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60th BFI London Film Fetival
by Christine Riney

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.


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!