BFI Player

See something different.

London Road

Daring, startling and wholly original musical adapted from Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork’s play.

Catch Me Daddy

Two young lovers are forced on the run through nocturnal Yorkshire.

Fidelio: Alice’s Journey

The sexual liberation of Alice, a ship’s engineer.

BFI London Film Festival 2014

240 films. From 72 countries. 16 cinemas. 12 days. One Festival.

7-18 October 2015

Lastest news

Live stream from Opening Night

Watch live red carpet action on YouTube from Opening Night Gala Suffragette.

Live stream from Opening Night

Last chance to buy

See all films with tickets available

Festival live blog

From the archives: 28th London Film Festival poster

This is what the poster for the LFF looked like in 1984, when the opening night film was none other than Gremlins!

28th London Film Festival poster

28th London Film Festival poster

‘It was like discovering Atlantis’ - The American Epic Sessions

Among tonight’s other excitements is the premiere of Sonic strand highlight The American Epic Sessions, the last in a series of documentary films on the pioneering recording systems of the early American music industry – and how they revolutionised music.

The American Epic Sessions (2015)

The American Epic Sessions (2015)

In this film, produced by Jack White and T Bone Burnett, director Bernard McMahon brought together performing artists as varied as Elton John and Nas to record on a rebuilt version of the antiquated device.

The sound was only being locked a few days ago, so few people have seen it yet, but Christina Newland caught up with the director to find out more.

Could you tell me a little bit about the background of the project?

Well, in the 1920s, buying records was for the wealthy in cities and urban areas, but there was an interest in selling to people in Texas or Louisiana – and the question became, what did these people want to hear? […] And so this device was invented, operated by a weight and pulleys […] And as this travelled around America, it recorded the first blues record, the first rhythm and blues record, country, early hip-hop.

This became the first time that you could hear, for example, a Mexican-American cotton picker express her thoughts and feelings and have that distributed everywhere. So this completely changed music in America. And where it came from changed – it became a working-class art too. What is it Marshall Mcluhan said? The medium is the message.

Telling the history of the American music industry is quite an ambitious story to tell. How did you get started with it?

Well, I spent nearly four years researching it – talking to all the American families connected with this pioneering time in the music industry and then narrowing it down to the 10 families you see in the film. It’s amazing that there are so few photos or existing footage of these recording devices or of the process of recording on them.

So it’s kind of this untold story […] it was like discovering Atlantis, or something.

Director Bernard MacMahon attends the FilmMaker Afternoon Tea, part of the BFI London Film Festival

Director Bernard MacMahon attends the FilmMaker Afternoon Tea, part of the BFI London Film Festival

How did all of these big names get involved?

Well I’d been working on it for some time and I was told, you have to approach T Bone Burnett with this. Then I got Jack White’s email, and I told him I had all this rare footage of blues singers […] and he got back to me straight away asking to get involved. And then I was told an executive producer had become very interested in my project and I walked into a meeting with Robert Redford.

I think the recordings are a lot of these musicians’ best, too – from the Alabama Shakes to Nas, they had to arrange and write everything there on the day. Also the way it sounds — everyone said they wanted to do their next record on it because it sounds so great.

And because of the limitations of the recording system, all of the artists only had three minutes to record. How did you all deal with those limitations?

Really, the musicians didn’t have a choice but to understand – none of these things existed anymore and had to be completely rebuilt with sourced items from all around the world. So if a bulb went, it was from 1926 – not too easy to replace. But I mean, this is where the three-minute pop song comes from. When someone got it right the first time, they used to call it ‘lightning in a bottle’.

Read more from the live blog

BFI Shop

From the BFI Shop

On Yer Bike

A two-disc collection which provides a fascinating portrait of the British cycling experience on film.

Buy now

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

A vibrant modern classic, based on Alan Sillitoe’s largely autobiographical novel.

Buy now

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

A passionate tale of rebellion with then newcomer Tom Courtenay as a sullen, disillusioned delinquent.

Buy now

Here we go Round the Mulberry Bush

A coming-of-age comedy following the exploits of sex-obsessed Jamie as he attempts to join the Swinging 60s.

Buy now

Bronco Bullfrog

A fully remastered presentation of this powerful, authentic record of the then-emerging suedehead subculture.

Buy now

Deep End

A darkly comic and utterly compelling portrait of Britain in an era of uncertainty, starring Jane Asher and Diana Dors.

Buy now

Explore film & TV

Watch talks, interviews and trailers

A Bigger Splash red carpet with Ralph Fiennes

The star talks about this ‘mischievous’ remake of a French cult classic, alongside director Luca Guadagnino, on the Love Gala red carpet.

Friday 9 October 2015

More talks, interviews and trailers

What’s on

Highlights at BFI venues

Sight & Sound

Film of the week: By Our Selves

Toby Jones, Andrew Kötting (as a straw bear) and their merry men revive the wanderings and wonderings of Northamptonshire peasant poet John Clare, writes David Jays.
David Jays
Thursday 1 October 2015

More from Sight & Sound

Support the BFI

Become a BFI Member

Enjoy a world of benefits with BFI Membership. Choose the package that suits you.

Join now

Explore film & TV

BFI National Archive

We hold a magnificent collection of film and television, from the birth of cinema to today.

Read more

British certification & tax relief

British certification

Qualify for tax relief through the cultural test for film, animation programmes, high-end television and video games.

Read more

Follow @bfi

BFI on Twitter

Back to the top

See something different

Subscribe now for exclusive offers and the best of cinema.