These are golden times for cinephiles and bibliophiles. Bookworms and movie buffs can now check out the latest cinematic and literary offerings in the most unexpected corners of the globe. And if you imagine literary festivals as gatherings of fusty old intellectuals spouting arcane references to James Joyce, think again! They are fast outshining movie festivals as the places to be seen if you’re hip, happening and brainy to boot!
The Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts has been championing literary talent across the globe since 1988, with several celebrated events in Cartagena (Colombia), Maldives, Kerala (India) and Europe. Recent years have seen it dipping its toes in more exotic waters, with new Lit Fests in Beirut (Lebanon) and Kenya. Beirut 39, in April, was a collaborative effort between the Hay Festival and UNESCO to name Beirut the World Book Capital City in 2009 to showcase the 39 best Arab writers under the age of 39 and provide a forum for young, new talent to discuss its take on modern Arab literature.
Its second event, the three-day Storymoja Hay Festival scheduled for October in Nairobi, is the other new kid on the literary block. Begun by five passionate writers keen to bring East African literature onto the world stage and promote a strong culture of reading, literacy and social cohesion in their native Kenya, the organisers see the event as a catalyst in the ‘reading revolution.’ Although set up to identify and develop local writers, the festival does not limit itself to homegrown talent; noted international guest speakers have included the Indian poet and novelist Vikram Seth and the acclaimed British writer Hanif Kureishi.
In late January of each year, south of the Sri Lankan capital city of Colombo, the town of Galle is transformed into a literary mecca. Established in 2006 to boost much-needed tourism to the tsunami-riven area, the four-day Galle Literary Festival has really proven itself a darling of the book-lovers’ circuit. Attracting visitors by the thousands to a raft of literary superstars, the event garners rave reviews for its energetic mix of cultural diversions, great food, beautiful surroundings, and, of course, eminent guests. One of last year’s speakers, the famed historian Anthony Beevor, was impressed enough to declare “I have attended literary festivals on five different continents and Galle is simply the best.” High praise, indeed!
A teenager’s dream, the Riga International Fantasy Film Festival in the capital city of the Baltic nation of Latvia features the latest movies from the sci-fi, thriller and horror genres. Given life by popular demand, the biennial event takes place from late April to early May and showcases both full-length features and, more recently, short films as well. Filmmakers lucky enough to win Best Film can look forward to taking home the coveted Golden Tooth award, with the Silver Tooth on offer as the Special Jury Prize!
Currently in its 13th year, the International 1001 Documentary Film Festival takes place in Istanbul, Turkey, at the end of October. The event showcases work from all over the world and places great emphasis on fostering open dialogue between filmmakers and audiences from different cultural backgrounds. Humanitarian values and cultural understanding are at the heart of this festival, and films must demonstrate an underlying message supporting this to feature in the event.
Essays and Canapés
Set in the Glamour Bar and the Crystal Room of the world-renowned celeb hang out, M on the Bund, the Shanghai International Literary Festival is a decidedly sophisticated and classy affair. Think intellectual debate and cerebral musings meets elegant cheese and wine soirée – a unique Shanghai shakeup. Going strong since 2002, this meeting of literary minds takes place over three weekends in March and has attracted distinguished talents such as Amy Tan, Gore Vidal, Arundhati Roy and Louis de Bernières.
Poetry and Prose in the Pink City
Considered the grande dame on the Asian scene, the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival in India already has a head start on the big-name front by way of its founder-directors: the esteemed writers William Dalrymple and Namita Gokhale. The Jaipur event brings together a glittering cast of both national and international literary characters. Popular crowd pleasers have so far included Kiran Desai, Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie and Donna Tartt. Not content to limit itself to a celebration of the written word, the festival also features film, music and theatre. Anyone interested should make sure to be in town from the 21st to 25th of January.
Out of Africa
Billed as ‘so much more than a film festival,’ Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) has the honour of being the largest film, music and arts festival in East Africa. Movies are shown in various locations right across the island of Zanzibar and audiences can expect the full spectrum of celluloid entertainment from local shorts to world premieres, all in keeping with a changing yearly theme. Part festival, part carnival, the event is famed for its wild parties, live music and DJs nights, which continue throughout the entire two weeks and culminate in an awards night celebrating the best picks. Never forgetting its roots, ZIFF is all about promoting local talent in film and music and offers cultural tours, exhibitions and workshops in the local community.
Freedom of Expression
The largest and most prestigious event of its kind in Mexico, the 10-day Expresión en Corto International Film Festival, in the last week of July, has been going strong since 1997. Over 80,000 people swoop on the cities of San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato Capital to enjoy 10 days of screenings featuring over 400 films. Fun quirks of the fest include the projection of horror movies in the municipal graveyards (panteónes) and showings of gay, lesbian, erotic and underground films in the subterranean streets of Guanajuato Capital. In addition to conventional movie theatres, other venues include the Jardín Principal (main square) of San Miguel de Allende and the classical open-air staircase of the University of Guanajuato. The event attracts some pretty big names; past attendees include Oliver Stone, Gaspar Noé, Tim Burton and Spike Lee. Best of all, as a state-sponsored non-profit cultural event, admission is absolutely free!