see you in April!

Mike Freedman is Festival Co-ordinator for Festival of Commonwealth Film 2018.


The inaugural Festival of Commonwealth Film