Celebrating 20 years of eye-opening world cinema to Wales, WOW Wales One World Film Festival in partnership with Aberystwyth Arts Centre returns this March in a somewhat different guise. Instead of buying tickets to enter a darkened cinema, festival goers will be settling back into their sofas to view the films streaming online, for free.

The free WOW Film Festival opens on Thursday 11th March, 10 years to the day since Japan’s devastating earthquake that led to the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. The first film, chosen to mark this sad anniversary, is 3:11 A Sense of Home, Naomi Kawase’s a collection of shorts from directors such as Oscar winner Bong Joon Ho (Parasite), Victor Erice and Patti Smith that explore timely themes of renewal, recovery and home.

WOW Film Festival’s “Green Screen” selection includes several environmental films. Among WOW Festival’s many international guest speakers this year is forest ranger turned best-selling German author Peter Wohlleben, whose film The Hidden Life of Trees has its UK online premiere. The growing local food movement is the theme of documentary First We Eat, whose director Suzanne Crocker will be joining live from Canada’s frozen Yukon.

One of sixteen online premieres, the strange and wonderful Sanctorum imagines the awesome power of nature unleashed to protect the traditional way of life in a mountain village. Beloved about an 82 year old woman devoted to the wild mountains and her cows will feature alongside a Q&A with producer Elaheh Nobakht from Tehran.

Need a laugh? Feel good movies include comedies Arab Blues starring Iranian actress in exile Golshifteh Farahani (Paterson, The Patience Stone); The Whaler Boy set against the visually poetic backdrop of the Bering Strait and Joy, an international programme of short films curated from the best of Iris LGBT+ Film Festival.

There is plenty of family viewing too. Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom is a heartwarming drama set in the world’s most remote school, high up in the mountains of Bhutan. Delfín follows a young boy whose determination to audition for a children’s orchestra takes him and his father on a life changing adventure. Kotatsu Japanese Animation Festival are joining the WOW Women’s Film Club’s International Women’s Day celebration with a selection of animated family-friendly shorts by up and coming female animators in Japan. Running to the Sky sees young runner Jekshen competing for the top prize in traditional running races of Kyrgyzstan.

Nature, gods and mysticism feature in WOW’s “Strange Films for Strange Days” strand. Laos’s only female film director Mattie Do is another guest speaker, alongside her wonderful ghost story The Long Walk, presented by Abertoir Festival. Abertoir are also presenting the chilling Malaysian folk-horror Roh. In Tantas Almas/Valley of Souls about Colombia’s civil war, the swampy air of the magnificent Magdalena river is thick with mystery and fear.

Saturday 20th March is Nowruz, or Persian New Year. Iranian film curator Ehsan Khoshbakht will introduce his film about the vibrant world of Filmfarsi, a popular genre of cinema from the 1960s and 70s, alongside the UK online premiere of the restored version of the greatest Iranian movie of all time, The Deer, which is rarely seen outside Iran.

The 2021 WOW Film Festival will wrap on Sunday 21st March, with a celebration of the UN’s International Day of Forests. With the climate emergency, everyone is talking about planting trees. But are we going about it in the right way?

WOW Film Festival Director David Gillam said:

“It has been really exciting to put together our first online festival. Now people anywhere in the UK can join the party and discover what Welsh audiences have enjoyed for twenty years.We would like to thank all our funders and sponsors who have made it possible for us to brighten these dark days by providing the online festival entirely for free. Without the support of the Welsh Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund, this free festival would not have been possible.We’ve only thrived for so long thanks to the support of many great partners. But I would particularly like to thank everyone at our ‘spiritual home’ in Aberystwyth Arts Centre without whom we simply couldn’t have put on this year’s festival. Other film festivals in Wales have also provided essential support. As well as bringing the world to Wales, by taking WOW online, we can export the best of Welsh film festivals to the rest of the UK. I would also like to thank the many people who have supported WOW over the last twenty years. ”

WOW Film festival is funded by The Welsh Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund, Ffilm Cymru Wales, National Lottery Communities Fund and Film Hub Wales as part of the BFI Film Audience Network (FAN), made possible by the National Lottery.

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