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Belfast International Arts Festival returns for its 58th edition

Northern Ireland’s leading contemporary multi-artform festival largely goes virtual for 2020

British actress and activist, Josette Bushell-Mingo OB

In advance of its general release, BIAF has secured a world premiere of Call Nina!, which follows the making and touring of the critically acclaimed ‘Nina – A Story About Me and Nina Simone’, by British actress and activist, Josette Bushell-Mingo.


Taking place from Monday, 12 October – Sunday, 1 November 2020, #BIAF20 features artists and performers from home and abroad for a world class programme of innovative theatre, dance, visual art, film, literature and classical music.

Macbeth by Northern Ireland company Big Telly
Macbeth by Northern Ireland company Big Telly

BIAF20 will open with the premiere of a new online and interactive theatrical production of Macbeth by Northern Ireland company Big Telly, who have become a world leader in live digital theatre and were recently named on Best Theatre to Watch List by Time Out New York. Opening first to secondary schools, before being available to the general public from Wednesday 14, to Saturday 17, October, this imaginative reboot of Shakespeare's timeless, blood-soaked tale is performed live on Zoom.

Pedro Penim’s Doing It

The theatre offering continues with Portuguese theatre maker and performer Pedro Penim’s Doing It on Wednesday 21 to Thursday 22, October. This livestreamed lecture performance will take the audience on a virtual journey across Pedro’s ‘island collection’, learning about these hidden places and his secret obsession with our planet’s remote islands. A must for families and budding magicians, enrol at The University of Wonder & Imagination, by leading children’s theatre company Cahoots NI. Perfect for mid-term school holidays or a weekend treat, this promises to be a fun-filled interactive theatrical experience.

In advance of its general release in March 2021, BIAF has secured a very special premiere of Call Nina! (Tuesday 27 October), which follows the making and touring of the critically acclaimed ‘Nina – A Story About Me and Nina Simone’, by British actress and activist, Josette Bushell-Mingo OBE. A modern take on intersectionality and feminism, from a black woman’s perspective, this documentary promises to be as compelling and of-the-moment as the original showstopper.

Sebastian Barry

The BIAF20 Talks and Ideas programme brings together the best of contemporary fiction in both established names, such as Sebastian Barry and Sarah Moss, and the newer voices of Daisy Johnson and Bryan Washington; shows how the political meets the personal, with Stuart Maconie and Jenni Murray; explores the feminist movement with Helen Lewis and Lennie Goodings; and hosts essential discussion on race, prejudice and equality with Kevin Maxwell and Nazir Afzal. There will also be light relief from comedian, actor and writer Robert Webb who will talk about his acting and writing work, and his near-death experience that chimed eerily with his latest novel.

Elaine Feeney is appearing alongside Daisy Johnson in the Talks & Ideas
Elaine Feeney appears in BIAF20's Talks and Ideas programme

The move of the Talks & Ideas events online has brought about a new cross-border partnership with Westival (Friday 23 - Sunday 25, October), an annual festival of arts and culture based in Westport, Co Mayo. As BIAF draws to a close, on Sunday 1, November, two British-American experts on US history, civil rights and politics, Sarah Churchwell and Michell Chresfield, hosted by The Irish Times’ Fintan O’Toole, will discuss how the history of white nationalism in American politics has led us to this point, and what’s at stake when US voters go to the polls.

Oona Doherty & Luca Truffarelli
Oona Doherty & Luca Truffarelli

A special series of art films focusing on contemporary dance includes leading NI dancer and choreographer Oona Doherty in conversation with Italian filmmaker Luca Truffarelli (Sunday 18, October), discussing their relationship as artists and their several collaborations, accompanied by film extracts.

Conor Mitchell’s exceptional Belfast Ensemble

On Wednesday 28, October, Conor Mitchell’s exceptional Belfast Ensemble will perform Septet (For Four), a video performance artwork created to mark the 250th birthday of Beethoven. Fresh after the success of their genre-busting Abomination – A DUP Opera, this is one not to miss.

As part of Belfast Music Society’s centenary celebrations, Belfast International Arts Festival will host and broadcast a series of exclusive recitals and concerts, featuring renowned Irish pianist John O’Conor, Derry cellist Kim Vaughan; Ben McAteer, first winner of NI Opera’s Festival of Voice competition; Piatti Quartet, one of NI’s most successful young professional ensembles; and the Ulster Orchestra chamber ensemble.

Recognising the challenges faced by the arts sector and by audiences amid this pandemic, most BIAF20 events are free of charge. Audiences are encouraged to make a donation when booking tickets. Thanks to support from Halifax Foundation for Northern Ireland, BIAF is delighted to be able to offer a select number of audio-described and captioned performances, widening accessibility for audiences.

In addition to the public programme, BIAF also has a suite of professional development initiatives to support artists. These range from a digital showcase of local talent for international arts programmers, a series of artist commissions and the customary Festival Artist in Residence, which this year has been awarded to Northern Ireland dance maker, Eileen McClory.

BIAF’s principal funder is the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and is also supported by Belfast City Council, Department for Communities, British Council, Tourism NI, the Government of Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs and a range of project funders, sponsors and partners.

Check out the full BIAF20 programme and to book tickets, visit