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Written by:
Paul Holland
15 Nov 2021

Trinity Hall’s Dr Isabelle McNeill is Philomathia Fellow in French at Trinity Hall. She’s also a self-confessed film-lover and, as Chair of the Cambridge Film Trust, she’s in a perfect position to tell is why this year’s Cambridge Film Festival is not to be missed and give a quick guide to her top picks.

The Cambridge Film Festival has been such a big part of my life for 17 years that it always takes me aback when people haven’t heard of it: everyone in Cambridge should be aware of what we have on our doorstep! Turning 40 this year, the UK’s third-longest-running film Festival is an eclectic and audience-focused celebration of cinema in all its forms.

After the pandemic forced us to postpone last year (instead we collaborated with other UK Festivals on the online AMPLIFY! Festival) this year’s Festival feels especially exciting as we return to the Arts Picturehouse cinema on 18 November.

There’s something magical about gathering with others to watch films not otherwise available or before their general release, not to mention the chance to hear from those involved in making the films. There’s a feeling of excitement at a film Festival that never fails to rekindle my cinephilia: films I watch at a Festival, on the big screen and in that atmosphere, seem to penetrate my being and memory with a special intensity.

Dr Isabelle McNeill

Dr Isabelle McNeill

I first became involved in 2004 as editor of the Festival’s daily paper (which has flown the nest to become the fully-independent Take One). Working with former Director Tony Jones, we set up the Cambridge Film Trust as a charity to promote film culture and education in 2006, with the Festival as our showcase annual event. I am currently Chair of the board of Trustees, and am very grateful to Trinity Hall for allowing us to hold our monthly board meetings in College rooms.

This year, of the 95 titles from 44 countries (50% directed by women), I’m particularly looking forward to watching Andrea Arnold’s Cow on the big screen. Watching the screener (advanced screening), I wasn’t expecting to be hooked by a film that simply follows a dairy cow’s day-to-day, yet I found myself engrossed and incredibly moved. As a fan of Arnold’s fiction films, it was fascinating to see how her contemplation of nature has expanded in this film to focus on conveying non-human worlds.

I’ve written about Céline Sciamma’s film Girlhood (2016) and will be discovering her new film Petite Maman with a friend at the Festival. Sciamma is now world-famous for her glorious lesbian love story Portrait of a Lady On Fire (2019) and I’m curious to see her latest work. I tentatively started learning Japanese earlier this year so will be sure to watch some of the Japan 2021 strand – including taking my two anime-loving children to see Poupelle of Chimney Town (main image), with its timely ecological focus.

Despite being a passionate advocate for watching films in a cinema, we discovered, like many other organisations, that going online has advantages for convenience and access. I’m glad that, for anyone UK-based who can’t make it to the Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge, there is also an online programme available from 21st November. For those who can come, I hope to see you for our opening night screening of Ali and Ava (Clio Barnard): I’ll be hosting a Q&A afterwards with starring actress Claire Rushbrook.

Main image: Poupelle of Chimney Town courtesy of Cambridge Film Festival