Over two weekends the festival proposes a mix of films, concerts, workshops and other activities calculated to explore the urban environment. One of the best ways of making the connection is to take a short walking tour around the neighbourhood with a pleinOPENair guide (one tour on each Saturday is in Dutch, the rest in French).
Each walk takes in an exhibition of photographs and maps documenting the evolution of the Zuid neighbourhood over the past 20 years, since the station learned it would be welcoming the high-speed TGV from Paris. Since then the place has been dramatically transformed, with redevelopment calculated to create a modern business district around the station.
The location this year, where Ernest Blerotstraat meets Paul-Henri Spaaklaan, is part of this process. Reserved for the Victor project, it will eventually become, in the words of developer Atenor, “a large mixed urban project that will harmoniously emphasise the area surrounding the Hortaplein”.
The festival sees things a little differently. It is no fan of the developers, but reserves its sharpest comments for the national railway company, NMBS. “Stations are now turned into cathedrals,” the programme says, "their entrails veritable shopping centres, their surroundings zones of office space just so many showcases for tourists and investors."
Some of this year’s films are equally militant. Ken Loach’s The Navigators (2001) is about a group of British railway workers trying to survive privatisation, while in Antonio Pietrangeli’s Fantasmi a Roma (1961) ghosts disrupt the plans of a Roman property speculator.
More purely cinematic treats include Youssef Chahine’s classic social thriller Cairo Station (1958) and Russian silent film Turksib (1929), about the race to build the Turkestan-Siberian railway. This is screened with a live soundtrack by British group Bronnt Industries Kapital, whose trance-like mix of electronica and shimmering world music is just perfect for the film.
Each evening also features short films, for example documenting the construction in the 1950s of the rail line that cuts Brussels in two, and concerts before and after screenings. Performers include French rappers Voodoo Clan and MC Duval, plus local percussion collective Fanfakids. Meanwhile, those who want to express themselves can attend workshops on rap writing, screen printing (both 28 July) and poster art (2 August).
In between the two weekends the scene shifts along the tracks to Noordstation and La Poissonnerie on Vooruitgangstraat. This former fishmonger’s shop has been saved from demolition and reclaimed by the community. Here, on 1 August, there will be a screening of Thierry Michel’s documentary Métamorphose d’une gare, about the building of Liège’s monumental new railway station, followed by a debate with union and passenger groups.
Screenings are free, with drinks and vegetarian food on offer at the Zuidstation site.