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Their Chronic Youth

As we hand over control of our cinema to the Barbican Young Programmers for Chronic Youth Film Festival, it only seemed fair that we hand it over to them to introduce it.

Laura Davis and Kofo Owokoniran present their season and share the reasons behind the films of Chronic Youth

KO: As the 21st century has gone on and more and more young people become engaged with film, cinema and, culturally, filmmaking has become a medium through which they cannot only tell stories, but tell stories that reflect their reality.

LD: We, Barbican Young Programmers, proudly present our selection of international and trans-historical feature films and a shorts programme of work from emerging female filmmakers. After months of debate about what to include, the films that we selected for the festival stood out because they felt relevant to us; be it for their depiction of young, urban alienation, or for the immediacy of their political messages about gentrification, immigration and dispossession. Here we explain why the films are important to us and how they chimed with our own experience of adolescence.

‘Swagger’, chosen by Nicolas Raffin

‘The film attracted me at first because the filmmaker comes from my hometown in Strasbourg. The kids in the film have grown up in one of the poorest neighbourhoods of France where 50% of families live below the poverty line, but amidst scenes of deprivation and social inequality Olivier Babinet manages to find style and swagger.

Swagger is an important film to see because it confronts the socio-political tensions in France at the moment. It was shot in Aulnay-Sous-Bois where huge riots are being held in response to incidents of police brutality. Even though these sorts of violent outbursts are the tragic backdrop to their childhood, the film is not pessimistic. Instead it presents its subjects as bold and ambitious, and Babinet’s representation of childhood brings hope even at the darkest of times.’

‘Something Better to Come’, chosen by Steadman Gbajumo

‘Sometimes a vision for a better future is all you need to survive’

‘I chose Something Better to Come because it’s an incredibly unique story; a well-crafted and intimate film about some of the most vulnerable people living in Russia today. I came across the film a couple of years ago during the London Film Festival and apart from Boyhood (2014) and 21 Up (1977), I had never watched a film that had been made over such a long length of time. It’s immediately clear that it was more than just a documentary for Hanna Polak, it was an exercise in human empathy, compassion and patience. In relation to current affairs the film is a reminder that even when the games and agendas of the powerful leave you with no hope, sometimes a vision for a better future is all you need to survive.’

‘Shoes’, chosen by Ellen Cleary

‘I first saw Shoes screened at a small event at The Cinema Museum in Kennington and fell head over heels for Lois Weber’s impassioned exposé of the pressures on young women facing poverty at the beginning of the twentieth century. I was a volunteer at the museum for several years and was lucky enough to help at many wonderful events and get to know their unique, treasure-trove collection of artefacts which celebrates not only film history, but all aspects of cinema-going, from the projection-booth to the concession-stand.’

‘Millennium Mambo’, chosen by Ross McDonnell

‘After Mia Hansen-Løve’s enormously profound Eden (2014), I was introduced to Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Millennium Mambo (2001). I could not ignore the symmetries in their filmmaking – both use what is unique to cinema to convey what is otherwise ineffable and intangible: we are all running out of time. With a passive protagonist and no major moments of conflict or consequence, Millennium Mambo is an existential, enigmatic film that strives to transfer a feeling. Bleak, albeit not without hope, it finds its own niche in this programme of coming-of-age films. Rarely screened, inaccessible yet influential, Millennium Mambo deserves an opportunity to be seen and appreciated.’

New Voices of Girlhood Shorts Programme

‘New voices should always be encouraged…’

Tower XYZ, directed by Young Programmer Ayo Akingbade

Tower XYZ is a trippy affair – it came about after binge watching on the early work of auteurs Steve McQueen, Harmony Korine and Chantal Akerman. I wanted to evoke the same metaphysical feeling of pace and poetic allegory and so it felt natural for me to speak about my increasingly gentrified local area, Hackney, and how this reflected back on my identity and sense of place. Some theorists call this phenomenon psychogeography. I wanted to feature and talk about London’s urban landscape and its shabby architecture (tower blocks, vacant marshes and playgrounds) whilst the characters navigated the terrain in a certain cool stance. It is hard to find representations of girlhood that aren’t typical mainstream Hollywood ones, but I think the shorts we’ve selected will act as a fantastic starting point – new voices should always be encouraged!’

We Love Moses, chosen by Laura Davis

We Love Moses tells a story that feels incredibly familiar and yet is still able to shock. I was introduced to Dionne, its director, by a good friend of mine and funnily enough her sister was almost cast as its main character, Ella. And that’s how it feels – these kids could have been us, that inner-city playground could have been the ones we grew up in. Although the film is brief, it made a long-lasting impression on our group. I can’t wait to see how the audience react to this short, watching as a group we burst into laughter at some points and gasped loudly at others. I won’t give any more away!’

‘Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion’, chosen by Joel Babbington

‘I wanted to get a 20th anniversary screening into the festival because who doesn’t love an anniversary screening? As a programming collective we tend to select important films with dark and heavy themes, so I was keen to add some to fun to the festival. When I realised this year marks 20 years since the release of comedy cult classic Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion it was a no-brainer. The film follows dippy best friends Romy and Michele who deal with their own chronic youth when returning to High School for a 10 year reunion. There is so much to love here, brilliant performances from the female leads and ensemble cast, all making every moment in the hilarious script pop, and of course an 80’s and 90’s soundtrack to die for. The film has been a go-to re-watch for me over the years, providing escapism, laughter and more recently has been an inspiration to me as the director and co-writer of female comedy duo Bosh and Babbs.’

‘Our choices reflect the changing way in which young people tell their stories…’

KO: Film has become a medium through which people who may not usually have a voice have found one. The Chronic Youth program itself serves as such a voice. This year’s intake of Young Programmers choices reflect the changing way in which young people tell their stories. Chronic Youth is a perfect representation of a new generation coming together to present a cohesive view of the ever dynamic, challenging and interesting stories being told through the powerful medium of film.

Chronic Youth Film Festival takes place on 18 & 19 March 2017

Follow the Barbican Young Programmers on Twitter: @BarbicanYP #chronicyouth17