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London Short Film Festival 2020 celebrates drag, grime, and the New York underground scene

London Short Film Festival (LSFF), the UK’s premier showcase for emerging and established,  homegrown and international short-form, returns for its seventeenth edition in 2020.

Running from 10-19 January, LSFF takes over the capital at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), BFI Southbank, Science Museum and historic independents including the Dalston’s Rio Cinema

The festival opens with a cabaret-infused opening night spectacular More Than Just a Pretty Face – Alt Drag Revolution (Friday 10th January, 8pm, ICA Theatre), curated and hosted in partnership with Fringe! Queer Film & Arts Fest.

Shorts from the treasure trove of ’80s-’90s drag and queer culture will be put in conversation with live performances from some of London’s most invigorating and radical alt-drag performers: Baby Lame (host), That RayWesley DykesDrag Syndrome, and Lilly Snatchdragon and visuals from famous club kid Jeffrey Hinton.

Baby Lame

Whilst Hustle with My Muscle: The Short Films of Tom Rubnitz (Saturday 18th January, 8.30pm, Regent Street Cinema) is a retrospective of Tom Rubnitz, the artist who defined New York underground video art with his sexy, hedonistic glimpses into the ’80s downtown club scene. 

A key collaborator for LSFF 2020, Belgian-Congolese musician Baloji fronts the five-piece L’orchestre de la Katuba performing his distinctively heady mix of politicised synthetic afrobeats and electronic rap live. This performance will be preceded by the multi-form artist’s own genre-bending short film works, as well as a programme of experimental, contemporary African cinema curated by Baloji himself.

LSFF will host the world premiere of ASMR: Sense Working Overtime, a new moving image work from Peter Strickland (In FabricThe Duke of Burgundy) preceded by a unique performance piece by Figs In Wigs. Both works adopt the tingling sensorial form of ASMR (Auto Sensory Meridian Response) and the divisive online phenomena is explored through moving image, dance and gender performativity.

Related: Short film ‘Only Trumpets’ is a rally cry against toxic masculinity and a celebration of male femininity

Meanwhile, Walls Come Tumbling Down is a live concert led by Mercury-nominated composer-instrumentalist Laura Jurd, one quarter of jazz quarter Dinosaur, and LSO Jerwood Composer Jasmin Kent Rodgman.

Intermixed with live visuals from the London Community Video Archive, the night revisits the rebellious undercurrents of early ’80s London and the ‘systems music’ scene of The Michael Nyman BandThe Lost Jockey and Soft Verdict.

Toni with an I, directed by Marco Alessi

Other musical highlights include: The Best of Blondie (1981), a screening of the band’s VHS mega-compilation of all their music videos to date; From Early: The Foundations of the Grime Aesthetic, exploring the consistency of a grime DIY aesthetic set by pioneers such as Risky Roadz and Tangled Roots: The Origins of Black Metal, an evening in partnership with The Quietus delving  into the influences and pastoral surrounds that shaped the musical subculture of black metal.

New for 2020, supported by Arts Council England is Platform, a strand committed to spotlighting artist filmmakers on the ascent, working in unconventional ways across mediums; with special retrospectives of analogue experimental filmmaker Diana Vidrașcu, algorithmicartist Rainer Kohlberger and Hong Kong animator Wong Ping.

The Public Intimacies strand investigates the agency of women’s voices when in dialogue with themselves, by looking to video diarizing and autoethnographic storytelling through the works of key feminist video artists Anne Charlotte RobertsonShigeko KubotaMartine Syms and Alia Syed.

Related: Award-winning filmmakers launch LGBTQ+ short film streaming platform to ‘entertain and inform’

Other cultural highlights include: Penelope Spheeris Shorts, a cross-section of the director’s early short films prior to the success of Wayne’s World and the punk scene investigations of The Decline of Western Civilization trilogy; Black Audio Visions: Transforming the Gaze through Sound which explores the auditory experience of ‘listening’ to a film through the lenses of pan-African filmmakers and Dramas from a Divided Union, topical commissions from The Guardian looking at the themes consuming other EU countries and how have their unique histories defined their relationship to the EU.

LSFF has revealed a number of Competition highlights for 2020, including new partnerships with and frieze and an especially exciting International Jury made up of musician-filmmaker Baloji (Zombies), actor Stacy Martin (Nymphomaniac, Vox Lux), and programmer and writer Lydia Ogwang (Toronto International Film Festival).

Queerer Than Thou, directed by Kate Jessop

The jury will award key prizes totalling £5,500 to UK and International short films screening  across the LSFF 2020 UK Competition in association with i, hosted exclusively at the BFI Southbank, with an exciting programme that features Lena Headey’s directorial debut, and an acting credit from Maxine Peake; and LSFF 2020 International Competition in partnership with frieze, hosted exclusively at the ICA.

Of the programme, LSFF Artistic Director Philip Ilson said: “Now into our 17th year, London Short Film Festival returns as awed and humbled as ever by the potential and power of the short form. 

Related: Short film shot on £400 budget to get Tribeca premiere

Almost 300 films make up this year’s New Shorts offering, proving the grassroots of the industry are stronger than ever and the form itself an integral vehicle for articulating identity and expressing opinion.

This year sees the merging of our UK and international submissions within our New Shorts programming remit, ensuring an equal spread and dialogue across borders in each and every programme. 

Beyond the programme, LSFF is overhauling its commitment to access with support from the BFI Audiences Fund. 

Comprehensive information on each of our fully accessible venues and new festival policies will be available at

Written by QWEERIST editor

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