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New voices, Turkish cinema, the apocalypse and a masonic temple: We talk East End Film Festival 2016 with Andrew Simpson

Every year we look forward to the multi-platform East End Film Festival with its rich programme of international premieres, local filmmaking, documentaries, live cross-arts events and music parties - and it's almost time for 2016's installment. 11 days of cinematic discovery kick off on the 23 June. We spoke to Head of Programming Andrew Simpson about what's in store.

The East End Film Festival always sets itself apart by presenting unique cross-arts events and commissions alongside the the big fiction feature premieres – what’s you pick for a special once-off live event?
Always! East London is a unique area because it's always been a centre of cultural fermentation, migration, activism and edgy creative endeavour. That's why it's the perfect place to host a major international film festival as well as to challenge the boundaries between cinema and other art forms. We always combine cinema with a range of other disciplines, from live music to exhibitions to debate and performance, creating a space where the arts can feed off each other, all centred around cinema. The events I'm really excited about this year are our masquerade ball, which will feature a screening of Alejandro Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre in an incredible masonic temple followed by a huge party for 700 people, complete with circus rigs, burlesque performers, live music,fire eaters, snake charmers and lots more besides; and a psych-themed all nighter at Oval Space with a live reinterpretation of Norman McLaren's Pas de Deux with a live drone soundtrack by Luke Abbot, a live soundtrack to classic 70's sci fi animation Fantastic Planet by ATP record's JC Flowers, and a live 'interference' set with musician Natalie Sharp overlaying records (played by John Doran of the Quietus) with her inimitable vocals; and lots more besides, from sunrise walking tours to debate to live music. There's a ton of stuff to choose from.


Image: Alejandro Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre

The East London aspects of the programme seems to emerge equally from locally shot work and a focus on local London and British filmmakers… What are the most quintessentially East London films in the programme?
Even though we're an international festival embracing films from all over the globe as well as the arts more broadly, the communities, stories and filmmakers of east London are still a vital part of what we celebrate each year. Lots of the British world premieres, from opening night film Alleycats, to Love is Thicker Than Water, to the Rupert Graves sci-fi Native, are largely shot in east London. And there's always a big emphasis on films that grapple with issues that are relevant to the area, with particular highlights being The Seven Sisters Indoor Market, which looks at how a vibrant east London community hub is being affected by the winds of commercial redevelopment; The Guv'nor, a really sensitive, moving portrait of East End luminary Lenny McLean, and London Overground, which sees legendary Hackney writer Iain Sinclair walking the London Overground route, musing on how hyper-capitalism is changing the nature of this great city, especially the East End.

Image: Alleycats Opening Gala Film dir Ian Bonhôte, 2016

The cinematic spaces and in some case unconventional or exciting locations in the area are a large part of what make EEFF a living, breathing local, as well as international event. Any special places we shouldn’t miss out experiencing during the festival this year?
The Masonic Temple is the one space that visitors to the festival shouldn't miss out on.  It's an incredible, marble lined ceremony space that remained unknown until it was discovered just a decade ago. It's basically the most incredible venue you'll ever see and we're the only film festival that gets to put on screening events there because of our partnership with hotel sponsors Andaz Liverpool Street. It's the centre of our special Collapse of Civilisation Weekend taking in everything from Ken Loach to Judge Dredd; as well as being the hub for the masked ball that I mentioned before. Buy tickets to everything!

I know that the culturally specific and diverse communities of the locality tend to inspire aspects of your programme. The Turkish focus sounds particularly exciting this year – tell us more.
Yes, definitely. Reflecting the incredibly diverse make up of the East London community, you'll find films that reflect all of the local communities in the programme. The Turkish focus is particularly special as each year we invite the filmmaker who wins our top award to return to EEFF and programme a selection of films from their country. This year's director in residence is Tolga Karacelik, who won last year's prize for his second film Ivy, and he's helped us put together an amazingly diverse selection of films from important new Turkish filmmakers.  The programme takes in female perspectives of life in Anatolia, B movie horror, and a great societal collapse thriller in Frenzy.

Image: Love is Thicker Than Water, dir Emily Harris, Ate de Jong 2015
Your ethos as a festival centres on championing the work of first and second time directors -  why is this so important and who should we be looking out for?
We see East London as a creative environment that helps to create great art and great filmmakers. It makes sense to us that first and second filmmakers are celebrated, matching the ethos that it's about the creations of great filmmakers. It's asking 'where do great filmmakers begin?' There's so much to recommend on this front, but I'll just mention kooky PI love story Aloys, Jasmine Revolution Tunisian rock n' roll rebellion drama As I Open My Eyes, hilarious fake moon landing mockumentary Operation Avalanche, mermaid horror musical The Lure (yes, really), and the apocalyptic, beautiful, bonkers We Are The Flesh, which is produced by Alejando Gonzalez Inarritu. They're all unlike anything you've ever seen before. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll gasp...films are great, aren't they?

 The festival opens on 23 June – the day of the EU referendum and a pivotal moment in history where Britain will either belong or set itself apart. Talking of belonging and displacement and current issues - this year’s festival has a focus on migration – in what way will this be manifest?
It's obviously an incredibly important time to be part of this debate and it's clearly very relevant to east London with its history. We always explore issues of nationality, migration and belonging at the festival (it's been a big thing for us for a long time), but this year we'll be hosting a special 'day of refuge', which will examine the nature of the current crisis with films shot on the Mediterranean, in Calais, and in the case of Ketermaya, which provides this year's festival cover image, a Lebanese refugee camp. Discussing and illuminating the refugee experience, it's being presented with the Refugee Council, Refugee Week and UEL. We will also be fundraising and presenting spoken word testimonials. It will be a great day for anyone who's interested in or wants to learn more about the issue. 
Lastly, I know EEFF has some of the best festival parties and music – what’s unmissable for our social calendars?
Well I've mentioned the ball and Psych Space already, but we'll also have a special Madonna themed 'Freedom' party at VFD/ Vogue Fabrics, which is after our screening of the brilliant documentary Strike a Pose, about Madonna's backing dancers. We'll also celebrate Pride with a 'Desire Will Set You Frei' party at Dalston Superstore. Then there's opening night, closing night, a riot grrrl night at the Genesis Cinema with live music until late... we're not going to sleep, it's going to be too much fun. Everyone else should do the same!


More from Andrew Simpson: @Andrew_Simpson_

East End Film Festival
at various locations
23 June - 3 July 2016


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