Your six-point guide to the Ghent Film Festival


Put down that 150-page programme and just follow a few simple suggestions to make your visit to Belgium’s largest film festival fun and memorable

Cut to the chase

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate all of Belgium’s festivals, I do. From the summer music festivals to the months-long extravaganzas like Europalia and the Festival of Flanders to dance, theatre and film festivals, which happen every couple of weeks year-round. I appreciate all of this effort, all of this devotion to arts and entertainment.

But they do get carried away in terms of sheer volume, don’t they. Planning how to take part in a festival – any festival – can be, pardon my French, hellish. Some people take a look at the catalogue-sized programme for any given event and just give up before they even begin.

That’s why I’ve put together this handy guide for what to do at the Ghent Film Festival, which kicks off tomorrow night. The largest film festival in the country, its hub is at Kinepolis in Ghent, but several cinemas, cultural centres and concert halls across the city get into the act, too (because festival).

If sifting through descriptions of 110 movies and some 40 talks and concerts makes you want to scratch your eyes out so that you cannot even see a movie ever again, don’t bother. Just do these things.

1 Go to a concert

One of the Ghent Film Festival’s overarching themes is film music because it is the founder and host of the World Soundtrack Awards. I know, impressive, which is why you should see a concert. The festival’s choices of concerts is in a separate programme stapled inside the regular programme. Stay with me here.

Of the array of options, aim for one of these: The World Soundtrack Awards or Stuff. plays Howard Shore.

You’ll want to don your finest for the World Soundtrack Awards on 18 October, which begins with a chic gala before turning into a concert of film music by the Brussels Philharmonic. This features American trumpeter Terence Blanchard, famous for his collaboration with Spike Lee.

You’ll also get to see the awards handed out, of course, for best composer and best song and the like. This means that some of the most famous composers of films scores in the world will be sitting among you.

Stuff. is a Flemish ensemble that plays weird, experimental music. Howard Shore is a composer who writes scores for weird, experimental movies made by David Cronenberg (Naked Lunch, Dead Ringers, The Fly, Videodrome, The Brood, Scanners). Weird visuals round out the experience on 11 October.

Buy tickets for the World Soundtrack Awards here
Buy tickets for Stuff. here

2 Get thoughtful at a talk

Aside from the many screenings that feature Q&A sessions with the director or actor, the festival hosts a boatload of talks, including Morning Sessions with discussions led by Ghent University professors following the screening, and Daily Talkies, where critics chat with local directors and talent. Another intriguing option is Uit de kast? (Out of the Closet?), a discussion of the representation of gay people in the movies, from the 1920s to today. All of these talks are in Dutch.

3 See an Italian film

This year’s guest country is Italy. Everyone knows that Italy used to be one of the world leaders in cinema, churning out the likes of Fellini and Antonioni. Ghent is showing a few of the lesser-known classics but also wants to introduce you to a few new Italian flicks. Of these, consider Call Me by Your Name (pictured), an atmosphere-laden coming-of-age story set in the 1980s by the director of A Bigger Splash, or Sicilian Ghost Story, which revisits a horrific mafia crime through the eyes of a child.

4 See a Belgian film

Have you noticed that sometimes when you go to the cinema, there are interview sessions with Belgian filmmakers shown along with the trailers? This is because producers are trying to convince you to see Belgian movies, which are less popular in Belgium than elsewhere in the world. Which is preposterous.

Right that wrong at one of the several options, most notably Zagros by Sahim Omar Kalifa, which finds a Kurdish sheep herder in Brussels torn between reality and rumours (pictured), and Insyriated by Philippe Van Leeuw, a harrowing drama detailing 24 hours in a flat in war-torn Damascus. Insyriated is the opening night film at Vooruit, so the director and actors will be there to talk about the movie.

5 See another film based on your personal interests

Choose from these four, all pure gold:

The Killing of a Sacred Deer  Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman befriend a teenager, who has ulterior motives and supernatural powers, turning their upscale suburban life into a nightmare. Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ follow-up to the equally disturbing The Lobster.
Battle of the Sexes  Remember in the 1970s when the misogynist jerk Bobby Riggs challenged the already legendary Billie Jean King to a tennis match? If not, I won’t spoil it for you by telling you how it turned out, but you won’t be disappointed by this version of the story starring Emma Stone and Steve Carrell (pictured).
God’s Own Country  Lavish Yorkshire landscapes enrich this story about a young farmer only interested in drink and casual sex until a migrant worker rocks his sheep-shearing world. Francis Lee’s feature film debut is beautiful in every way.
On Body and Soul  Hungarian filmmaker Ildikó Enyedi pulled down Berlin’s top prize with this fantastical tale of two strangers who have exactly the same dreams. Bonus: English subtitles

6 Hang about in the festival cafe

Before or after a movie, the Cafellini festival bar is there for you. You don’t even have to be seeing a film to wander into the glass-walled cafe, which is on the street smak dab in front of Kinepolis.

10-20 October, Kinepolis and other locations in Ghent
Subtitle languages vary, check listings