Interview with Chronic Youth Film Festival’s Young Barbican Programmer Abiba Coulibaly

Chronic Youth Film Festival 2022, a festival programmed by young people (16-24) is taking place at the Barbican 12-13 March. This year the films look at the theme of ‘Home’ – and what that means to those facing adversity around the world and here in the UK.

Highlights include the San Dominican drama Bantu Mama, in which a young woman is on the run from a drug deal gone wrong; Mother, a Brazilian documentary celebrating the queer community there; and Crossroads, the teenage cult classic (starring Britney Spears) about three friends on a cross country road trip.

We talk to 24-year-old young programmer Abiba Coulibaly about her experience programming for the Barbican.

Tell us about Chronic Youth Film Festival 2022

Chronic Youth is the 7th edition of the Barbican’s annual film festival curated by its Young Film Programmers, but this one is particularly special as it marks the festival’s return to the physical cinema space, since the two previous editions were online owing to the pandemic. This year our theme is ‘Home, Hope, and Hostile Environments’ as we found ourselves gravitating towards films that evoked the ideas of home and belonging, but in ways that were often complex and ambivalent, and not necessarily fixed, literal, or welcoming. We felt this resonated both locally with the UK‘s socio-political landscape, but also globally allowing us to showcase some really exciting films from across the world.

How did you become part of this festival as a young film programmer?

I responded to the open call for applications in 2020 and after getting through to the interview stage wasn’t successful. For this year’s edition there was no public advertisement as it was meant for the two previous cohorts who had missed out on the physical event, but I got in contact with the programme coordinators and was able to join the alumni.

When did your love of film start and how has it evolved over time?

I’d pinpoint it to the first time I went to Film Africa in 2012 and saw L’Afrance by Alain Gomis which dealt with the psychological aspects of irregular migration status, and postcolonial migration patterns in France, two issues which are deeply personal to me, but which I never really saw fleshed out in cultural depictions. Film Africa were screening a lot of films at the Ritzy in Brixton, at the end of my road, which made it really accessible. Then when I started going to university (SOAS) I was within walking distance of the ICA and Bertha Dochouse where screenings were incredibly cheap for students and I could try out all sorts of genres and retrospectives and strands at a really accessible price. I was studying Geography and took one module called Hollywood and the Post-Industrial City which explored how the industry of Hollowood intersected with the urban processes around housing, gentrification and civil unrest that were taking place simultaneously in the wider Los Angeles area, and I think this method viewing film as part of inherently political processes situated in the real world, rather than a vehicle for fantasy or evasion, continues to inform my approach to and taste in films today.

How did you acquire programming skills and how did you move on to programme, market and deliver Chronic Youth film events?

I think for me a lot of it has been osmosis through attending so many different film events over the years, I never did any formal training prior to Young Film Programmers, in fact, it’s really, really hard to come by any training programmes for this field, let alone free ones. I also think the fact that we’re a group of 12 has meant you really have to discuss and justify your film choices, and often need to convince the others, which is completely different from choosing films one likes individually, and that has definitely strengthened my programming ability.

What is it you love about film and the cinema?

My favourite aspect is the immersive experience of being in the cinema. In the 21st century, there is no other activity where we sit and concentrate, fully absorbed by something without other distractions for 2 or so hours, which makes cinema for me a kind of meditative experience that other creative mediums can’t really rival.

What do you think makes the best cinema event?

I’m a big believer in cultural democracy and accessibility, so my primary response would be an event that is affordable and understands the needs and context of the community in which it’s being screened. Cinema shouldn’t be elitist or inaccessible, so I think this should always be kept in mind when organising related events.

What are your top favourite 5 films?

Sorry, I can’t choose 5! The Last Black Man in San Francisco by Joe Talbot, Mediterranea by Jonas Carpignano, Beau Travail by Claire Denis, Omar by Hany Abu-Assad, Timbuktu by Abderrahmane Sissako, Shakedown by Leila Weinraub, Four Lions by Chris Morris, Les Sauteurs by Abou Bakar Sidibe, 120 BPM by Robin Campillo

Do you see yourself curating your own film events in the future? What according to you would be the fun element of the experience?

In an ideal world, 100% – it’s not just a hobby it’s my dream career path. That being said it really isn’t easy to get regular and/or paid work in, so I don’t see a future in film programming as being guaranteed. For me, the most fun part comes once the screening is over and you get to discuss it and hear all the different reactions and interpretations that might contradict or add to your own understanding of what’s just been viewed.

What have you gained from being a young programmer?

I’ve gained really valuable experience in every aspect necessary to run a film event, which was particularly meaningful because it was with an institution that I’ve admired and attended for a really long time, so it was great to switch from audience member to someone behind the scenes. 12 months ago I would’ve had 0 clue, capacity, or contacts for things related to film rights and marketing for example, but now I feel really equipped. I’ve been able to watch all sorts of films I would never have come across as well as develop more of an appreciation for short films which I was previously reticent about. I’ve also been able to discuss at length the programming and film festival industry with people who are as invested as I am, which was also a first.

What can we expect at the festival and what made you choose the line-up?

Variety – while staying under one theme we’ve taken it in all possible directions meaning there’s really fun, lighthearted, and celebratory viewing as well as more sobering, or contemplative moments. You can also expect our zine, which includes short written and visual responses to our programme, and look out for the Young Barbican Late that we’ll be curating in a few weeks’ time which will allow for more active participation from attendees.

Photo credit info: Mother
UK/Brazil 2020, Dir. Jas Pitt & Kate Stonehill

For more information about the Chronic Youth Film Festival 2022 visit

Interview by Julia Nelson who does marketing and operations for Abundant Art. Thanks to the Communications team at Cinema Barbican. 

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