In summer 2021, cinema struck back. It returned. It came home. And with it, the dream of cinema was dead. For a year, the notion of a reverential space, cruelly kept from people by the pandemic,evaporated, replaced by the reality: Worker maltreatment. Appalling costs, hemorrhaging money no matter your angle. And, Prano-Bailey aside, still no Bond. It’s crunch time for the movie theatre.
Local film festivals returned in whatever way they could. Bristol’s Cinema Rediscovered featured UK premieres of Melvin Van Peebles’ The Story of a Three Day Pass (1968) and Perry Henzel’s No Place Like Home (2006), using the festival as a launchpad for nationwide tours of these remarkable repertory titles. Small scale it may be, but look at independent cinemas across England for the mark that the festival had on programmes from Belfast to Norwich.
Sheffield Doc/Fest celebrated a successful hybrid edition, with premieres of new films by Steve McQueen and *ahem* Mark Cousins alongside a radical programme that placed experimental contemporary work alongside a broad retrospective of Black British Documentary – then undid all that work by sacking their entire team. Their turmoil – a board filled with corporate interests protecting against the kind of team that a modern festival needs to survive and function – could really stand in for the industry as a whole.
The British film industry continues to pump out remarkable debuts from young filmmakers, which are often wildly overrated and rarely result in more than a Netflix gig for the feted auteur. When an (admittedly strangely argued) piece in The Guardian noted this phenomenon, the establishment critics closed ranks to protect their grift. Each year they can celebrate a few of these products, nominate them for BIFAs, and come off looking like protectors of the independent scene all while giving Shang-Chi a fresh rating. That’s where the big bucks are.
This summer, the remarkable debut was Censor, directed by Prano Bailey-Bond. Set in the 1980s at the BBFC offices, Bailey-Bond’s concept was like catnip for the Kermodio-Collinsites of the world. It references the likes of Possession and The Driller Killer, and features a strong central performance from Niamh Algar, whose buttoned up stickler for the prudish mores of the Thatcher government becomes undone by watching too much gore. Rather than elevated horror, this is gentrified horror – giving viewers the cultural cache of learning about the 30 year old film era of Video Nasties within the safety of a refined story about trauma. It passed with no cuts.
The Censor case was made more curious by the prevalence of mainstream horror in multiplexes over the summer months. As studios pushed out the backlog – The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It; The Night House; Spiral: From the Book of Saw; Candyman; Old, and the rest – the nation’s cinema screens were joyously filled with B-movies. And online, the fun didn’t stop. Canada’s Fantasia Fest opened their accreditation to international journalists by moving online for the first time. The splatter-filled programme – both red and white fluids – provided an exhilarating antidote to the anodyne social realisms of Cannes and Locarno. Perhaps the summer’s most exciting release (in the USA at least) was Tsai Ming-Liang’s Days, which is reviewed by Digby Houghton in this issue. It was also voted Cinema Year Zero’s best film of 2020. If film release calendars were strange before, now they truly are a flat circle.
For Issue 8, Cinema Year Zero asked our contributors a simple question: what did you do on your summer holidays? And the answers we got were wide-ranging, even as communal experiences began to take shape again.
First up, Kirsty Asher reflects on summer nostalgia as, with the aid of appropriate substances, she revisits forgotten ‘00s stoner film The Wackness. The film studies OGs are in fine fettle this issue, as Tom Atkinson ‘unearths’ a new entry into the Andrew Sarris canon of American cinema: on Ang Lee.
Cathy Brennan embraced new forms of criticism, recounting her summer of immersion in FilmTok, and finds that it’s a more fruitful and open space for cinematic discourse. Joseph Owen, however, returns to Locarno, where he finds threads between a number of recent Bosnian cinema. Then Sam Moore explores Found Footage works by Cecilia Barriga, Dara Birnbaum, and others in a search for subjectivity.
But, Goddammit, was football more exciting than almost any new release? While London’s South Bank was lined with white-shirted gargoyles fresh from Epsom for the day to snort packet and throw a chair through a kebab shop window, the BFI was enjoying a comprehensive retrospective of Robert Altman’s work. It was a perfect summer season, writes Ben Flanagan. The only thing more British than sport-inspired racism might be the reactionary public-funded TV soap. Alistair Ryder takes a deep dive on Waterloo Road, finding the links between its social realism and the so-called ‘Red Wall’ of British politics.
Supported by our incredible Patreon subscribers, for the first time Cinema Year Zero is able to pay contributors a fee of £20 for their work. We hope you see it as a sign of good faith in their writing and our direction, and our goal is to double that fee in the next year. For now, enjoy the issue as Cinema Year Zero gives you How We Spent Our Summer Holidays.
A reflection on nostalgia, revisiting the forgotten 00’s stoner film.
Unearthing a new chapter from Andrew Sarris on Taiwanese workman, Ang Lee.
A recounting of a summer spent immersed in Film TikTok.
A report on Bosnian cinema at the Locarno Film Festival.
A search for subjectivity in the found footage works of Dara Birnbaum, Cecilia Berriga, and Joseph Cornell.
A reminiscence on the BFI’s Robert Altman retrospective.
A deep dive into Waterloo Road, reactionary politics, and the so-called ‘Red Wall’.
A review, at last, of our 2020 film of the year.