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Bloomsbury Festival 2020: “I See it Differently” and “26 Weeks”

Roar writer Charmaine Tan reviews I See it Differently and 26 Weeks, online events that were held during the Bloomsbury Festival 2020.

“What is ‘vision’?”

When faced with this question, everyone has a different answer. For some, it’s the literal meaning: the ability to see. For others, it’s more abstract. Perhaps it’s a vision of an ideal society, or perhaps not.

I See it Differently and 26 Weeks were two online events held during the Bloomsbury Festival 2020. They provide some insight to 2020’s theme of “Vision”.

I See it Differently

This event showcased 5 short documentaries.

The first documentary, Who Cares? (by Heart n Soul at The Hub), sheds light on the unique bond that exists between a carer and their client. Often, society marginalises these clients due to their disabilities. Through a series of conversation extracts, carers and clients talk about their unique relationships, as well as the difficulties that they have to surmount together. Although plagued with stigma, the documentary shows us that these disabled individuals are just like us. They are capable of forming meaningful bonds, and just like any relationship, a carer-client one is equally as fulfilling.

The second and third film, Baluji (Dir. Marie-Cécile Embleton) and Across Still Water (Dir. Ruth Grimberg), explores “vision” in the most literal sense. Both tell the tale of visually-impaired individuals: Baluji follows an acclaimed sitarist who did not let his loss of sight deter him from becoming an acclaimed musician; Across Still Water narrates the obstacles that John had to overcome, after learning of his deteriorating eye condition at the age of 28. These are both inspiring documentaries with great takeaways: life is full of surprises, and sometimes, these surprises can be difficult to accept. But that is not a reason stop living as fully as possible. In fact, Baluji insists, it was only through his blindness that he was able to really “see” the world, through an “inner vision” – one where we would have to close our eyes and listen to. He is grateful for the medical malpractice which cost him his sight at 8 months old.

Everyman (Dir. Laurence Avis, Richie Benson, Naresh Kaushal) discusses another possible vision for today’s world: one where masculinity is redefined. Through honest conversations, male-identifying individuals reveal their deep connections to the Bloomsbury neighbourhood. It is from these conversations, that we start to see masculinity in another light. The real masculinity of today is not an alpha male figure. It is something more emotional and gentle.

The final documentary was Oserake and the River That Walks (Dir. Robert Robertson). Robertson shows us what Montreal is like in winter, through a series of black-and-white snow-covered montages. During the cold spell, Mother Nature reclaims what’s Hers. Everyone stays at home, hiding away from the cold. Though produced in 2002, it is hard not to think about the parallel concept in today’s world. With a global pandemic raging outside, human activity is low as ever, and the skies are clear as ever.

Together, these films urge us to interpret “Vision” in a more figurative manner, and to consider another perspective which we wouldn’t normally have.

26 Weeks

26 Weeks

In a span of 26 weeks, the world has plunged into a new chapter. What we knew 26 weeks ago is now history, which is known as the “pre-Covid era”. It is doubtful that we will return to that once-upon-a-time soon, if ever.

During the 26 weeks since Covid, 26 writers contacted people from various socio-economic backgrounds and held conversations with them. They recorded the progression of their thoughts and emotions as the pandemic worsens (full list of conversations here). In this event, the writers shared their conversations with us via Zoom – it was eye-opening to know that whilst most people saw the lockdown as a source of annoyance, there were others who saw it as a gift. It was amazing to see how grateful the busy bees were for a lockdown, which gave them the perfect excuse to slow down the pace of their lives.

On the other hand, for others like Roz Savage (as told by Alastair Creamer), who has single-handedly rowed across three oceans, spending 5 months alone on a boat, isolation was nothing new to her. In fact, she felt inspired amidst the isolation. She wrote and published her Amazon e-book The Gifts of Solitude as the world went into lockdown. Savage knew isolation like the back of her hand and advises others to just “trust in life and surrender control”.

During 26 Weeks, we were also put into several Zoom breakout rooms. We had the opportunity to share our thoughts on the Covid situation, as well as the lessons we have learnt from it. These were interesting discussions, and knowing that we were all in the same boat, facing the pandemic together, brought huge comfort to me.

All in all, 26 Weeks and I See it Differently have been extremely thought-provoking events. It’s fascinating to see the range of stories that arose from a theme of “Vision”, and I’m really glad that I was able to hear them.

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