As part of this year’s programme, Manchester International Festival presents a new short film strand, shaped entirely in response to the upending conditions of the pandemic. Consisting of five moving image works created during the height of the global lockdown by leading artists from a diverse range of disciplines, Postcards from Now offers a broad look at the opportunities Covid has brought about to disrupt existing orders and enact positive change.
Of the five films, Argentinian director Lola Arias’ I’m Not Dead (working title) reflects on the silencing impact that the pandemic has had on older people, many of whom became trapped in their homes and increasingly dependent on others. The piece movingly restores a sense of humanity and complexity to its subjects, focusing on the daily routine of one elderly person and their carer which develops into an unexpected act of love and resistance.
Using rotoscope animation, Breathless Puppets tells the real-life story of two friends – Akram Khan and Naaman Azhari – who were forced apart as children by the disapproval of their fathers but reconnected as adults during the pandemic, resulting in the making of this collaborative film. Both grew up to be internationally respected artists, Khan as one of the world’s most celebrated dancers/choreographers (behind the MIF/English National Ballet/Sadler’s Wells 2016 production of Giselle), and Azhari as a respected British/Lebanese animator and film director.
What voices do we need in times of crisis? In her latest film, the four-time Grammy Award winner and political activist Angélique Kidjo demonstrates the strength and power of women to overcome adversity within the predominantly patriarchal culture of her home country, Benin. The piece uses footage recorded pre-pandemic but is inspired by a group of women who developed a cottage industry of mask-making in the early stages of Covid to feed their families.
Following the success of his 2019 MIF exhibition, Parliament of Ghosts at the Whitworth, Ibrahim Mahama’s 2021 film commission Love Campus tells the story of The Savannah Centre for Contemporary Art and Red Clay Studios – two educational centres that the artist established in his hometown of Tamale in Ghana to stimulate and encourage young people from communities with high levels of poverty and low levels of education. The film also continues many of the themes in Parliament of Ghosts, such as the repurposing of old technologies towards brighter, more optimistic ends.
Finally, Building momentum under lockdown is the result of a Zoom-based collaboration between the esteemed choreographer, Lucinda Childs, and the artist collective/directors of the Ballet National de Marseille, (LA)HORDE, after their plans to meet physically were postponed by the pandemic. The intimate and playful piece explores the unexpected bursts of creativity and innovation that developed as a result of the limitations brought about by Covid.
Altogether, this new strand of film commissions makes for a timely addition to the festival and a rich opportunity to reflect with some optimism on the challenges of the last year and a half.