October 5-16th, 2016
The London Film Festival (LFF) continues to grow and strengthen bringing audiences a prodigious selection of films in which to indulge. This, its 60th year, seems a good time to look back, to the past, to see just how far the LFF has come. It began October 1957 with only about 15 films, in 1961 there were 24 films, ten years later in, 1971 42 screenings and on the 25th Anniversary in 1981, 124 films were presented. This Anniversary year, featured 245 films, another 135 shorts, representing 74 countries and 121 female directors. Audience numbers over the 12 days and in the 15 cinemas were record breaking with 184,700 attending. The LFF’s mission for this year was to bring to the audience in London international tales, using motion pictures to bring to life the stories that people want to share.
And share they did, through the magic of film, tens of thousands of people were able to understand views and life experiences that may be different to their own. These tales brought with them an enhanced perception of the world around us, provoking within all a desire to change, champion or at least empathize with people whose stories we watched.
The LFF also the launched the BFI Black Star program. Black Star is an initiative celebrating the range, versatility and power of black actors. Throughout the LFF program many films showcased black actors which provoked the audience with questions on opportunity, aspiration and about the power to decide. The Black Star program will continue throughout the UK until the end of 2016, where cinemas will purposely highlight black actors.
These dual undertakings provided a significant number of films in which to choose. The Awards Jury must have had some challenging discussions to make their choice. Let’s take a look at their opinion for the best that was presented.
And the award goes to:
CERTAIN WOMEN - Dir. Kelly Reichardt, won the Best Film Award, recognizing inspiring inventive and distinctive filmmaking. This film was also screened at the Hamburg FilmFest 2016. A quiet, lonely film about three women living in a small Montana town. These women are all struggling to overcome isolation in their lives. Although they have differing, individual experiences they are bound together by the remoteness of their existence. Told as three short stories with masterful performances by Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, Laura Dern and Lily Gladstone.
RAW - Dir Julia Ducournau, won the Sutherland Award (First Feature Competition), recognising the most original and imaginative directorial debut. Imaginative to its core this film is both a black comedy and a horror. When a young vegetarian is forced to eat raw meat we are taken on her insatiable voyage of hunger. Shocking, but I couldn’t look away.
STARLESS DREAMS - Dir Mehrdad Oskouei, won the Grierson Award (Documentary Competition), recognises films with integrity, originality and social or cultural significance. This is the story of young women in a juvenile detention center in Iran. Understanding these young women comes not from what they did to become incarcerated but rather what was done to them. The overwhelming feeling you walk away with is that these girls would be better off if they could remain within the detention center rather than returned to their families.
9 DAYS – FROM MY WINDOW IN ALEPPO - Dir Issa Touma, Thomas Vroege and Floor van der Meulen, won the Short Film Award, recognises short form works with a unique cinematic voice and confident handling of chosen theme and content. Unfortunately, I did not see this film however, Mat Kirkby (Jury president) said:“Not only does his documentary show what one person, one camera and a restricted view of an alleyway can do to reveal something as complex, confusing, and terrifying as a civil war, but also it demonstrates the power of film to reach the wider world, and make those of us more fortunate re-assess the freedom we take for granted.”
And some of the other films that caught my attention:
Keeping in mind this year's mission and the Black Star program below is a selection of films that for me highlighted some marvelous black actors and others that told tales I found relevant for discussion and debate in our current world.
A UNITED KINGDOM (Dir Amma Asante, with David Oyelowo & Rosamund Pike)
The love story of Seretse Khama (Oyelowo), King of Bechuanaland (modern Botswana) and Ruth Williams (Pike), a London office worker. In 1948 interracial relationships were forbidden and interracial marriages were unheard of, however this defiant couple chose each other and decided their love would overcome the obstacles. A true story that is as beautiful as it is unbelievably relevant in our time of great intolerance.
QUEEN OF KATWE (Dir Mira Nair, with David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o & Madina Nalwanga)
Based on a truly inspirational story. Phiona Mutesi (Nalwanga) and her family live an impoverished life in a Kampala slum. Harriet (Nyong’o), Phiona’s mother, struggles to feed, shelter and keep her children safe. Robert Katende (Oyelowo) a young Ugandan fought his own battles growing up an orphan in a bush town.
Phiona, a curious ten year old, meets Robert while he is working for a religious ministry teaching slum children how to play chess. Although, unable to read or write she finds herself able to strategize on a chessboard. Robert champions Phiona and the other slum children, pushing them forward to become chess champions.
A brilliant insight into how one can overcome odds stacked against them when they have champions and the will to succeed.
THE BIRTH OF A NATION (Dir/primary actor Nate Parker also with Armie Hammer & Aunjanue Ellis)
Based on true events in the life of enslaved African-American, Nat Turner (Parker). In 1831 Nat led a slave revolt in Virginia where in 48 hours, 60 slaveholding families were killed and in retaliation, the killing of an estimated 200 African-Americans.
The film is now mired in controversy over previous allegations of rape committed by Parker. Gabrielle Union, a member of the cast wrote in the Los Angeles Times:
“As important and ground-breaking as this film is, I cannot take these allegations lightly. On that night, 17-odd years ago, did Nate have his date’s consent? It’s very possible he thought he did. Yet by his own admission he did not have verbal affirmation; and even if she never said "no," silence certainly does not equal "yes." Although it’s often difficult to read and understand body language, the fact that some individuals interpret the absence of a "no” as a “yes” is problematic at least, criminal at worst.”
The right to decide yes or no has overtaken the narrative from the films tale of the past injustices.
THE 13TH (Dir Ava duVernay)
A scorching expose on the US criminal justice systems racial bias against black men. The 13th will leave all with a deeper understanding of the current race situation in the US and how politicians and corporations benefit from the imbalance.
GOLDSTONE (Dir Ivan Sen, with Aaron Pedersen, Alex Russell & Jacki Weaver)
An Australian crime thriller set in an outback mining town. Corruption and greed abound as we are treated to mesmerising cinematography of the Australian desert. The conflict between the whitefellas and the blackfellas are all too common in Australian indigenous country. Yet again highlighting the world of today has not moved as far forward in race relations as we would hope.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (Dir Kenneth Lonergan, with Casey Affleck & Michelle Williams)
A heart wrenching exploration of the human ability to ‘get passed’ tragic mistakes. Lee (Affleck) is a quiet man who seems empty of life. It is obvious from the beginning that Lee is a man who has a dark secret, something tragic has happened in his past. Through his tender and then brutal memories it is slowly revealed what his past holds. And the hold that past has on this shell of a man.
As the compelling musical score leads us through the heartbreak with requiem like music we are left with an understanding of what it truly means to not be able to ‘get past it’.
AMERICAN HONEY (Dir Andrea Arnold, with Sasha Lane, Riley Keough & Shia LaBeouf)
Star (Lane) joins a group of teenagers selling magazine subscriptions along the vast highways of America. This unlikely group of lost young people make up a community that provides a safe place for these neglected young people. Run by Krystal (Keough) and managed by the charismatic Jake (LeBeouf) the film follows the group from door to door, through small towns as they grow their family. Dysfunctional as it is, this new family is still better than what Star, and most likely all of them, left behind.
A sad view of an American way of life for those unfortunate enough to fall through the cracks but find a way to be hopeful and find their place in a world that seems to have forgotten them.
BRIMSTONE (Dir Martin Koolhoven with Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce & Emilia Jones)
A true frontierswoman and a new Western heroine, Liz (Fanning) is a mute housewife living a humble existence with her family during the gold rush times. Already a difficult time for women, life has been especially hard for Liz. And it only gets harder when the psychotic preacher (Pearce) from her past shows up in town and unleashes his version of retribution.
Full of gore, violence and senseless acts of cruelty, as we have come to expect in modern westerns. The gentle, heart rendering acting from Dakota Fanning and Emilia Jones (Joanna, the young Liz) is truly compelling if you can stand the violence.
LAYLA M. (Dir Mijke de Jong with Nora el Koussour & Ilias Addab)
Layla (el Koussour) is just finishing her final high school exams in Amsterdam. Her hope and that of her Moroccan parents is that she will become a doctor. This hope filled future is soon left behind as Layla becomes disillusioned with the society in which she lives. Pushing her further away is the indifference from her family and friends to the racism all around them. This leads Layla to seek like-minded people within an extremist community. Too soon the once promising future of a young woman is over shadowed by death and hate.
When does a young person move from making naive decisions to making stupid ones? When does rebelliousness lead to terrorism? How can we teach young impressionable men and women that hate only breeds hate and hate solves nothing? Most importantly the desire to belong in the place you are born needs to be addressed, everyone needs to fit in and be accepted in their home.
SCRIBE (Dir Thomas Kruithof with Francois Cluzet & Denis Podalydes)
A French political thriller with quietly, sinister intrigue. Duval (Cluzet) is a middle-aged loner who finds himself still unable to get a job two years after a drunken breakdown at work. That is until he receives a mysterious, late night phone call from a Monsieur Clement (Podalydes). It seems Duval has the right qualifications for a well paid opportunity at Clement’s security firm, providing he follows all the rules.
With some reservations, Duval takes the job and spends his days alone, transcribing phone taps of politicians, journalists and members of the intelligence agencies. Legal or not it is easy money until the day he hears a murder take place on one of the tapes. After that, everything turns sinister and his world turns from easy to deadly. Far to believable but it is a tale of fiction.
LO AND BEHOLD REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED WORLD (Dir Werner Herzog)
A documentary reflecting on the impact that the Internet has had on our world today. Werner Herzog takes us on a journey from the beginning of the Internet into the future that the Internet has sparked. At the same time amazing, funny and scary. Herzog takes us from the first words or letters over the Internet on October 1969 - Lo, through the unforeseen addictions, evilness, hacking as well as the breakthroughs in science and education that the Internet has brought with it.
Finally, we are left wondering what next? Does a sun flare destroy all communications leaving us humans to once again learn to communicate in the old ways? Are we doomed to self destruction because of our own advancements or is there something that we have yet to even dream that is around the corner to save us all?
DOWN UNDER (Dir Abe Forsythe with Lincoln Younes Rahel Romahn & Alexander England)
The 2006 Christmas race riots took place in Cronulla, a beach suburb of Sydney, Australia. This dark comedy is laced with actual footage of the riots which highlight the disturbing bigotry and prejudice lurking in, what we might perceive as, an idyllic location, that surely must have enough space for all.
The ignorance in this film is set the day after the riots, when a group of white racists, and a group of Middle Eastern immigrants (most of which are at least second generation Australian) set out armed and determined to continue the stupidity.
What transpires when these two cars loaded with hate meet is sheer idiocy, albeit powerful acts that could play out anywhere today.
The desire to laugh at these bumbling yobs only subsides with the human tragedy that unfolds.
And to finish off on a happy note:
TROLLS (Dir Mike Mitchell)
A rollicking good time! The tiny Trolls are an all singing, all dancing tribe of joyousness. All except one, Branch (voice of Justin Timberlake) who lives his life in fear, preparing for the return of the Bergens. The Bergens are colorless and sad giants who's only way to feel joy is to eat a Troll. Or so they believe until they meet Princess Poppy (voice of Anna Kendrick). It seems happiness is contagious and is within all of us, even the Bergens.
A joyful, multi colored musical from DreamWorks, at a time when tolerance and joy of life should be celebrated, this is a film for all. Can't stop the feeling!
And of course we had the stars of film and their directors attending in great numbers to support their films. Including (but by far not all):
David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Jack Davenport, Laura Carmichael, Ben Wheatley, Sam Riley, Jack Reynor, Andrea Arnold, Sasha Lane, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ryan Gosling, Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman,Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Sigourney Weaver, Tom Ford, Amy Adams, Mira Nair, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o, Oliver Stone, Joely Richardson, Mike Mitchell, Walt Dohrn, Bill Nighy, Rachael Stirling.
I am, as usual, looking forward to the next film extravaganza!