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Keep up with all the action and buzz from the 60th BFI London Film Festival.

Samuel Wigley , Paul O’Callaghan

Two weeks until kickoff…

Booking is open. Diaries are getting filled up with film. Have you worked out what you’re seeing yet?

There’s now just a fortnight to go until the curtain raises on the 60th edition of the BFI London Film Festival on 5 October.

As ever, there’s a mind-boggling number of films and events to keep track off. More than 190 fiction features. More than 50 documentaries. And some 144 short films.

Every year we track all the action and drama of the Festival moment by moment in our rolling live blog. This year we’ve launched it a little early. In fact, you’re reading it now. As ever there’s lots of news and updates from here on in, and this live blog is the best place to keep track of it all.

Keep checking back for occasional updates, before we pick up speed as the Festival kicks off.

This trailer distils everything we’re excited about into a 60-second blast of cinematic pleasure…

Roll on 5 October!

The latest in our series of LFF recommendation pieces is now live. In this ‘Three to see’, Sonic strand programmer Stuart Brown picks out some films for the musically minded… which include a brace of spectacular IMAX events and one of the year’s buzziest titles from Cannes: Andrea Arnold’s freewheeling road movie American Honey.

Three to see at LFF if you love... music

American Honey (2016)

American Honey (2016)

Also, ICYMI, there’s been some exciting additions to our Screen Talks programme + two new films added to the programme.

Next up in our series of recommendations posts come some personal picks from Edward Lawrenson, programme advisor on the Debate strand, who offers some tips for films that are sure to get the discussion going as you leave the cinema. No brain switch-offs here…

Aquarius (2016)

Aquarius (2016)

We’ve also dished out more info on who’s going to coming to town during the festival, with the likes of Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Sigourney Weaver and Liam Neeson all newly announced. Read the full rundown here: International filmmakers and stars come out for the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Excitingly, we’ve just this minute announced who’ll be on the judging panels for each of the Festival’s competitions. More on that here

We’ve also published an appetite-whetter for an early colour film screening as an archive treasure during the festival: Ruins of Palmyra and Baalbek. This Technicolor marvel was shot by Powell & Pressburger’s cinematographer Jack Cardiff on a trip through Syria in the 1930s.

Ruins of Palmyra and Baalbeck (1938)

Ruins of Palmyra and Baalbeck (1938)

Poignantly, it captures on film for posterity an ancient archway that, in 2015, was largely destroyed by Isis. Read more

Last but not least, some more recommendations for those still dithering: Three to see at LFF if you like... Indian films and Three to see at LFF if you like... boundary-pushing documentaries

Have you seen?

This just in: director Paul Anton Smith has exclusively written for us on his new fantasia for film lovers, Have You Seen My Movie?

Smith, who worked with Christian Marclay on The Clock, compiled this cinephilia smorgasbord from end-to-end extracts of film scenes in which characters go to the cinema. 

Have You Seen My Movie? (2016)

Have You Seen My Movie? (2016)

“You’d be amazed how many times moviemakers like to turn the camera on moviegoers,” Smith writes. “I watched or scanned through thousands of films looking for scenes that take place inside of a cinema, and these clips accumulated like blown-in pages torn from a screenplay, without order or any hint of a beginning, middle or end.”

The result is said to be a total treat. Read the full feature here

There’s more new LFF reading here:

10 great Bollywood films of the 21st century

Three to see at LFF if you like... German-language films

Three to see at LFF if you like... provocative films

Big news of the evening is that debut writer-director Hope Dickson Leach, whose film The Levelling is playing in the Festival’s First Feature Competition, has been awarded the first ever IWC Filmmaker Bursary Award in Assocation with the BFI. To the tune of £50k. It’s the biggest bursary in the UK film industry.

What’s more, Cate Blanchett was there to present Hope with the award at a ceremony at the Rosewood Hotel. All hosted by Rob Brydon.

You can read more about it here

And so it’s upon us. Day one of the 60th BFI London Film Festival.

In a marked change from last year, your live blogging meteorologist is pleased to announce glorious sunshine over the capital.

All the better for rolling out those red carpets. No one like a wet carpet.

A United Kingdom (2016)

A United Kingdom (2016)

And roll out they will, as it’s but an afternoon until we’ll be welcoming the magnificent David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike to Leicester Square for the grand European premiere of Amma Asante’s new cross-continental romance A United Kingdom.

Yes, A United Kingdom is the grand opening night gala – the true story of the controversial love affair between the king of Bechuanaland (that’s Oyelowo) and a London office worker (that’s Pike), who he married in the late 1940s.

Oyelowo, Pike and Assante have been talking to the press this afternoon, and we’ll be bringing you a report very shortly. For now, here’s a sneak peek at what they were all wearing.

Director Amma Asante and actors David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike attend the A United Kingdom photocall during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Director Amma Asante and actors David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike attend the A United Kingdom photocall during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

This is happening right now, on our Facebook page. Live Facebook Q&A with the A United Kingdom stars…  Head on over and ask your questions.

A United Kingdom Facebook stream

‘He adored New York City. He idolised it all out of proportion’

Manhattan (1979)

Manhattan (1979)

What better music to play us into the beginning of the LFF than the trilling clarinet from Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue that begins Woody Allen’s 1979 classic Manhattan.

Ok, maybe it’s a bit too New York for the London Film Festival.

But tonight at 9pm a little corner of London (the one known as BFI Southbank) will be effortlessly transformed into the Big Apple as Woody’s Greatest Film unspools in a superb new restored version in NFT1.

Shot in resplendent black and white by Godfather cinematographer Gordon Willis, it’s one of the finest films of the late 1970s – a love letter to the director’s home city that he’s never quite equalled since.

Indeed, esteemed critic Andrew Sarris once called it the only truly great American film of its decade… but judge for yourself.

All together now:

“Chapter One. He adored New York City. He idolised it all out of proportion. Eh uh, no, make that he, he romanticised it all out of proportion. Better. To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin. Uh, no, let me start this over…”

There are still tickets for Manhattan here

Throughout the Festival, we’ll be showcasing some of our favourite posters from our super-international programme (74 countries represented).

To kick things off – and perhaps also to inspire a visit to BFI Southbank this evening – here’s the very tranquil Japanese poster for The Red Turtle, which screens tonight at 18.40.

A Japanese festival poster for Michael Dudok de Wit’s The Red Turtle (2016)

If there’s a touch of Studio Ghibli about this image, it’s because the film is actually the result of a unique collaboration between London-based filmmaker Michael Dukok de Wit and the Japanese anime powerhouse.

Our programmer Justin Johnson has already proclaimed 2016 a golden year for animation, and this particular film “a masterpiece”.

So it sounds like the film lives up to the poster… 

‘Amma directing this film shouldn’t be special – if women constitute 50% of the population they are not a minority’

This evening’s opening night gala is, of course, Amma Asante’s A United Kingdom, a swooning, politically acute period drama about the controversial marriage between a prince from Bechuanaland (now Botswana) and a south London clerk in the late 1940s.

Actor Rosamund Pike attends the A United Kingdom press conference during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Actor Rosamund Pike attends the A United Kingdom press conference during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

This morning, Asante was joined by cast members David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Tom Felton, Jack Davenport, Jessica Oyelowo and Laura Carmichael at The May Fair Hotel to discuss the film with a room full of journalists. Simran Hans was there to capture the press conference highlights.

On how the project got started

David Oyelowo: It’s based on the book Colour Bar by Susan Williams about the relationship between Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams, and it was the image of them on the cover of the book that arrested me. This young man, in his trilby and trenchcoat and the beautiful woman next to him – it became an obsession.

On Margaret White’s photo essay on Ruth and Seretse

Rosamund Pike: I find [Ruth’s] spirit so gorgeous. In these close-ups and faces, before I looked at the script and I was moved to tears by them, in a sort of immediate, strange way that I don’t quite understand even now. I think it was that somehow you saw the love and you saw what it had cost them.

On the film’s colonial villains

Jack Davenport: This is not a wild approximation of how they would’ve behaved [towards Ruth and Seretse] – they were appalling. But they’re operating with a manual that’s increasingly out of date.

On the shooting in Botswana and the film’s reception there

Amma Asante: I think from my point of view it was probably comforting to them that their story was going to be told through the gaze of a woman of colour. Of course there was a curiosity about how they would be reflected on screen or how the country would be or how they would be as people – but we very much wanted the DNA of their country running through the film.

David Oyelowo: There was real pressure to shoot it in South Africa – for the tax breaks, for the infrastructure but we were absolutely insistent about shooting it in Botswana. The current president of Botswana is Ruth and Seretse’s son!

Actors Jack Davenport, Rosamund Pike, director Amma Asante and actors David Oyelowo and Tom Felton attend the A United Kingdom press conference during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Actors Jack Davenport, Rosamund Pike, director Amma Asante and actors David Oyelowo and Tom Felton attend the A United Kingdom press conference during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

On diversity

David Oyelowo: All we’re seeing here with A United Kingdom is the country that we live in. Amma directing this film shouldn’t be special – if women constitute 50% of the population they are not a minority. But here we are.

The day Kurosawa came to town

Currently preparing itself for the opening night screening of Amma Asante’s A United Kingdom, the Odeon Leicester Square will see a Gala premiere nearly every night of the London Film Festival, writes Matthew Thrift.

Things were a little different 60 years ago, when the LFF kicked off at the newly inaugurated National Film Theatre (now BFI Southbank) under Waterloo Bridge.

London Film Festival programme, 1957

While there are some 380 features and shorts from 74 countries playing across multiple venues in 2016, back in 1957 the programme consisted of a mere 15 titles.

London Film Festival programme, 1957

The opening night film of the very first LFF, on 16 October 1957, was Akira Kurosawa’s Macbeth-riffing masterpiece Throne of Blood. The film’s star is remembered at this year’s Festival in the form of Steven Okazaki’s Mifune: The Last Samurai, a Keanu Reeves-narrated documentary that sees the likes of Spielberg and Scorsese discussing the mercurial actor’s legacy.

Throne of Blood (1957)

Throne of Blood (1957)

Tonight’s post-screening celebrations afford the stars and their plus ones a chance to let their hair down. Back in 1957, with Kurosawa in town for the festival, one man was determined to ensure he had a good time. As the filmmaker later recalled:

“[John Ford] used to call me Akira. I first met him decades ago when I was in Britain to receive an award for Kumunosujō (Throne of Blood) at the London International Film Festival. Ford was in England shooting a picture, and I went to see him on location. He saw me, and straight off he said, in heavily accented Japanese, ‘I need a drink!’ Ford could speak a little Japanese. When I was having a quiet drink, he came up to me and asked what the heck I was drinking. ‘Wine,’ I told him, to which he said, ‘No, no! You’ve got to drink scotch!’ and brought me a bottle. He was really good to me.”

These are lovely. A little showcase of posters for four of the films that screened at the first ever London Film Festival, in 1957, courtesy of @bfirobin

With just 15 minutes to go before our opening night gala kicks off, here are some brief words from Amma Asante on her film A United Kingdom.

Some stunning outfits on the red carpet this evening.

Terry Pheto attends the A United Kingdom Opening Night Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Terry Pheto attends the A United Kingdom Opening Night Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Amma Asante attends the A United Kingdom Opening Night Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Amma Asante attends the A United Kingdom Opening Night Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Jessica Oyelowo and David Oyelowo attend the A United Kingdom Opening Night Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Jessica Oyelowo and David Oyelowo attend the A United Kingdom Opening Night Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

The sun is up on day two of the BFI London Film Festival. This is when things really begin to hot up, with screenings starting from late morning and continuing throughout the day and across the city.

Before we dive into the detail, let’s remind ourselves what went down last night. 

In this video, watch David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike and director Amma Asante on the red carpet before the premiere of their historical drama A United Kingdom, our grand opener. They are joined by cast members Jack Davenport, Jessica Oyelowo and Laura Carmichael.

Three to see today

To provide some inroads into the huge programme on offer today, we asked roaming festival-goer Matthew Thrift to pick out three personal recommendations for the day. Beyond the galas and the competition films, these are three of day two’s choicest cuts…

Dawson City: Frozen Time

Dawson City (2016)

Dawson City (2016)

If film festivals are celebrations of cinema, then the apotheosis of this can be found at the LFF in Bill Morrison’s profoundly moving hymn to celluloid, preservation and conservation, Dawson City: Frozen Time. Morrison is a filmmaker known for his rehabilitation and appropriation of damaged film stocks; those fragile, broken dreams seemingly beyond care or repair. For his new film, he takes a story of buried treasure – hundreds of reels of nitrate film discovered in Canada in the late 70s – and sculpts a narrative that stretches back a hundred years, to the eponymous city’s Gold Rush prime, when prints of movies would be shipped out before being abandoned as worthless at what was seen as the end of their lifespan.

With the exception of some bookending interviews, Morrison’s film is comprised of archive materials, not least from the Dawson City Film Find itself. Crafting a stunningly evocative sense of time and place, the film proves heartbreakingly poetic as it recounts the destruction of film laboratories and storage facilities. With 80% of silent pictures now deemed irretrievably lost, the wounded fragments that make up much of Dawson City: Frozen Time carry so much more collectively than just their surface content. Aided by Jónsi Birgisson (Sigur Rós) and Alex Somers’ exquisite score, for film-lovers and celluloid-romantics alike, this isn’t just one of the finds of the festival but one of the very best films of the year.

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A Journey through French Cinema

A Journey through French Cinema (2016)

A Journey through French Cinema (2016)

You’ll want to bring a notepad along to Bertrand Tavernier’s wonderful examination of cinematic masters, A Journey through French Cinema, given the shopping list of films you’ll be leaving with. If you’re familiar with either of Martin Scorsese’s documentaries on film – A Personal Journey Through American Movies (1995); My Voyage to Italy (2001) – you’ll have some idea of what to expect from Tavernier’s epic yet intimate dissection of inspirations and formative cinematic experiences.

It’s effectively a three-hour film school, benefiting from Tavernier’s experience as a filmmaker himself, yet not averse to dishing some tasty behind-the-scenes dirt on his hallowed forebears. Jean Renoir’s self-made mythology gets a dose of reality, as his dodgy political tendencies and struggles with Jean Gabin are laid bare. Likewise Melville, a godfather figure to his cinephile proteges perhaps, but often impossible to work with, as hilarious anecdotes involving Belmondo and Ventura suggest.

Tavernier proving himself a fierce critic as he breaks down sequences and proffers a wealth of technical expertise; from Renoir’s expert staging to Marcel Carné’s love of 32mm lenses. It’s by no means comprehensive – how could it be? – its strengths lying in the time and detail afforded its cinematic heroes. Catnip for those familiar with its protagonists and neophytes alike, so engrossing is Tavernier an analyst and raconteur that even at 192 minutes, you’ll wish it were twice as long.

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Kills on Wheels

Kills on Wheels (Takoví normální vozíčkáři, 2016)

Kills on Wheels (Takoví normální vozíčkáři, 2016)

With a cinematic heritage that includes the likes of Béla Tarr, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Hungarians were a serious bunch when it comes to making movies. If you caught last year’s Oscar winner for best foreign film, Son of Saul, at the LFF, this assumption would have been compounded. With their official 2017 bid for the same award, you’re in for a deliciously rude awakening in the form of Kills on Wheels, a blackly comic buddy movie that owes a greater debt to Tarantino than Miklós Janscó.

In this wheelchair-bound hitman caper sees a pair of young comic-book artists team up with a paralysed, lone-wolf gangster, the bodies pile up as fast as the sight gags. It’s directed with a restless energy by Attila Till, and while Kills on Wheels’ humour often stems from the unlikely assassins’ disabilities (including a prolonged getaway that first entails the assembly of a wheelchair), it never losing sight of its compassion. The only victims here are those staring down the barrel of a gun.

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Tindersticks’ Stuart A. Staples on his hypnotic tribute to film pioneer F. Percy Smith

In his immersive new film Minute Bodies: The Intimate Life of F. Percy Smith, Tindersticks’ Stuart A. Staples collaborated with filmmaker David Reeve to create a tribute to the achievements of F. Percy Smith, an early filmmaker and naturalist responsible for extraordinary micro-photographic glimpses into the natural world. 

Here Staples tells us in his own words what he found so inspiring:

Minute Bodies: The Intimate World of F. Percy Smith (2016)

Minute Bodies: The Intimate World of F. Percy Smith (2016)

From a small glimpse of F. Percy Smith’s work – there are many dotted around here and there, used to describe moments in various projects – I was enthralled to find out more, and in turn to discover something of the man himself. I don’t think at the outset that I was looking to make this film, just to experiment – have fun with music and these inspiring images. It became a hobby, an antidote to the more pressured work I was involved in.

Minute Bodies: The Intimate World of F. Percy Smith (2016)

Minute Bodies: The Intimate World of F. Percy Smith (2016)

At the beginning, I worked with what was available, ripping his work from here and there and brutally cutting them down to the essence of what I was interested in: his pure photography of these fluid, microscopic landscapes that I found very musical and inspiring.

Minute Bodies: The Intimate World of F. Percy Smith (2016)

Minute Bodies: The Intimate World of F. Percy Smith (2016)

Gradually, with David Reeve on board as co-editor, as we were allowed to travel deeper into his archive, the man himself started to emerge. The film began to form more expressive sections, which hopefully reveal some of Smith’s character. These began to punctuate the sections of the film where it felt very important to be loyal to his vision.

Minute Bodies: The Intimate World of F. Percy Smith (2016)

Minute Bodies: The Intimate World of F. Percy Smith (2016)

Percy Smith revealed himself as an enthusiast. He obviously enjoyed the celebrity that was afforded to him by the success of the ‘Secrets of Nature’ film series, although he would never imbue his work with any notions of being ‘art’, nor would he ever describe himself as an expert. He was fascinated by nature – bugs , spiders – from an early age, and this merged with his interest in amateur photography at a time when there was so much to show and discover.

Minute Bodies: The Intimate World of F. Percy Smith (2016)

Minute Bodies: The Intimate World of F. Percy Smith (2016)

After a three year journey, this film began to show itself as a simple tribute. Smith was able to create these images at a time when the viewer was primed to be amazed. You can actually feel the wonder and excitement going on behind the lens. This cast a spell on every musician involved in Minute Bodies and the music became a strange world in itself… Something I never expected.

Minute Bodies: The Intimate World of F. Percy Smith (2016)

Minute Bodies: The Intimate World of F. Percy Smith (2016)

Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden screened for press and industry a little earlier today, and has left viewers feeling somewhat hot and bothered. The consensus seems to be that it’s every bit as strange and sexy as you’d imagine a Sarah Waters adaptation from the director of Oldboy to be.

 
 
 
 
 

If those reactions have got you intrigued, you can still buy tickets for our Dare Gala screening tomorrow.

Here’s a couple of especially eye-catching posters for films screening this evening. Omprakash Mehra’s Mirzya, our Love Gala title, is a sumptuously romantic Bollywood epic set amidst the palaces and desert plains of Rajasthan.

Mirzya (2016) poster

Mirzya (2016) poster

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Sieranevada is the darkly comic latest from writer-director Cristi Puiu (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu), and Romania’s submission for best foreign language film at next year’s Oscars.

Sieranevada (2016)

Sieranevada (2016)

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A gem from the archives

David Parkinson sings the praises of the 1985 historical epic Adieu Bonaparte, screening tomorrow in dazzling 4K.

Adieu Bonaparte (1985)

Adieu Bonaparte (1985)

Albert Dieudonné would be many people’s favourite screen Bonaparte, but Patrice Chéreau gives the star of Abel Gance’s Napoleon (1927) a run for his money in Youssef Chahine’s masterly historical saga. Having liberated the Egyptian people from the Mamluks, Napoleon is keen to acquire artefacts and explore the possibilities of a French empire in North Africa. But while he has the conquest of brothers Ali (Mohsen Mohieddin) and Yehia (Mohamed Atef) in mind, Bonaparte’s one-legged comrade-in-arms from the Italian campaign, General Louis Caffarelli (Michel Piccoli), favours restoring national pride through a process of civilisation.

Gloriously photographed by Mohen Nasr, this parable on love and tolerance recalls Renoir and Rossellini’s approach to the past. Although Chahine was lamenting the plight of the Middle East in the mid-1980s, his recreation of a flawed expedition offers pertinent insights into Islamic identity, the regional mood following the Arab Spring, and why France has been subjected to so many terrorist attacks.

An early contender for film of the festival?

Moonlight (2016)

Moonlight (2016)

In a couple of hours, our Official Competition gets underway with Moonlight, the long-awaited sophomore feature from writer-director Barry Jenkins, whose lo-fi debut Medicine for Melancholy played the LFF way back in 2008.

This bruising portrait of black gay masculinity has been riding a wave of critical adulation since its Telluride and Toronto premieres in September. Simran Hans, writing for Sight & Sound, was among its early champions:

“Jenkins takes clichés about addiction, drugs, poverty, violence and homophobia in black America, and changes their context by shading familiar situations and archetypes of black life with careful detail and texture. He holds up stock images – of the crack-addicted mother, the drug-dealing mentor, the bullied and sensitive queer kid – to a cracked mirror, capturing how they refract and rebound in unexpected ways. It is thrilling, sensuous stuff.”

Read the full review

Over in Leicester Square, they’re gearing up for The May Fair Hotel Gala screening of A Monster Calls, and eagerly awaiting the arrival of stars Sigourney Weaver, Liam Neeson and Lewis MacDougal.

It seemed that half the audience at this morning’s press screening of A Monster Calls had something stuck in their eye. Let’s hope that tonight’s Gala attendees are wearing waterproof mascara.

Director J.A. Bayona, who’ll be introducing A Monster Calls to a packed festival house right about now.

Welcome to day three of the festival, where it’s currently looking like perfect weather to confine yourself to a darkened room for much of the foreseeable future. Before we take a look at what’s to come, here are a few highlights from last night’s May Fair Hotel Gala screening of A Monster Calls.

In this video, stars Sigourney Weaver and Lewis MacDougall, and director J.A. Bayona discuss their experiences of working on this lavish fantasy weepie.

Notes from the Black Star Symposium

As the BFI gears up for the Black Star season this autumn, yesterday saw a diversity summit in the form of the LFF Black Star Symposium. Here are Simran Hans’ field notes.

David Oyelowo

David Oyelowo

This three-hour industry conference assembled a host of power players at BFI Southbank and featured panels, statistics and a keynote address from a sharply-suited David Oyelowo (who stars in two of this year’s festival films, A United Kingdom and Queen of Katwe). Festival director Clare Stewart greeted the room with her statement of intention: that it was “time to move on from debate and take action” regarding the ‘diversity’ discussion, before inviting Oyelowo to the stage (watched eagle-eyed by his two teenage sons from the front row).

“Ah, there’s nothing like the smell of diversity morning,” were Oyelowo’s opening words. His playful, conversational approach received a wave of warm laughter from the pleasingly POC-heavy audience that packed out NFT1. “I’m really, really tired of talking about diversity… These talks take energy and time away from what I really love to do.”

Three words were at the core of Oyelowo’s speech: “bias”, “perspective” and “intention”. Oyelowo went on to discuss a treatment that he wrote for a period drama about black boxer Bill Richmond, and the frustrating feedback he received from one financier, whose ominous email stated that audiences would only be interested in stories that were either “a familiar title or a piece of history ripe for a revisit.” To this, he responded: “If my indisputable British history has never been visited, where does that put me?”

Watch Oyelowo speaking at the symposium

“If you are not part of the solution, trust me my friends, you are part of the problem,” he explained, going onto emphasise that diversity has “got to be baked into the foundations of where the ideas come from.”

Oyelowo concluded on an emotional note. His parting plea (“I felt I had to leave. Please stop this talent drain.”) was even accompanied by a few tears – before being met with a standing ovation.

The BFI’s creative director Heather Stewart followed up Oyelowo’s speech with a presentation of statistics pulled from a 10-year sample of black actors across UK films. The sample of 1172 films threw some facts and figures into sharp relief; namely that just 13% of films feature at least one black actor in a leading role (a figure that’s largely remained static over this period) and the even more troubling statistic that 59% of these films contained no named roles for black actors at all. Indeed, half of all leading performances for black actors over this period are concentrated in 47 films – which makes up less than 5% of this timespan’s total output of movies.

These bleak statistics were remedied with two panel discussions chaired by creative curators Ashley Clark and Gaylene Gould respectively. Clark’s panel featured Oyelowo, Daughters of the Dust director (and all-round legend) Julie Dash, writer-director Noel Clarke, Channel 4 diversity exec Ramy El-Bergaym and Trevante Rhodes, star of festival hot-ticket Moonlight. Dash remarked that she was “thrilled” regarding Daughters of the Dust’s restoration and re-release. She also told Clark about the challenges she’s faced getting subsequent films financed, including one about black magicians (it was assumed she must’ve been talking about “black musicians” instead). The panel briefly turned Clarke vs. Clark when Noel pressed Ashley on why his Kidulthood trilogy didn’t make it into the Black Star programme – mostly, the group was flush with the good things happening for black actors and directors.

Barry Jenkins at the LFF European premiere of Moonlight

Barry Jenkins at the LFF European premiere of Moonlight

After a brief ‘in conversation’ interlude with Black Power list member Karen Blackett, Gould was joined for a second discussion by A United Kingdom director Amma Asante, Moonlight director Barry Jenkins, Wolff Olins CEO Ije Nwokorie, BBC Head of Diversity Tunde Ogungbesan and director of the BFI Film Fund Ben Roberts. No pressure, then. Gould stressed that it wasn’t training that black Britons needed but actual employment opportunities, while Asante called for more responsibility at the top, discussing how proper financing would’ve made all the difference earlier in her career.

So much more was discussed – but the key nugget of wisdom came from Jenkins, who maintained the importance of having control over your set, telling stories that are specific, and actually being good. “What we do is an extremely privileged art form – it’s extremely expensive. If what we do is good but not great, it’s not gonna be good enough. I try to train myself into knowing when it’s good, and when it ain’t good.”

Three to see today

A trio of top picks screening today and over the weekend, courtesy of Matthew Thrift.

Blue Velvet Revisited

Blue Velvet Revisited (2016)

Blue Velvet Revisited (2016)

Miles apart from your average making-of, behind-the-scenes peek at a film’s production, Blue Velvet Revisited proves a lyrical meditation on David Lynch’s 1986 masterpiece. Opening with fragments of a letter filmmaker Peter Braatz wrote to his hero, requesting access to the set of the picture, what follows is stunningly layered montage of Super 8 footage from his time as an intern with Lynch. Comprised of interviews and candid glimpses of the filmmaker at work, it’s apt that a documentary about cinema’s most persistent interrogator of the subconscious should adopt all the woozy properties of a dream.

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Zoology

Zoology (2016)

Zoology (2016)

Winner of the special jury prize at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Ivan Tvardovsky’s Zoology sees a lonely zookeeper given a new lease of life when she suddenly grows a tail. Living with her mother in a small, gossip-ridden town, said appendage becomes the catalyst for a parable about what it means to be different. It’s impossible not to read the film as allegorical satire, a damning examination of contemporary Russia’s marginalisation of outsiders, and the iron-fisted influence of the Orthodox church. Which doesn’t mean it’s heavy-handed; for all its larger implications, at its centre is a beautifully nuanced performance from Natalia Pavlenkova, ensuring that the larger questions it asks of Russian society remain secondary to its human concerns.

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The Student

The Student (2016)

The Student (2016)

A ferocious battle of wills between a fanatical, bible-wielding high school pupil and his liberal teacher sets the stage for another Russian recommendation playing today. The sophomore feature from Kiril Serebrenikov (Betrayal, 2012), it’s a stunningly shot and rigorously intellectual adaptation of German writer Marius von Mayenburg’s stage play. Anchored by a monumental performance from Pyotr Skvortsov, as the titular student armed with a barrage of scripture, taking his school to task for its moral hypocrisies. It’s a verbose work — the thrills emanating from the caustic, even-handed sparring between its polar ideological positions — captured in astonishing long takes, as Serebrenikov’s camera matches the escalating rhetorical passion of his protagonist. A darkly satirical examination of the unhealthy bonds between church and state, its dazzling formal chops prove every bit the match for its relentless intellectual enquiry.

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Here’s a couple more excellent posters for you to feast your eyes on. First up is tonight’s hottest ticket, current Oscar frontrunner La La Land. Ticket holders for this evening’s Headline Gala will be the first public audience in the UK to find out what all the fuss is about. 

La La Land (2016) poster

La La Land (2016) poster

And here’s a gorgeous illustrated effort for The Handmaiden, Park Chan-wook’s sumptuous interpretation of Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith. This seems inspired more by the film’s lush, romantic first act, and less by its outrageously violent, sexually explicit climax.

The Handmaiden (2016) poster

The Handmaiden (2016) poster

“Some young boy is going to see this film and see himself, and not feel so alone” - Moonlight

Last night’s European premiere of Moonlight was a deeply moving, celebratory experience, writes Paul O’Callaghan.

Mahershala Ali, Barry Jenkins, Janelle Monáe, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Andre Holland and Trevante Rhodes at the European premiere of Moonlight

Mahershala Ali, Barry Jenkins, Janelle Monáe, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Andre Holland and Trevante Rhodes at the European premiere of Moonlight

Writer-director Barry Jenkins was on jubilant form as he introduced London viewers to his long-awaited second feature, no doubt buoyed by the universally rapturous reception it’s received on the festival circuit thus far. He began by reminiscing about bringing his debut Medicine for Melancholy to the LFF. “(It) was eight years ago – I know that because every time I go somewhere I’m reminded that it’s been eight years since I made a film! I remember at first people thought I was a white dude from Wales because my name is Barry Jenkins! But they showed the film four times, and every time more people came out to see this very personal story”.

Despite being much grander in scope, Moonlight is no less personal. It’s an at-times overwhelmingly intimate portrait of Chiron, a young African-American in Miami played by three actors at three key points in his life. Struggling to come to terms with his sexuality amidst an aggressively macho peer group, he must also contend with the violently erratic behaviour of his drug addict mother Paula (Naomie Harris).

Following the screening, and after a lengthy standing ovation, Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McCraney (whose play the film is based on), and much of the principal cast took part in a Q&A, which quickly turned into an outpouring of love and adulation from a dazzled audience.

Naomie Harris and Janelle Monáe at the European premiere of Moonlight

Naomie Harris and Janelle Monáe at the European premiere of Moonlight

Naomie Harris discussed preparations for her bruising performance, a feat made all the more impressive once we discovered how little time she spent on set. “I only had three days, I was doing a press tour for another film. It was a real struggle for me to find this character, because I had so much judgement of her initially, I found her to be a bad mother. But ultimately to play a character well, you have to fall in love with them on some level. The biggest breakthrough for me was discovering that the vast majority of women who had been interviewed about their addiction had been sexually abused, and it was as if that trauma caused such a split within them, they were constantly trying to escape themselves. That was how I was able to have compassion for Paula. I wanted to play that full complexity of who she was – play her brutality and heartlessness, but also show that underneath there’s this beating heart, always”.

Tarell Alvin McCraney discussed the genesis of his play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, and his desire to show a side of the black urban American experience not normally portrayed in the media. “I kept thinking back to the moment when I’d experienced the most love without any qualifiers, and that time was when a drug dealer got off his crate and decided to teach me how to ride my bike…. His generosity that day always stayed with me, and so it was important to me to tell these stories.”

Moonlight also marks the big screen debut of revered musician Janelle Monáe, who makes a major impact as Teresa, a surrogate mother of sorts to the young Chiron. “The themes in Moonlight were some that I had spoken about in my music, and I’ve always been an advocate for the other, that person who is oftentimes discriminated against, because of sexual orientation, race, or gender. I felt as if I knew every last one of these characters. I dropped everything I had going on, and I went to Miami and filmed this because it is such an important story. Some young boy, black or white, is going to see this film and see himself, and not feel so alone”.

Just a couple of hours now until Damien Chazelle’s La La Land brings a touch of California sunshine to a grey Leicester Square. The film screened a little earlier today to press and industry folk, and despite extreme hype since its Venice premiere, this nostalgic love-letter to Hollywood musicals seems to have shattered people’s already lofty expectations.

“We wanted to not always fling you into a pit of despair” - Black Mirror

A little weekend treat for you all — highlights from yesterday’s LFF Connects TV event, in which Black Mirror creators Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones, and director Joe Wright, discuss new episodes of their darkly satirical show, coming to Netflix later this month.

Whilst La La Land promises to send viewers out of the cinema with a swing in their step, Matthew Thrift is still processing the emotional assault of last night’s A Monster Calls premiere.

Belen Atienza, Lewis MacDougall, J.A. Bayona and Sigourney Weaver at the premiere of A Monster Calls

Belen Atienza, Lewis MacDougall, J.A. Bayona and Sigourney Weaver at the premiere of A Monster Calls

The four ladies sat to my left knew what was coming. Before Clare Stewart took to the stage to introduce the film and its guests, a handbag was opened, a loo roll procured, unravelled and distributed among them. It was a foresight lost on this battle-hardened cynic — it turned out they were from the studio and on a third viewing — but two hours later and a blubbering wreck, if there’s one piece of advice for those attending the next screening: bring tissues, this is a three hankie job.

A revisionist fairytale that charts the means by which a 12-year-old boy (“too old to be a child, too young to be considered a man”) deals with the impending loss of his cancer-ravaged mother, A Monster Calls marks a considerable forward step for filmmaker J. A. Bayona, who has since been tapped by Spielberg for the sequel to Jurassic World. The jaw-dropping effects work that conjures Liam Neeson’s tree-monster from this young artist’s imagination provides the kind of visual wizardry you’d expect from the team behind Pan’s Labyrinth, but the film’s greatest strengths lie in its human moments, led by an astounding central turn from Lewis MacDougall.

On stage, having been greeted with loud cheers, MacDougall spoke of looking for parallels between the character and himself, “like any actor does.”

He was joined by co-star Sigourney Weaver, director Bayona and the film’s producer Belen Atienza to introduce the film.

“Ultimately it’s a film about stories, about storytelling,” said Bayona, “It dealt with childhood in a serious way.”

When asked about the “bossy grandmother” she plays, Weaver spoke of her own English heritage. “I was already a fan of Bayona’s work from The Orphange and The Impossible. When I read the script and found out he was the director, I just thought what an amazing marriage of material and director. It was a beautiful story that needed to be told, but a little daunting playing not the cosiest grandmother! But I had an English mother myself — maybe it wasn’t so easy to get to know the character, but it was worth it.”

This isn’t the first time Damien Chazelle has come close to stealing the LFF. Two years after Whiplash, he’s back here with La La Land, creating the kind of buzz that directors’ dreams are made of. Here he is with his cast on the red carpet tonight…

Three to see today

The first Saturday of the Festival has dawned, bringing a head-spinning number of film-watching opportunities across the city.

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Our Headline Gala this evening is the premiere of Manchester by the Sea, the emotionally raw and deeply moving new Massachusetts-set drama from Kenneth Lonergan, which will bring the director and stars Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams to Leicester Square.

But where to dive in deeper in the programme? Alex Davidson has some ideas…

Ovarian Psycos

Ovarian Psycos (2016)

Ovarian Psycos (2016)

If that irresistible title alone doesn’t make you rush to the cinema, then the story of the Ovarian Psycos – a feminist group of women of colour based in east LA – should. Protesting violence against women, they take to their bicycles and ride through dangerous areas of the city, fearlessly making their presence felt, and refusing to stay away from these no-go zones.

This inspiring crew includes Xela de la X, the founder of the movement. She’s an intriguing focus for the documentary, a woman from an abusive background who motivates others to fight against misogyny. The heroic activists themselves are full of humour – one declares that they have “ovaries so big we don’t need fucking balls” – but their agenda is deadly serious.

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Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?

Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? (2016)

Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? (2016)

This is one of the most powerful documentaries I’ve seen in recent years. Saar, a gay Israeli man, is rejected by his family and moves to London, where an HIV diagnosis adds to his despair. Gradually he finds acceptance through joining the London Gay Men’s Chorus – but can he repair his relationship with his family?

Saar is a hugely engaging subject, stubborn yet vulnerable, warm yet defensive. It’s very moving, and the scenes with the Chorus are a joy. Tomer Heymann made vibrant dance doc Mr Gaga, a hit at last year’s LFF, but this, co-directed with his brother Barak, is even better. I loved it.

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Ascent

Ascent (2016)

Ascent (2016)

When it comes to artists’ film and video, I’m a bit of a lightweight, so I didn’t rush to a screening of Fiona Tan’s Ascent (this year’s Experimenta Special Presentation) with great expectations. So discovering a haunting rhapsody to Mount Fuji, a site with huge symbolism for Japan, and coming out smitten by its hypnotic rhythms was a wonderful surprise.

Like Chris Marker’s La Jetée (although it has more in common thematically with Marker’s masterpiece, Sans soleil), it’s made up of dozens of dazzling still images of Mount Fuji, over which unfurls a deep and complex history, taking in love, death, art and Godzilla. It’s a tricky film to describe but an awesome film to experience.

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Kubrick, you’re fired! Brando takes over

These behind-the-scenes pics show Marlon Brando at work on his only film as director: the cult western One-eyed Jacks, which screens in a lustrous new restoration at LFF late this afternoon. Below, David Parkinson tells the story of a very elongated shoot…

One-eyed Jacks (1961)

One-eyed Jacks (1961)

Marlon Brando came to direct his sole feature after he fired Stanley Kubrick for making an ungallant remark about an actress he admired. The budget spiralled from $1.8m to $6m as he agonised over seemingly insignificant details with Oscar-winning cinematographer Charles Lang. One Paramount executive despaired it was like watching “Stanislavsky in the saddle”, as the 60-day shoot ran into its sixth month. Yet, even though he printed a mammoth 250,000 feet of VistaVision footage, Brando had a surer handle on this meld of Charles Neider’s The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones (1936) and Louis L’Amour’s To Tame a Land (1955) than hired writers Sam Peckinpah, Calder Willingham and Guy Trosper. Consequently, even though the studio cut Brando’s print from 322 to 141 minutes and reshot the ending, his “frontal assault on the temple of clichés” had a marked impact on the western genre and influenced the likes of Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino.

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One of the highlights of the LFF so far for many viewers will be our spectacular Love Gala, the glitzy Hindi epic Mirzya. 

Based on Punjabi folklore, it tells the story of two lovers separated by the line between reality and fantasy. In the video below, watch the film’s director and stars introduce the film.

‘It’s never too late to grow a tail’

There’s a bestial theme to the two posters we’ve plucked out from today’s LFF films.

And it’s almost as if the poster designers’ controls were set to ‘intrigue’…

Zoology (2016) poster

Zoology is currently under way as a matinee at VUE West End. “It’s never too late to grow a tail”, says the poster, and this Russian gem is an absurd tale of contemporary Russia in which the heroine does just that.

Meanwhile, the image below from Cannes favourite Toni Erdmann features sombody in a strange, Bigfoot-like animal suit.

How does this fit into a story set in the bland environs of the European business world?

Our lips are sealed.

Toni Erdmann (2016) poster

This is kind of amazing if you haven’t seen it yet.

In 60 seconds, see the Festival’s new Embankment Garden Cinema being put up within the tranquil surroundings of Victoria Embankment Gardens. 

Seeing Moonlight there on Thursday night, with cast and crew in attendance and the engulfing benefits of Dolby 7.1 surround sound, was special indeed. We can vouch for the pizza stall outside too.

Who needs red carpets when you have rainbows?

These trolls were a hit with families on the red — or rather rainbow — carpet at this afternoon’s matinee screening of DreamWorks’ latest creation, Trolls.

It looks like the film was fun too…

The stars are arriving for our Headline Gala: Kenneth Lonergan’s haunting family drama Manchester by the Sea.

The best kept secret in festival-dom

Always one of the hottest tickets in the LFF calendar, writes Matthew Thrift, the Surprise Film has seen something of a venue upgrade in the last two years, moving from its usual two-screen berth at the Vue to the gala-servicing Odeon Leicester Square.

Whether such a shift merely amounts to a question of programming logistics, or indicates the Festival having something special up its sleeves, is open to speculation. Which is, of course, what the Surprise Film is all about. Only a handful of people know what’s going to be playing come 9.15 this evening, and – as ever – they’re keeping mum.

So what do we know?

Gone are the days when the slot could on occasion play host to a distributor hand-off (Johnny Mnemonic, anyone?). Recent years have favoured awards contenders that would otherwise garner a gala presentation – including the likes of Silver Linings Playbook, Birdman and last year’s Anomalisa.

If experience is anything to go by (and who’s to say it is?), it’s unlikely to be a world premiere screening, which rules out the likes of Denzel Washington’s Fences, James Gray’s The Lost City of Z (closing the NYFF a week later) or such likely high-profile awards-players as Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk or Martin Scorsese’s Silence.

So what does that leave us with? What’s premiered recently at other international festivals that’s not already included in the stacked programme?

Here are this writer’s best guesses…

The favourites

There’s been a lot of speculation as to whether there’s anything to be gleaned from the earlier slot given to the Surprise this year, which tends preview films much more ahead of time, it’s Clint Eastwood’s Sully – starring LFF chum Tom Hanks – that appears to be getting the most mentions online.

The coup

Although I dismissed the possibility of a world premiere above, a first screening of David Yates’s forthcoming return to the world of J.K. Rowling, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them could play like gangbusters to the Surprise crowd. Its UK credentials, crowd-pleasing bent and imminent release suggest it shouldn’t be discounted entirely.

Notable absentees

Two dramas are conspicuous by their absence from the LFF programme, so perhaps Jeff Nichols’ Loving or Derek Cianfrance’s The Light between Oceans might lay claim to the slot?

Then there’s the prospect of Pablo Larrain’s Jackie, which played to an ecstatic reception at the Toronto Film Festival last month. Neither Larrain nor his star Natalie Portman have been announced as guests for respective films Neruda and Planetarium, playing elsewhere in the LFF programme. We’ll just leave that there for the conspiracy theorists among you.

What else?

Also falling into the category of unlikely coups, Warren Beatty’s Howard Hughes biopic Rules Don’t Apply could see a host of stars descend on the Odeon Leicester Square. More likely? Festival faves John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr Banks) and Surprise Film alumni Michael Keaton returning with their story of McDonald’s franchise-builder Ray Kroc, The Founder.

So our Surprise Film screening of Clint Eastwood’s new film Sully seems to have gone down a treat. A lovely on-stage appearance from star Aaron Eckhart too. Sully is an autobiographical drama about pilot Chelsey Sullenberger and his emergency landing of a commuter jet on the Hudson River in January 2009.

Here are some of the reactions…

 

Three to see today

Three personal recommendations to help you navigate the uncharted waters of day five, courtesy of Matthew Thrift.

Creepy

Creepy (2016)

Creepy (2016)

If prizes were awarded for the most appropriate titles, this Cult Strand entry would win by a landslide. The first of two films from J-horror maestro Kiyoshi Kurosawa to premiere this year, Creepy proves a hugely effective, drip-fed psychological onslaught. It begins with a shocking act of violence that sees criminal psychologist Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) retire from police work and move to another town, before a local, unsolved series of murders draws him back onto the job.

According to Takakura there are three types of serial killers: organised, disorganised, and the rare, most dangerous type that displays “mixed characteristics”. Into which category does this new case fit? And what’s with the weird hostility of his new next door neighbour? To talk any more about the plot would be to ruin the steady flow of narrative tricks Kurosawa has up his sleeve. Already nabbed by Eureka’s Masters of Cinema imprint for a UK release, it’s a terrific return to genre licks from the director of the J-horror classic, Pulse (2001).

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Jewel’s Catch One

Jewel’s Catch One (2016)

Jewel’s Catch One (2016)

This one tells the story of LA institution Catch One, a pioneering nightclub at the heart of the city’s LGBT scene, run by owner Jewel Thais-Williams for 42 years before closing in 2015. It’s a fitting tribute to a venue that separated itself from the local competition in its adoption of an inclusive, non-discriminatory entry policy. Catch One (“the unofficial Studio 54 of the west coast”) survived decades of police harassment, a devastating fire and LA riots that saw its neighbours protecting the club from hordes of looters. The club wouldn’t have existed without Jewel at its helm, and C. Fitz’s film finally proves itself a heartfelt love-letter to the tireless proprietor and community-leader who sold her beloved venue to focus her efforts on the Village Health Foundation (a not-for-profit natural health clinic) she ran simultaneously next door.

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The Revolution Won’t Be Televised

The Revolution Won’t Be Televised (2016)

The Revolution Won’t Be Televised (2016)

Another documentary playing today offers a street-level look at the 2012 Senegalese presidential elections in the form of Rama Thiaw’s The Revolution Won’t Be Televised. Eschewing a thorough examination of the political turmoil that led to Abdoulaye Wade’s “constitutional coup” that branded his candidacy as invalid, Thiaw focuses on the opposition movement known as Y’en a Marre (We’re fed up!), a group of rappers that preach non-violence and the lessons of Thomas Sankara in a bid to mobilise young voters.

“There is an emergency,” one of the group tells us, “to get rid of Wade! no one or nothing will change our goal. Our fight is to free the people.” As the streets burn and demonstrators engage in running battles with armed police, these ‘democracy fighters’ take their message on the road, performing politically-energised shows to crowds of tens of thousands. There’s a ground-level immediacy to the film’s early stages, before an extended final chapter sees the group travel to Burkina Faso, setting their struggle against a larger stage of postcolonial anxieties than initially suggested: a fight for Africa beyond democratic freedom for Senegal.

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Loving these moody black-and-white shots of Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck arriving for the premiere of Manchester by the Sea yesterday evening. 

Michelle Williams attends the Manchester by the Sea premiere screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Michelle Williams attends the Manchester by the Sea premiere screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams attends the Manchester by the Sea premiere screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams attends the Manchester by the Sea premiere screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Michelle Williams attends the Manchester by the Sea premiere screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Michelle Williams attends the Manchester by the Sea premiere screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

 

Festival gem: Ma’ Rosa

It seems there are just a few tickets left for the final screening of Ma’ Rosa, at Cine Lumiere at 12.45 this afternoon. Here’s why it’s worth postponing that Sunday roast for…

Ma’ Rosa (2016)

Ma’ Rosa (2016)

Back in 2009, writes Matthew Thrift, LFF audiences took a punishing ride (in a magnificent single-take) to the dark side of Manila in Brilliant Mendoza’s Kinatay. The film won him best director at Cannes, and he’s been a festival favourite ever since. With Ma’ Rosa, Mendoza found Cannes success again, with the film’s star Jaclyn Jose beating out some stiff competition — see Aquarius at this year’s LFF — to take the best actress prize.

It’s Mendoza’s best film since Kinatay, and returns to the underbelly of the city, a place where the biggest danger to personal safety are the corrupt cops in the business of extortion. Mendoza shoots with a claustrophobic intensity and vibrant immediacy, his camera always in the heart of the action. At its strongest in an opening stretch that sees Jose’s shopkeeper — and small-time drug dealer — arrested in a violent raid, there remains an urgency to what follows, as her kids take to the city streets to find the cash to pay of the fuzz. An indictment of a lawless police state, sure, but also a prowling urban nightmare that evokes the seedy nocturnal worlds of Lino Brocka (Manila in the Claws of Light,1975: LFF 2014).

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Daughters of the Dust: Julie Dash and the film that inspired Beyoncé

A new restoration of Julie Dash’s landmark feature film Daughters of the Dust (the first film by an African-American woman to receive a theatrical release in the US) screened yesterday at the ICA, writes Simran Hans.

Daughters of the Dust (1991)

Daughters of the Dust (1991)

In this lyrical, otherworldly and shockingly beautiful (thanks to cinematography from master cinematographer Arthur Jafa) film, Dash examines the psychic residue of the trauma of slavery and diasporic displacement.

Made for $800,000 (which Dash describes as “a lot of money” when pre-production started in 1989), the film played for 36 consecutive weeks on its initial release at the Village East Theatre in New York. Dash’s subsequent career in TV and documentary film has been active since she made this film in 1992, though Beyoncé’s latest longform music video Lemonade – which heavily references Daughters’ visual tropes – has spiked a fresh wave of interest in her work from a new generation (call them daughters of Daughters of the Dust, if you will).

Dash surprised viewers at the ICA, joining them for a post-screening discussion. She told the audience that it was always her intention to “redefine and reimagine who the African-American community were and are in a way that you don’t see coming out of a Hollywood film.”

She spoke about her experiences of coming out of UCLA in the 70s and working with filmmakers like Haile Gerima and Charles Burnett as part of the LA Rebellion collective, saying “working together and not necessarily agreeing with one another as we collaborated was a wonderful thing.” When you’re working with people you’ve worked with before, there’s a shorthand, she explained.

Of the threads of African spiritualism running through the film, and in diasporic cultures in general, Dash said: “It’s a part of us – just like in the Gullah dialect, there are over 4000 words that we use in the English language that are African words. You know that song that you sing around the campfire, ‘Kumbayah’? That’s what slave people sang – it means come by here, when they were praying for God to come and free them.”

“I always wanna show the human relationships – the warmth, the familial relationships, the problems, the tensions – because when I was growing up watching television I never saw that. It was always about conflict – you had to overcome some kind of situation that was about race or violence on the streets, but there’s more to our lives than that.”

It screens once more during the festival, on Saturday 15 October, and it’s not to be missed on the big screen.

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This is a thing of beauty. One of a series of classic poster designs created for London’s old Academy Cinema, this once enticed audiences in to see the 1979 Hindi film Junoon, a lavish costume epic set during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

Junoon (1978) poster

“It’s the relationships between women that lie at the heart of the story,” explains BFI head curator Robin Baker, ”as unexpected allegiances develop and sympathies shift … Shyam Benegal and cinematographer Govind Nihalani brilliantly mix the claustrophobic with the epic, gentle moments of domesticity with fear and horror. This is an under-seen Indian classic and this restoration by Kunal Kapoor will hopefully ensure it reaches a new audience.”

It’s set to beguile again in NFT2 at 15.15 this afternoon.

Watch an extract featuring Isabelle Huppert in Souvenir

A little clip of Isabelle Huppert in action in Bavo Defurne’s sweet and charming Souvenir. She plays a chanteuse who once tasted Eurovision success, who meets a hunky young boxer while working in a pâté factory.

 

Kelly Reichardt poster art

This live-blogger has seen every one of Kelly Reichardt’s films since Old Joy in 2006 at the London Film Festival, and could barely be more excited about her new one, the Montana-set Certain Women, co-starring Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart and Michelle Williams.

Its first of three screenings is at the spanking new Embankment Garden Cinema at 14:30 this afternoon. And, my, the illustrated poster for it is something special. Feast your eyes…

Certain Women (2016) poster

Certain Women (2016) poster

The advance word on the film is very strong too…

Festival gem: Humphrey Bogart stars in noir caper Beat the Devil

Another archival gem screening this afternoon, at 15.00 in NFT1, is the cult adventure film and film noir send-up Beat the Devil. David Parkinson admires a film that’s due a revisit…

Beat the Devil (1953)

Beat the Devil (1953)

Squaring the circle started with The Maltese Falcon (1941), this was the sixth and final collaboration between John Huston and Humphrey Bogart.

Scripted on location in Ravello by Truman Capote (after the Breen Office had rejected Anthony Veiller and Peter Viertel’s adaptation of Claud Cockburn’s pseudonymous novel), the twisting tale centres on a battle of wits between Bogart and the confederates hoping to acquire some uranium-rich land in east Africa and Jennifer Jones, the compulsively mendacious wife of a taciturn Englishman whom the cabal becomes convinced is a dangerous rival.

As convoluted as a whodunit with dashes of noirish menace, the MacGuffin-strewn action is played hilariously straight by an ensemble including Gina Lollobrigida, Peter Lorre and Robert Morley, who relish the antic situations and Capote’s bristlingly literate dialogue.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this anti-thriller flopped on its original release and Bogart denounced its adherents as ‘phonies’. But its cult reputation has never been higher.

‘I think sex gives you the possibility to say things you can't say with words’ — Paul Verhoeven

Elle director Paul Verhoeven has been on very quotable form this afternoon in his LFF Screen Talk. The Dutch-born director ranged widely over his career, which includes hit films such as Basic Instinct (1992) and Starship Troopers (1997). 

Here are some of his pithiest pronoucements:

Disney’s Queen of Katwe - press reactions

Queen of Katwe will premiere at the Odeon Leicester Square at 18.30 this evening, as our Virgin Atlantic Gala.

Co-starring Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo, directed by Mira Nair and shot by 12 Years a Slave cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, it tells the true story of young Ugandan chess champion Phiona Mutesi. 

Queen of Katwe (2016) poster

The film screened for the press bright and early this morning, and reports are that no shortage of tears were shed.

Here are some of the reactions:

A lovely moment with David Oyelowo on the red carpet for Queen of Katwe just now.

A huge crowd of people down at Leicester Square to see the arrivals, despite a somewhat wet turn in the weather.

Hope Dickson Leach talks First Feature Competition contender The Levelling

The Levelling is accumulating buzz aplenty after its two LFF screenings on Friday and Saturday. This family drama set against the backdrop of the Somerset floods is in the running for the LFF’s First Feature prize.

In this video, first-time director Hope Dickson Leach and her cast and producer take questions from the audience about how this striking debut came to pass.

Fans of the film will have their fingers crossed come Saturday night’s awards ceremony.

Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo on the red carpet

This is how you do the red carpet… 

Lupita Nyong’o attends the Queen of Katwe Virgin Atlantic Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Lupita Nyong’o attends the Queen of Katwe Virgin Atlantic Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Lupita Nyong’o attends the Queen of Katwe Virgin Atlantic Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Lupita Nyong’o attends the Queen of Katwe Virgin Atlantic Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo attend the Queen of Katwe Virgin Atlantic Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo attend the Queen of Katwe Virgin Atlantic Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

ICYMI, here’s footage of the action from last night, when Luipta Nyong’o and David Oyelowo arrived in Leicester Square for the European premiere of Queen of Katwe

Three to see today

It’s day six and critics are at this moment sitting down to an early morning screening of Arrival, Denis Villeneuve’s visionary new sci-fi film starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. It’s the Royal Bank of Canada Gala at 19.15 this evening. 

Arrival (2016)

Arrival (2016)

Find out what they all made of it here around elevenses.

In the meantime, if you’re looking to delve deeper into the programme, Alex Davidson has picked three films that are worth taking a chance on…

The Graduation

The Graduation (2016)

The Graduation (2016)

Any film fan will get a kick out of Claire Simon’s latest film, up for the documentary award at the Festival, which follows the selection process for young filmmakers hoping to study at La Fémis in Paris. It’s one of the world’s most renowned film schools – recent alumni include François Ozon, Céline Sciamma and Sascha Wolff, all of whom have worked on films showing at this year’s LFF.

We follow the hopeful candidates through the entrance process, including the riveting, often tense interviews. One guy submits an excellent paper but gives a clumsy, stilted interview, dividing the the interviewers. The latter are made up of professional filmmakers, including Olivier Ducastel and Laetitia Masson, and their verdicts make for addictive watching. They’re often bitchy, sometimes cruel (the potential students aren’t in the room when they share their opinions of their interviews, but may weep when they see the film), but almost always bang on the money.

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The Ornithologist

The Ornithologist (2016)

The Ornithologist (2016)

About 15 years ago I saw João Pedro Rodrigues’ O Fantasma at the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (now BFI Flare), where its determination to be po-faced as its bizarre, rubbish dump-set ending unfolded provoked sniggers and a couple of walkouts. The Ornithologist may also divide opinion, but is a far superior film, with a trippy, queer sensibility that’s hard not to embrace by its wild conclusion.

A gay zoologist goes birdwatching and, after a kayak accident, finds himself at the mercy of some very odd characters, including two female Chinese pilgrims with mischief on their minds, a mute, gay shepherd and a group of frenzied pagans. A passing knowledge of the life of St Anthony of Padua, referenced metaphorically throughout the film, may reap rewards – I knew nothing about him and still fell hard for the film. If you liked Tropical Malady or Embrace of the Serpent, then you should definitely give this mad, erotic film a try.

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Being 17

Being 17 (2016)

Being 17 (2016)

The director-screenwriter partnership of André Téchiné and Céline Sciamma is a match made in queer cinema heaven, and this collaboration makes for an unpredictable and moving drama, with terrific performances and a great sensitivity towards it teenage protagonists (no mean feat given Téchiné is now 73). Two schoolboys (Kacey Mottet Klein and Corentin Fila) living in the Pyrenees fight constantly but are forced through circumstance to live in the same house. Any fan of Téchiné’s work may predict that a gay romance will be on the cards, but Being 17 is far more than a simple coming-of-age tale, taking in class, race, masculinity and, yes, sexuality.

Both Klein and Fila are excellent, but the very best performance comes from Sandrine Kiberlain as the mother of one of the boys. She radiates kindness and love, while at the same time being hopelessly naive about the ways of teenage boys. Like a French Beautiful Thing, this one has the potential to become a modern LGBT classic.

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Top 10 Toshiro Mifune films

To whet your appetite for Mifune: The Last Samurai, a very special documentary screening tonight at 21.00 and featuring the likes of Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg singing the praises of Toshiro Mifune, David Parkinson introduces the legendary Japanese actor and selects his 10 key films.

Mifune: The Last Samurai (2016)

Mifune: The Last Samurai (2016)

Although he amassed more than 180 screen credits, Toshiro Mifune (1920-97) will always be remembered for his 16 collaborations with director Akira Kurosawa. Yet he worked with some of Japan’s finest filmmakers, including Mikio Naruse and Kenji Mizoguchi, while also forging enduring partnerships with such lesser lights as Hiroshi Inagaki (21 collaborations), Senkichi Taniguchi (13) and Kihachi Okamoto (8).

Bringing a new edge, complexity and panache to Japanese film acting, Mifune specialised in ‘tateyaku’ characters, who dwelt in the margins of society and pursued causes and righted wrongs with Bushido integrity. Rarely one for love scenes, Mifune’s ‘good bad men’ struck a chord with international audiences, resulting in him playing a drunken Mexican peasant in The Important Man (1961), an incompetent submarine captain in 1941 (1979) and the eponymous Toranaga in the James Clavell mini-series, Shogun (1980).

Drunken Angel (1948)

Working together for the first time, Kurosawa was so impressed by Mifune that he built up his role in this study of yakuza machismo so that his tubercular thug confronts crime boss Reiseburo Yamamoto, who is intimidating alcoholic doctor Takashi Shimura, who treated him with kindness.

Stray Dog (1949)

Stray Dog (Nora inu, 1949)

Stray Dog (Nora inu, 1949)

Mifune reteams with Kurosawa and actor Takashi Shimura to play a rookie Tokyo cop whose stolen gun is used in a series of crimes. Influenced by Georges Simenon’s Maigret novels, this neorealist procedural sees Mifune discover the harshness of postwar life while undercover as a hard-up war veteran.

Rashomon (1950)

Rashomon (1950)

Rashomon (1950)

As the bandit arrested for murdering a samurai in the forest, Mifune gave four performances for the price of one in Kurosawa’s epochal study of screen truth and human nature. The winner of the Golden Lion at Venice and the Oscar for best foreign film, this impeccable jidai-geki twist on Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest introduced Japanese cinema to a world audience and exerted an incalculable influence.

Seven Samurai (1954)

Seven Samurai (1954)

Seven Samurai (1954)
Credit: Toho Co., Ltd

Mifune and Shimura joined forces again in Kurosawa’s epic account of the showdown between a band of 16th-century brigands and the ronin hired by the residents of a mountain village. As the peasant’s son masquerading as a samurai, Mifune brings wit, energy and unpredictability to a tripartite narrative structure whose blend of folksy drama and combustible violence owes much to the westerns of John Ford.

Samurai Trilogy (1954-56)

Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (1954)

Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (1954)

Opening with the Oscar-winning Musashi Miyamoto and continuing into Duel at Ichijoji Temple and Duel at Ganryu Island, Inagaki’s 300-minute Eastmancolor adaptation of Eiji Yoshikawa’s novel (his 1942 version has been lost) sees Mifune bestride the screen as the iconic 17th-century civil war fugitive who finally finds peace and enlightenment after taming his ruthless foe, Kojiro (Koji Tsuruta). Combining intrigue, reflection and spectacular action, this is a neglected masterpiece.

Throne of Blood (1957)

Throne of Blood (1957)

Throne of Blood (1957)

Completing a trilogy of literary adaptations with Dostoevsky’s The Idiot (1951) and Gorky’s The Lower Depths (1957), Kurosawa interpretation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth borrows conventions from the Noh stage. But there was nothing so stylised about the scene in which warlord Taketori Washizu’s archers turn on him and Mifune had to endure volleys of real arrows to get the effect. 

The Hidden Fortress (1958)

The Hidden Fortress (1958)

The Hidden Fortress (1958)

Mifune may have turned down the roles of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader, but, as General Rokurota Makabe, he played a key part in the CinemaScope chambara classic from which Star Wars (1977) drew so much inspiration. Expertly blending slapstick and peril, this rollicking adventure depends heavily on the byplay between peasants Kamatari Fujiwara and Minoru Chiaki. But its highlight involves Mifune and a charging horse.

Yojimbo (1961)

Everyone knows that Mifune’s Kuwabatake Sanjuro was the model for Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name in Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964). But Mifune’s swaggering, shrugging mercenary (who would return in Kurosawa’s Sanjuro, 1962) is much more amusing and menacing, as he betrays and slays with toothpick-munching insouciance.

High and Low (1963)

After turning Hamlet into a corporate noir in The Bad Sleep Well (1960), Kurosawa returned to the world of salarymen for this take on Ed McBain’s pulp thriller, King’s Ransom. Echoes of Dante’s Divine Comedy ring through the story, as Mifune’s Yokohama shoe tycoon prowls his hillside mansion while debating whether to save the chauffeur’s son kidnapped by embittered medical student, Tsutomu Yamazaki.

Hell in the Pacific (1968)

Despite winning best actor at Venice, Mifune and Kurosawa fell out over Red Beard (1965). However, he remained prolific. Among his many war-related roles, naval captain Tsuruhiko Kuroda stands out for the fraught nature of the production and the near-wordless intensity of the relationship forged with unnamed American pilot Lee Marvin (like Mifune a veteran of the Pacific conflict), as Kuroda is forced to co-operate to escape a deserted island.

Flemish noir – Peter Monsaert on his mystery thriller Le Ciel flamand

Just finishing its noon screening at VUE West End, Le Ciel flamand is a suspenseful, psychological drama from Flemish director Peter Monsaert. Joseph Walsh found a moment to bend his ear…

Le Ciel flamand (2016)

Le Ciel flamand (2016)

“Mommy, what’s a whore?”- These are the words uttered by the curious and cherubic six-year-old daughter of Sylvie (Sara Vertongen), a prostitute who works in a semi-legal brothel founded by her mother Monique (Ingrid De Vos), in the second feature from Belgian director Peter Monsaert, Le Ciel flamand (Flemish Heaven).

It’s a film that, while initially aping the familiar tropes we have come to associate with European dramas, especially the Nordic noir thrillers of the past decade, conceals an unsettling, challenging familial drama spanning three generations.

Director/writer Peter Monsaert attends the FilmMaker Afternoon Tea during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Director/writer Peter Monsaert attends the FilmMaker Afternoon Tea during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

The origins of this story lay in Monsaert’s experience as a father. “For me, the motivation was when I had my twin daughters,” he explains. “At the time I thought that I knew every feeling in my body and that I was level; when I was angry I felt X, and when I was happy I felt Y, but when I had my daughters there was this new feeling that pumped through my veins.”

Sylvie, while spending her life in the sex trade, has done everything she can to protect her daughter from this murky world. Behind the setting of the world of prostitution, the themes of the film, namely family and parenthood, are universal. What parent wouldn’t do whatever they could to protect their offspring from the sins of the world?

“For me, this film was about facing my fears,” explains Monsaert. He wanted to take his anxieties he feels towards parenthood, explore what he would do in this situation.

However, rather than see this morally complex narrative through a purely male gaze, Monsaert split himself in two, expressing his feelings through both the character of Sylvie and of Dirk (Wim Wallaert), a pseudo-father figure to the young Eline. “They are all a reflection of myself asking what I would do or how I would feel,” he explains, adding, “I have never thought of women and men as separate. While there are differences, both have the same psychologies.”

While not exactly an act of catharsis in a traditional sense, for Monsaert his films stem from a compulsion to explore the ideas that stick in his head. “I am driven by a feeling that I have to do this. If I weren’t doing this, I would be unhappy.” Finally, he adds, “Who knows, with my third film I might do something different. For me, it is about reacting to what comes to me and finding a way of dealing with that and expressing it.”

A Quiet Passion poster art

Terence Davies is, of course, an LFF regular. His 2011 film The Deep Blue Sea was a closing night gala, while last year’s Sunset Song played in the Official Competition.

He’s back competing for best film this year with A Quiet Passion, his new movie about the life of Emily Dickinson, featuring Cynthia Nixon as the celebrated New England poet. 

Whether or not it will win best film, we’ll have to wait to find out on Saturday night. But it’s definitely a winner when it comes to its poster, which has a touch of Vermeer in its depiction of Dickinson standing at a window flooded with light.

A Quiet Passion (2016) poster

Here’s Sight & Sound’s review of the film: A Quiet Passion – first look

Michael Winterbottom’s On the Road: watch the Q&A

The Guardian called Michael Winterbottom’s new tour documentary On the Road “a euphoric joy” in their first look review today. 

It was the world premiere of the film, which follows indie band Wolf Alice on a tour around the UK, at LFF yesterday, and the paper’s critic Peter Bradshaw reckons it’s Winterbottom’s best in years.

You can see Winterbottom and the band take to the stage to answer audience questions in this video from the event. 

Some moody skies captured over London from Picturehouse Central as night falls today, courtesy of Instagram’s tom_westgate.

Some exciting films kick off the evening, from Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion at the Embankment Garden Cinema, to the Isabelle Huppert starrer Souvenir in NFT1 at BFI Southbank, to the rave-reviewed Personal Shopper at VUE West End.

Then, at 19.15, Arrival, er, arrives… Stay tuned here for photos from the red carpet.

Red carpets are out, ready to welcome Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner for our Royal Bank of Canada Gala: Arrival.

Jeremy Renner speaking just now at the premiere of cerebral sci-fi Arrival. He thinks audiences are cleverer than Hollywood thinks…

Arriving for Arrival: the immaculately turned out Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner.

Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner attend the Arrival premiere during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner attend the Arrival premiere during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Toni Erdmann: ‘It was amazing seeing it with people and hearing everybody absolutely wetting themselves’

With Arrival now under way at Odeon Leicester Square, let’s flash back to yesterday morning for first-contact with a very special German comedy that will surely feature highly in many year-end lists: Toni Erdmann. Ben Nicholson got up early to go along…

Sandra Huller attends the Toni Erdmann Laugh Gala screening in association with Sight & Sound during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Sandra Huller attends the Toni Erdmann Laugh Gala screening in association with Sight & Sound during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

The Embankment Garden Cinema was already brimming with excitement before Sight & Sound editor Nick James took to the stage to introduce Maren Ade’s endearingly epic tragi-comedy Toni Erdmann to a packed Sunday morning crowd.

He was keen not to say to much and spoil the surprise – understandably as Ade’s film mines enormous laughs from the unexpected – but the anticipation for this Cannes favourite was palpable. And it more than lived up to the audience’s expectations.

The atmosphere was similar when the film premiered at Cannes, recalled lead actor Sandra Hüller in a post-screening Q&A alongside co-stars Trystan Pütter and Lucy Russell. “It was a bit like in the theatre,” she explained, “when you really get in contact with the audience, you know? I’m used to it because I do a lot of theatre, but you never normally get that when you watch a film with someone. I felt really close to everybody who was seeing it [at Cannes] and that was really special.”

Russell added: “It was amazing seeing it with people and hearing everybody absolutely wetting themselves… we weren’t even sure it was going to be comedy.”

That got a lot of laughs from the audience, who’d been doing that throughout the film, but it was definitely a case of leaping into the unknown for the actors. “The character for me actually didn’t exist until I saw the movie,” revealed Hüller, “because we’ve done so many variations of the scenes that I really didn’t know what way Ines would take; it was complete surprise. I played several people – they were all wearing the same costume but I couldn’t really say it was Ines.”

Toni Erdmann (2016)

Toni Erdmann (2016)

This all came down to Maren Ade’s unique approach to the delivery of the script, as Pütter explained: “It’s a really different way of working with a director because sometimes she just would come up to you and whisper in your ear some directions – ‘do half of the scene in French, please!’ – and then you have to improvise it.

“Stuff like that happened a lot. I think in some scenes you [motioning to Hüller] and Peter [Simonischek] had a little thing in your ear where she gave some directions through the microphone to do it differently just to see the surprise and reaction from the other actor.”

Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner make contact

Be there for the moment when Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner arrived for day six’s big reveal, Denis Villeneuve’s smart first-contact drama Arrival, in this highlights video…

 

Three to see today

Can you believe we’ve passed the halfway point already? Day seven’s hot tickets include The Birth of the Nation, one of the year’s most controversial films, which screens at 19:15 as a Headline Gala.

The Birth of a Nation (2016)

The Birth of a Nation (2016)

If you’re on the hunt for under-the-radar gems, here’s Alex Davidson with three deep cuts that you can catch today.

On the Other Side

On the Other Side (2016)

On the Other Side (2016)

I hope the rather bland title doesn’t put people off seeing one of the very best films of the Festival. I saw it over two weeks ago and it’s still haunting me. Ksenija Marinković gives a quite magnificent performance as Vesna, a middle-aged Croatian nurse who gets an unwelcome phone call at work from a man she hasn’t seen for years – her husband. We gradually realise he has a dark past, and her grown-up children want nothing to do with him. But Vesna can’t resist keeping in contact.

Writer-director Zrinko Ogresta has a great eye for human nature throughout, but it’s the last act of the film that really packs a punch, and will lead to many a post-screening debate.

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United States of Love

United States of Love (2016)

United States of Love (2016)

Approach this one with caution: it’s a tough ride, but one well worth taking. Four very different women living in Poland in 1990 find happiness is in short supply. Three are obsessed by romantic interests that seem out of their grasp, while the youngest misses her husband but longs for a career as a model.

The era is expertly captured by Tomasz Wasilewski (Floating Skyscrapers, 2013). The acting is flawless, and the human need for love is piercingly portrayed; the film won the best script award at Berlin. I don’t agree with the comparisons with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who was more playful and satirical in his theatre of human despair. But it’s a huge step forward for Wasilewski, and will reward those who can take its bleak outlook.

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One Week and a Day

One Week and a Day (2016)

One Week and a Day (2016)

An Israeli couple try and re-enter life after the seventh and last day of the Jewish mourning period of shiva, following the death of their 25-year-old son. What subject matter could be more appropriate for the LFF Laugh strand? Yet this compelling family drama is filled with humour, ranging from dry wit to slapstick, as the grieving father copes with unfriendly neighbours and forms an unlikely bond with his son’s slacker friend.  

It’s moving but rejects easy tears, and both Shai Avivi and Evgenia Dodina are superb. But best of all is the delicate handling of its humour. A scene where the stoned pal of the deceased does a lengthy air guitar riff, to the horror of the father, sounds awful, but has an exuberant delight that works wonderfully well.

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‘If it’s a part of inhumanity, then it’s a part of humanity. You have to accept it.’ - Raw

Here’s Matthew Thrift with notes on last night’s premiere of Raw, the French feminist cannibal thriller that prompted fainting and a paramedic call when it screened in Toronto last month.

Raw (2016)

Raw (2016)

“Usually when I introduce this film, I like to start with a joke, but I’ve been thinking all day and couldn’t come up with one.”

One can understand why filmmaker Julia Ducournau might want to introduce a little levity to proceedings ahead of what has to stand as one of the most visceral viewing experiences at this year’s LFF. A remarkable debut, competing for the Sutherland Prize for best feature, Raw charts the progress of a young veterinary student’s journey from virginal vegetarian to, well… take a guess.

“It goes way back.” said Ducournau of her relationship with her phenomenal lead, Garance Marillier, “Garance was in my first film out of film school, she hadn’t done any acting before, she was twelve years old. She was playing a tomboy that was losing her skin like a snake in order to become a girl — her parents are very understanding! Afterwards she was in a TV movie that I made for Canal+ in France; it was a more regular part, playing a teenage girl who was a high-school pimp! So her parents were like, what’s next!”

“I don’t like to talk on set too much about the psychology of characters” she continued when asked about directing her cast, “I think it’s something to deal with in prep. On set, I like to work with bodies, which is obvious when you see the movie. There’s a lot of choreography; the sex scene, for example, was really thought out in advance. It’s a matter of trust between me and the actors, they’re not mundane scenes, especially because they’re so rough. We needed a stunt double for the sex scene!”

Marlier was on hand to deliver an emphatic “no!” when asked if she was much of a dancer. The question referred to one of Raw’s best scenes, a solo dance in front of her bedroom mirror. “She’s a terrible dancer!” interjected a laughing Ducournau “It was one of the hardest scenes for her, way harder than eating anything.”

Of course, the audience Q&A quickly turned to the question of cannibalism.

“It was a process, not something I came to immediately,” replied Ducournau. “I set myself a challenge in writing the film to create a character that would be completely relatable to the audience, but one that would enact something that we would qualify as inhuman in the middle of the movie, while still retaining our empathy. I wanted to turn the world upside down. So I thought about the three worst kinds of inhumanity. There’s murder, incest and cannibalism. Murder occurs in all the movies and TV shows that we see today, so we’re completely desensitised to it. Incest was just too dark a subject matter for me to consider. Cannibalism was interesting not just as body horror, but because while it relates to vampires and werewolves, it’s also really real. It exists, and is in us. If it’s a part of inhumanity, then it’s a part of humanity. You have to accept it.”

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Here’s a few words from director Derrick Borte on London Town, his exuberant portrait of our fair city, set at the height of the punk era. There are currently a handful of tickets left for this evening’s premiere, so hop to it if this piques your interest.

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‘It’s a meditation on my own methods’ – Eglantine

Ben Nicholson sings the praises of Margaret Salmon’s Eglantine, an Experimenta strand gem which screened on Sunday.

Eglantine (2016)

Eglantine (2016)

This delicate and bewitching take on a typical children’s adventure follows the director’s daughter Eglantine as she wanders through Scottish woodland, observing the life teeming around her with the wonder of a child’s eye.

In the post-screening Q&A, Salmon explained that the genus of the idea came when screening her 2014 short Oyster – which is like a poetic cousin to the sardine sequence in Frederick Wiseman’s Belfast, Maine. “At the time [Oyster] was screening in the town where I lived, I got a lot of feedback from locals and friends and I was really interested in the way that children were receiving the film. There were parents saying ‘my kid wants to sit through three rounds of Oyster’ or ‘my kid wants to go back every day’. I thought this was really interesting, taking these young children and showing them natural history, pure documentary, footage of wildlife. An oyster is, essentially, not so riveting but it worked somehow.”

This led on to embracing and exploring the attentions of her younger audience. “I thought I’d really like to make something that thought about, in particular, the format of the children’s film and about children as an audience. In particular using documentary, nature documentary, as a form of entertainment.” Despite its graceful minimalism, Eglantine is clearly awash with influences and the audience were keen to hear more about them. “I was looking at The Little Fugitive, a great film from the 50s – or genre-wise, The River. I think this film certainly has one foot in the classical sensibility, certainly a deep love for classic cinema, so even The Red Balloon, in trying to think about simplifying the story.”

Other influences came in the form of poetry and children’s literature. “The World is Round, a children’s book that Gertrud Stein wrote, was really interesting. Then there was Harold Gatty’s Finding Your Way Without Map or Compass — I thought he spoke really eloquently about this idea which I think is very intrinsic in filmmaking, but also in science or any sort of inventive or introspective process. It’s this idea of taking the pieces of the world apart and putting them back together again to re-order them in a way that makes sense, or perhaps doesn’t make sense, but has meaning. I sort of see filmmaking as that – in a sense Eglantine is a meditation on my own methods.”

Today’s poster pick comes from Cy Enfield’s Hell Drivers, a deliriously enjoyable 1957 British trucking thriller, starring Stanley Baker and a pre-Bond Sean Connery. You can feast your eyes on a brand new restoration of the film, fresh from the BFI National Archive, at 18:15 today at BFI Southbank.

Hell Drivers (1957) poster

Hell Drivers (1957) poster

For a deeper dive into both the film and its restoration, check out this feature by Josephine Botting and Kieron Webb.

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‘The filmmakers there are really spoiled!’ – Claire Simon on France’s top film school

In her riveting documentary The Graduation, director Claire Simon (Gare du Nord) immerses us in the selection process of one of the most prestigious schools of cinema in the world, La Fémis in Paris. It’s essential viewing for anyone interested in French cinema today. Alex Davidson sat down with Simon to talk about the making of the film.

The Graduation (2016)

The Graduation (2016)

What is your opinion of La Fémis?
I teach film at a university, and I had a very good student (Arthur Harari, who went on to direct Dark Inclusion this year) who didn’t get into La Fémis. But it was a good thing, as La Fémis wouldn’t have been good for him.

In France, it’s the top film school. They are very well-funded, and have cutting-edge film equipment. The filmmakers there are really spoiled! For some people, La Fémis has been very good, especially for screenwriters. Francois Ozon (The New Girlfriend), Deniz Gamze Ergüven (Mustang), Celine Sciamma (Girlhood), Sacha Wolff (Mercenary) and Thomas Cailley (Les Combattants) all studied there.

The idea of having a camera filming during an entrance exam interview sounds very stressful for the students. Were they all happy to be filmed?
I had to get permission from every candidate, and many did not want to be filmed. Those that did were so involved in trying to pass the exam that the camera made no difference to them. In some cases, it gave them more confidence when they were being interviewed, as it made them feel important. In the end, we filmed over 160 hours of material.

It must have been very frustrating watching some of the weaker interviews. The scene where one of the applicants is unable to name a single film she admires is difficult to watch.
It’s terrible, because the girl had been giving such a wonderful interview before that question. It was terrible to watch, but it’s what happens in exams. As a result, she was not accepted, which really isn’t fair, as it was obvious she was very interested in cinema, and with the right support she could have been a very good filmmaker.

The critiques given by the interview panel can be rather harsh, and are made when the applicants are not in the room. Do you think they will be upset when they see the film?
You can’t make a film where everything the panel says is kind. All the candidates know they are going through a very rigorous process. My aim was to show how much the panel members disagreed. They argued all the time. Almost all the panel think the Italian guy is great, but one thinks he is completely fake. I think it will be a relief for the failed candidates to see that there are people on the panel who are on their side.

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Best film nominee Una: watch the Q&A

Benedict Andrews’ Una is a blistering adaptation of David Harrower’s provocative stage play Blackbird. In this video, Andrews, Harrower and star Ben Mendelsohn discuss assembling this claustrophobic exploration of an abusive relationship.

Una is nominated for the festival’s hotly contested best film award. We’ll be reporting live from Saturday’s awards ceremony, so check back to see how it fares.

‘Let’s exchange tactics to combat gentrification’ – Shola Amoo

Shola Amoo’s A Moving Image is a provocative and formally playful examination of community relations and simmering tensions in a rapidly gentrifying Brixton. Here’s the man himself talking about the film’s genesis.

‘Memory serves as an internal scrapbook’ – Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner discuss Arrival

Denis Villeneuve’s latest feature Arrival, based on the short story by Ted Chiang, is a dreamlike sci-fi envisioning mankind’s first contact with alien life. Comparative linguist Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams) has the difficult task of trying to translate what the aliens are saying.

This afternoon, stars Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner met journalists to discuss the film’s heady themes. Joseph Walsh was there to hear what they had to say.

Jeremy Renner and Amy Adams at the Arrival press conference at the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Jeremy Renner and Amy Adams at the Arrival press conference at the 60th BFI London Film Festival

On smart female characters
Amy Adams: I think often in screenplay female characters are smart in their description but then they don’t have anything smart to say or do. The fact that she actually gets to be smart and not just act smart is awesome. Also, she is not only acting with her acquired intelligence but also with her instincts.

Jeremy Renner: We are lacking roles like Amy’s in Arrival in Hollywood. Women are often victimised in movies, and while they might still be great movies, I thought that this was a fantastic script about a smart woman. She’s a superhero. Women are badass, I learnt that from my mom and sister.

On planning a character not concerned with vanity
AA: One of the things I loved about this role was playing a character freed from vanity. Some of the characters that I have played just have an innate vanity, this one was different. I loved being able to roll out of bed and being able to go to work. There were times on set when Denis told me to do less and less, and that was really freeing.

On making science and linguistics interesting and relatable
JR: There is a challenge to this role and making it more than just about zeros and ones. It was about how we make this guy a rounded human. Humour was important to that. I thought about Richard Dreyfus in Jaws, and injected life into the character. I wanted to humanise him and not just be a socially inept guy with his head in the stars.

On Denis Villeneuve’s approach as a director
JR: Denis is very loose and free. His framing is very Kubrick like, and he loves his frames and his cranes, but also he is very focussed on what he is framing. I felt that there was a lot of room for growth. We worked as a team, and it never felt like his movie. He is a wonderful human to work with.

On what we can learn from Arrival
AA: There has to be an openness towards conversations. I think the most amazing thing is to look at people as humans, looking for what we have in common and not what divides us. What I left with on this film was the same feeling I had going into this movie, which is about appreciating the moments in between. All these grand things that I get to do as an actress is great, but the things that mean the most to me are teaching my daughter to read, sharing those quite moments. Memory serves as an internal scrapbook in that way.

Day eight brings Kidman and Patel to LFF

It’s day eight and it may be grey outside but the glitz, grit and glamour of the Festival keeps on coming. We’ve a particularly starry day in store today, as Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel will be in town for the American Express Gala screening of Lion

Dev Patel & Nicole Kidman

Dev Patel & Nicole Kidman

The debut film by Garth Davis, who co-directed Top of the Lake for TV with Jane Campion, it’s the moving story of an Indian boy who is adopted in Australia, but later goes in search of his real parents.

We say ‘moving’ – in fact, and perhaps we shouldn’t really say this, but there’s been talk of pre-festival screenings reducing a room of programmers to tears…

Lion (2016)

Lion (2016)

We’ll have to wait till this evening to clap eyes on Kidman and Patel though…

…oh, wait a minute, no we don’t. Both Kidman and Patel are taking part in our Screen Talk series to discuss their career highlights at 1pm. 

We’ll have a report from the event right here, so stay tuned.

‘I hate this preconception that many westerners have that Asian women are weak and submissive to their men’ - Dearest Sister director Mattie Do

Mattie Do is the first female Lao filmmaker, and in her second film, Dearest Sister, a rich woman in Laos finds that her encroaching blindness gives her strange and frightening visions. A visit from her cousin tips the film into horror territory… 

Ahead of the film’s final LFF screening this afternoon, Alex Davidson met with Mattie Do to discuss the story behind the film.

Watch the Dearest Sister trailer

Class and equality are central to Dearest Sister. Why were these themes important to show in the film?

It was important for me to show a slice of life in current Laos. People who film in Laos always want to focus on how impoverished and sad they think we are. I’m not gonna make poverty porn, even though it’s what the giant festivals want.

Tourists, on the other hand, often think we are always happy and smiling. There’s a deep, deep social hierarchy in Laos. They don’t see what’s happening behind closed doors.

I have a foreigner’s view too, because I’m a mutt. I’m from Laos, I’m Vietnamese, I’m American. I have this awesome way of being inside and outside of the culture. Dearest Sister was an ideal opportunity to show people what a Laos family can be like.

Director Mattie Do attends the FilmMaker Afternoon Tea during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Director Mattie Do attends the FilmMaker Afternoon Tea during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

The gender politics in the film are really interesting.

I hate this preconception that many westerners have that Asian women are weak and submissive to their men. And a lot of Laos films show women in supporting roles, crying in the background.

With Dearest Sister, I wasn’t seeking to make a feminist film for Laos women, but there was a huge gap for women being shown in Laos films at all. The women in Dearest Sister don’t necessarily make good decisions, but they learn to stand on their own.

Were there any censor problems?

The censorship board in Laos are very used to me! I’m a common face in their office.

They asked me to make all these changes, and an alternate ending. They were afraid it would be too dark, and negatively influential on Laos audiences. They were like, “we don’t want to influence Laos people into believing in the supernatural”.

Me and my producer are the first people in Laos to challenge the censors. Other filmmakers get rejected and complain. “They suck! They’re censoring our freedom of speech.” And I want to say, “Honey, we live in a Third World country, there is no freedom of speech”. None of them actually ask them why their film was censored, and ask what they can do to get around this. We wanted an open dialogue.

The censors asked me some very pointed questions about why the characters behave as they do – but after the interview, they passed it! I walked out wondering, “how did I just do that?!” Now I can tell an even crazier story for my third film!

Do you think after Dearest Sister more films from Laos will get shown in the west?

I’m trying to make that change, definitely. Chanthaly [Do’s first feature] was the first Laos film ever shown outside of Asia. And Dearest Sister is the first Laos film to be shown at a Festival as prestigious as the LFF.

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Three to see today

If you’re free this evening and are looking for some Festival immersion, try on one of these personal recommendations from Matthew Thrift for size…

Porto

Porto (2016)

Porto (2016)

An exquisitely textured ode to romantic might-have-beens, critic, programmer and now filmmaker Gabe Klinger’s Porto plays at BFI Southbank today from a 35mm print. Shot on a variety of film stocks, it certainly looks the business, having screened to press yesterday on a DCP (Klinger was on hand to restart the film a few minutes in when it played in the wrong aspect ratio).

The director’s other jobs are readily apparent in the film’s cine-literate touchstones; it feels like something Philippe Garrel might have made, while certain images bring to mind Godard’s Le Mépris (1963) and, in one stunning moment, Angelopoulos’s Landscape in the Mist (1988). Utilising a complex narrative structure built as a series of refrains, the editing is often breathtaking; just as a scene cut to John Lee Hooker stands as one of the coolest meet-cutes in recent memory. Dedicated to its star, the late Anton Yelchin, the film stands as one of the actor’s final performances, and one of his best.

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Further Beyond

Further Beyond (2016)

Further Beyond (2016)

With their first two films, Helen (2008); Mister John (2013), having premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Further Beyond is the first from UK-based filmmaking partners Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor to bow at the LFF. It represents something of a departure from those earlier fiction features, a playful sort-of-documentary that goes to show the LFF Experimenta strand is anything but hard work for viewers nervous of the ‘experimental’ tag.

Beginning with a pair of voice-over artists questioning their role in what’s about to unfold, the film lays bare the filmmaking process, and the directors’ desire to make a biopic about Irish adventurer Ambrosia O’Higgins. They don’t like biopics, we’re told, not in any traditional sense anyway; so what follows is a witty deconstruction of the biopic and the documentary form, mischievous in its subversion of expectations and the relationship between viewer, subject, filmmakers and actors alike.

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Stockholm My Love

It wouldn’t be the LFF without a new a film by the prolific filmmaker and critic Mark Cousins. This one re-teams him with wild-child cinematographer Christopher Doyle (best known for his work with Wong Kar-wai) for a film that’s part city symphony, part essay film and part confessional. Gone is Cousins’ familiar voiceover, replaced with that of his subject, the musician Neneh Cherry, a Stockholm native who serves as guide to the city. As Cousins’ blurs the line between fiction and documentary, her narration slowly reveals past trauma as she explores Stockholm’s streets and architecture. It’s a woozy, Malickian wander, every bit the collaboration between director, DP and star, its soundscape alone demanding it be seen on the big screen.

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A selection of fine Instagrams capturing the Odeon Leicester Square decked out for Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation last night…

Meet the 17 British directorial debuts at this year’s LFF

Here’s a nifty little video, introducing all 17 of the British directorial debut features screening at this year’s Festival.

That’s a heady tally of movies, with subjects including a flood-addled family, a faked alien abduction, and a darkly comic tale about a pregnant woman goaded into unspeakable acts by her unborn child.

Hypnotic and enigmatic: Natalie Portman in Planetarium

Natalie Portman stars in the Dare strand highlight Planetarium, a story of American sisters in 1930s Paris. Ahead of the film’s premiere at Haymarket Cinema this evening, Nikki Baughan gives her verdict…

Planetarium (2016)

Planetarium (2016)

The dream team of director Rebecca Zlotowski (Grand Central) and stars Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp was enough to see me at the front of the queue for Planetarium, screening within the festival’s Dare strand. And it certainly proved to be a challenging watch: this tale of two American sisters (Portman and Depp) conducting seances in 1930 pre-war Paris – a path which leads them into the making of movies – is by turns hypnotic and wilfully enigmatic.

While the meandering narrative may be difficult to pin down, the performances – particularly from the luminescent Portman, who spends a great deal of time speaking French – together with the gorgeous production design and evocative score are just enough to carry the story. That said, attempts to actively engage with Planetarium in a traditional sense may prove frustrating; to really appreciate Zlotowski’s vision, you have to let it wash over you and give yourself up to its idiosyncratic charms.

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A brace of posters from today’s films – one old, one new. One set in Soho, one set in Brazil.

The Small World of Sammy Lee (1963) poster

First up, this striking design for the classic London thriller The Small World of Sammy, the new restoration of which will be unveiled at Picturehouse Central at 6pm tonight, not so very far from where Anthony Newley and co shot this jazzy, sleazy treat back in the 60s. More to read on that here.

Don't Call Me Son (2016) poster

Secondly, this minimal design is for Brazilian drama Don’t Call Me Son, about a bi-curious teen who discovers he was abducted at birth. This one gets its first bow at the Prince Charles Cinema tonight at 9pm.

Prevenge and the rise of the less-than-perfect mum on screen

In actor-turned-filmmaker Alice Lowe’s deliciously dark directorial debut Prevenge, which is playing at the London Film Festival after wowing at both Venice and Toronto, she plays a heavily pregnant woman who embarks on a murder spree after she hears her unborn fetus telling her to kill.

Prevenge (2016)

Prevenge (2016)

It’s a character far removed from the usual sanctified, self-sacrificing maternal figures traditionally seen on screen, writes Nikki Baughan, but Lowe is one of a growing number of filmmakers daring to explore the darker side of motherhood.

In 2014, Jennifer Kent’s deliciously ambiguous The Babadook saw a single mother struggling to cope with her troubled young son after the death of her husband; her grief and psychosis seemingly manifesting itself as a dark presence terrorising their home.

The Babadook (2014)

The Babadook (2014)

In a similar vein, Babak Anvari’s recent Under the Shadow sees a woman living in war-torn 1980s Tehran attempting to raise her young daughter alone, and succumbing to extreme paranoia after she becomes convinced that her bomb-damaged apartment is being haunted by a malevolent evil.

Genre cinema is, unsurprisingly, a natural breeding ground for flawed mothers. Consider Mrs Voorhees, mother of Jason, unmasked as the sadistic serial killer in Friday the 13th having embarked on her reign of terror to protect her beloved son.

With far less murderous intent but also driven right to the brink is Winona Ryder’s single mother Joyce, in small-screen sci-fi smash Stranger Things. While the disappearance of her youngest son sees Joyce descend into total psychological carnage, she is depicted as frazzled, chaotic and struggling – before this seismic event rips her life apart.

Comedy filmmakers, too, have taken delight in exploring the less-than-perfect mother in films such as Bridget Jones’ Baby and Bad Moms and, on the small screen, Sharon Horgan and Graham Linehan’s pitch-perfect Motherland.

Such stories are unafraid to present flawed, selfish and outspoken modern women whose children do not necessarily define their entire character, and who speak openly about the hardships of such unending parental responsibility.

Perhaps the most audacious and heartbreaking depiction of motherhood in recent years, however, comes in Susanne Bier’s brutal, bravura A Second Chance. Inspired by the secrecy surrounding postnatal depression, and posing a direct challenge to the notion that motherhood is a natural biological impulse, the film involves two very different women who are utterly unable to care for their infants, through depression and addiction.

It’s devastatingly unflinching in its honesty and, like any project that aims to portray the multiple sides of motherhood for scares, laughs or dramatic realism, should be celebrated.

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Classic film poster, reimagined

This is very cool. The creative folk over at Title Agency have decided to re-imagine some classic film posters to help celebrate the 60th year of the London Film Festival.

First up is this sleek new look for the poster for the 1957 trucking thriller Hell Drivers, which screened last night in an all-new digital restoration.

We could handle seeing a few more like this.

On the subject of Hell Drivers, hat tip to @Phil_on_Film for this pithy tweet on the film:

Crowds are already gathering for the big one this evening: our American Express Gala screening of Lion.

From photographers to autograph hunters, everyone’s waiting for the moment Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel arrive on the red carpet.

 

Sleek and stylish on the red carpet tonight… Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel arrive for Lion.

Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel: first pictures on the red carpet

Nicole Kidman meets a young fan as she attends the Lion American Express Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Nicole Kidman meets a young fan as she attends the Lion American Express Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Nicole Kidman attends the Lion American Express Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Nicole Kidman attends the Lion American Express Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel attend the Lion American Express Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel attend the Lion American Express Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Nicole Kidman attends the Lion American Express Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Nicole Kidman attends the Lion American Express Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Some breakfast viewing: here’s the action from last night as Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel arrived for Lion, our American Express Gala.

Three to see today

Here’s Ben Nicholson with a trio of top picks screening later today. 

The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography

The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography (2016)

The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography (2016)

Fans of documentarian Errol Morris may be a little surprised by the placement of one of his films in this year’s Love strand, given the political investigation central to his most famous output. This paean to polaroid is an altogether cosier affair; a palette-cleanser for crammed festival schedules in which large-format portrait photographer Elsa Dorfman is interviewed in a more genial fashion than we might be accustomed to.

Dorfman — and the director’s clear affection for his longstanding friend — make this an endearing treat that gradually morphs into something altogether richer. Under Morris’s expert eye a minor work becomes a poignant coda for analogue photography, as well as a meditation on the fleeting nature of physical media and the fading memories that they represent. Go in expecting a lightweight work and you’ll likely find profundity amongst the pictures.

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Certain Women

Certain Women (2016)

Certain Women (2016)

Festival regular Kelly Reichardt’s latest film is vying for top honours in the official competition, and it’s certainly one of the picks of the bunch. A textured study of life as a woman in rural Montana, it’s a triptych of stories adapted from Maile Meloy’s anthology Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It.

Everything about this deliberate quotidian narrative is judged to perfection, not least the exceptional performances from Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kirsten Stewart and newcomer Lily Gladstone. Reichardt isn’t one for overblown gestures, she finds her meaning and poetry in the quiet moments on the fringes of scenes. If you’ve struggled with Reichardt before, this might not be the film most likely to inspire conversion, but those seeking nuanced character drama should apply within.

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Kate Plays Christine

Kate Plays Christine (2016)

Kate Plays Christine (2016)

One of two films programmed at this year’s festival about the American news reporter Christine Chubbuck, who tragically killed herself on air in 1974, Kate Played Christine is one for those who like their non-fiction cinema a little more challenging.

Far from a traditional retelling of the story, director Robert Greene instead follows actress Kate Lynn Sheil as she prepares to play Chubbuck in the film’s own reconstructions. Knotty and thought-provoking, it interrogates the ethics of presenting such a story, the impossibility of truly capturing a real person, and the elasticity of the ‘reality’ of documentary film. It’s complex, haunting, and highly worth a watch for those who have also seen Antonio Campos’s Christine.

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Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel in conversation

To celebrate their work together on Garth Davis’s Lion, Festival Director Clare Stewart was yesterday joined by on-screen mother-son duo Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel for a Screen Talk covering their respective careers. Simran Hans has the scoop on what went down.

Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel attend the Lion American Express Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel attend the Lion American Express Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

On whether acting is intuitive or intellectual
Dev Patel: For me, it was survival. The only way not to get beaten up at school was to be funny.
Nicole Kidman: I always seek out the writer. If you’re working with a great writer, they’ve thought it all out.

On comedy
DP I have a natural goofy bone – that’s like my default! Making a fool of myself is very easy.
NK: Dev’s way funnier than me… I’d love to do a screwball comedy. You look at Carole Lombard and you just go, “where’s that?” I would love to see that again.

On the filmmakers that changed them
NK: [Stanley] Kubrick changed me on a cellular level. [Making Eyes Wide Shut] was like being in the best film school with the professor of all professors and he was very paternal towards me as well. He was a great teacher and a master. He would always challenge everything. What a fantastic opportunity – two years with him. I’m most satisfied when I’m working with what I call ‘The Philosophers’ – the directors who are actually the modern day philosophers, who are examining life and posing questions – like a Lars Von Trier or a Jonathan Glazer or a Jane Campion.
DP: Danny [Boyle] changed my life. He told me: “you have to be still.” That was a really important moment for me.

On what success means
DP: Success felt premature – I felt I hadn’t earned it yet. [Slumdog Millionaire] was a chance for me to earn that privilege I was given. I’m terrible with compliments – I respond better when people are hard on me.
NK: My relationship with it is very distant. Winning the Oscar [for The Hours] was incredibly validating at the time but it symbolised loneliness to me. I had no one to share it with.

On what inspires them
NK: I’m just fortunate that I’m endlessly curious about human beings. I can still fall to my knees when I see great theatre, great cinema, a painting, read a novel that I never want to finish because I’ve fallen in love with the characters.

On diversity
DP: Growing up I tried everything to shun my [Indian] heritage. [Slumdog Millionaire] opened doors for me, and people who look like me. You have to get into a mould to break a mould.

‘This feels more like a new wave film than state-sponsored propaganda’: Memories of Underdevelopment

Here’s David Parkinson in praise of Memories of Underdevelopment, a freshly-restored Cuban archive treasure from 1968 that screens this evening at 18:15.

Memories of Underdevelopment (1968)

Memories of Underdevelopment (1968)

A masterwork whose audacious style masks subtle subversion, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s adaptation of Edmundo Desnoes’ novel is a compelling study of how it feels to be swept along on the tide of history. Thirtysomething Cuban bourgeois Sergio Corrieri opted not to follow his wife and parents to Miami after the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion. But, while he struggles to fathom the revolutionary transformation being wrought around him, this alienated outsider comes to appreciate the enormity of the task facing Fidel Castro when he tries to shape the mind of 16 year-old lover, Daisy Granados. Juxtaposing documentary footage with a fictional narrative that is often presented from Corrieri’s perspective, this feels more like a new wave film than state-sponsored propaganda, even during a visit to the former home of Ernest Hemingway which is filled with metaphorical allusions to Cuba’s colonial past. But its genius lies in depicting dialectical realities with a cinematic wit to match its political trenchancy.

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‘I’m always curious about what goes on behind closed doors’: Mijke de Jong on Layla M.

Best film nominee Layla M. is a nuanced portrait of a Dutch/Moroccan teenage girl caught between conflicting cultures. Matthew Thrift sat down with director Mijke de Jong yesterday.

Layla M (2016)

Layla M (2016)

On the genesis of the film
We started the film four years ago, and I’d made a film previously within the same community about a Dutch convert, and I’d met a lot of girls like Layla. I knew I wanted to make a film in this world, and I’m always curious about what goes on behind closed doors. It was about telling the story without preaching, about addressing all the relevant questions of identity, of respect, of being loved. Within these conservative families, the youngsters want to break out, there are a lot of Laylas in Amsterdam.

On the need to tell a female story
My husband wrote the script, but as the director — and a woman — I felt I could get closer to a female character. Most of the stories told about women in this world depict them as shy, just following their husbands, but Layla is a big-mouthed feminist, and I wanted to warn other girls about the dangers involved in going to Syria.

On early drafts
In the first draft we just put in everything, it was all about our perspectives and answers to the question of radicalism. The script was more plot-driven and less about the characters, it was more politically correct. We worked hard to make it more subtle, more universal. That was the biggest challenge. It’s a love story too, a story about a girl who wants to find her own identity.

On casting Nora El Koussour as Layla
I didn’t want to work with a non-actor, because I think it’s too much of a responsibility. Nora was in drama school, but she’d never been in a film, she was really inside her head, paralysed with fear. We worked together for a year until she was ready. I saw it immediately, my assistant had shot some videos of various girls, and I knew there was something in her straight away. It’s all a question of time and trust. We built the character together, then visited mosques and meetings and a jihadist trial. We didn’t rehearse the scenes that much, it was just a question of addressing questions of character. By the time we got to shooting the big final scene, I didn’t need to say anything to her, she just played it.

On sensitivity
I was paralysed at the beginning by my need to be authentic. I did a lot of reading, but I didn’t dare ask the right questions due to political correctness. It took a while to realise my responsibility to being honest with the character and the communities.

 

 

‘The biggest surprise of the festival’: first reactions to Their Finest

This evening’s hot ticket is the Mayor of London’s Gala of Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest. This 1940s-set comedic drama screened for critics this morning, and early word is pretty stellar.

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‘If I shoot on film, I’m 10 steps ahead in selling it to the audience’: Billy O’Brien on I Am Not a Serial Killer

Billy O’Brien’s I am Not a Serial Killer is a deliciously dark tale of a sociopathic teenager, obsessed with serial killers, who finally meets one in the form of Christopher Lloyd, playing brilliantly against type. With some nifty tricks and twists up its sleeve, and stellar 16mm lensing from Robbie Ryan, this adaptation of Dan Wells’ cult novel is one of the highlights of the Cult strand. Matthew Thrift spoke to O’Brien at yesterday’s filmmaker afternoon tea.

I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016)

I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016)

On finding the project
There was a woman who was a reader for various film companies, finding projects and so on. I met her in the old Foyles coffee shop on Charing Cross Road — she’d been hired by the producer to find projects for directors and she found this for me. It’s a brilliant book, but I thought there’d be no chance of getting it. But we lucked out, the rights were available. So I wrote a letter to Dan Wells, opening my heart about how much I liked the book, which must’ve struck a chord because he gave us the rights. I kept him involved in the writing process, sending him all the drafts, he came on set too. It was a really great creative process. 

On changes to the book
The biggest change we made was that the book was all written in the first person. When we tried that in the script as a voiceover, it immediately felt very safe, you don’t worry about him. When we stripped it away we got very excited because suddenly it was very dangerous, the kid became very unpredictable. You didn’t know from scene to scene whether he was just a teenager or whether he could actually kill somebody.

On filming in Minnesota
It was great. You get bored of shooting in the rain in the UK or Ireland, and this actually felt like you were in a film — we’ve all grown up watching American films. It was a small mid-western town with all these big V8 engines, minus 20 degrees in the beautiful snow.

On working with cinematographer Robbie Ryan
Robbie went straight from us to Kansas to do American Honey, which was quite funny, going from one extreme to the other. We went to film school together and he’s shot all but one of my films. He’s got so big now that on my film before this I had to replace him as DP, despite him being only 30 miles away shooting Catch Me Daddy.

On shooting on 16mm
With the exception of Scintilla, everything I’ve shot has been on film. With this one, Robbie always used to shoot on Fuji, which shut its doors 3 or 4 years ago. He rang me and said he was buying enough Fuji film for two features, one for Andrea Arnold and one for me. It might be the case that we’re the last Fuji film. I did a stock take last week, and we might just have enough left for another one. I’ve always shot on film, I love the way it looks. I’m telling stories, not making documentaries. If I shoot on film I’m ten steps ahead in selling it to the audience. Digital has an antiseptic quality that means I have to work harder to create that world. 

‘We loved making a film about a time when cinema was really important’: Their Finest

Based on Lissa Evans’ novel Their Finest Hour and a Half, Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest recounts the efforts of the Ministry of Information Film Division during World War II to produce an inspirational propaganda film depicting the contribution of women to the home front effort. The male filmmakers know that to make an ‘authentic’ film the script will need a female touch, leading them to call on the help of Catrin (Gemma Arterton), a fledgling Welsh screenwriter to provide female dialogue in their tale of daring-do.  

Scherfig, producer Stephen Woolley, and members of the cast gathered at the Mayfair Hotel a little earlier today to discuss the film. Joseph Walsh was there to hear what they had to say.

Bill Nighy, Gemma Arterton, Lone Scherfig and Sam Claflin at the Their Finest photocall during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Bill Nighy, Gemma Arterton, Lone Scherfig and Sam Claflin at the Their Finest photocall during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

On an affinity for British stories
Lone Scherfig: I love London more than ever because of this film, and the chance to discover this unknown slice of the British film industry’s history. Primarily though it was the script, I related to it, and I felt close enough to the writer, and yet also believed that I had something to bring to the table.

On the role of female screenwriters in the 1940s
Stephen Woolley: ‘Nausea’ wasn’t a term widely used in the film industry but it was one used at Ealing Studios, and in fact, they had a Welsh screenwriter employed there called Diana Morgan.  I believe Lissa [Evans] who wrote the book picked up on the term ‘nausea’ and turned it into ‘slop’, that was a term used in America at the time for female screenwriters. There were a lot of women employed by studios during the war and given £50 and never given a screen credit. There was a woman employed to work on The Third Man, and we never knew what she wrote — for all we know she may have written the famous Orson Welles speech.

On the golden age of cinema-going
Stephen Woolley: We loved making a film about a time when cinema was really important. It was a matter of life and death. When they made films in the 1940s, they never knew if they would be able to make the film, whether the actors would show up, or whether they had been bombed. Each of these films was a love letter to America asking for help. Also, at the same time they were trying to keep people across Britain happy. For us, as producers, we think we have challenges, but looking back at what they had to contend with, my god, they had challenges. 30 million people would go to the cinema each week. That won’t happen again, it was the golden age of cinema-going.

On the focus of the film being women in the war
Gemma Arterton: I was very impressed when I read the script that at the centre of this story is a woman, and one who isn’t a glamorous character, but rather someone who is gentle.

Rachael Stirling: My character Phyllis is a true original. My favourite line of hers is, “He’s an actor. Unless you’ve reviewed him, or had intercourse with him, or done both simultaneously he wouldn’t know who you are.” This isn’t a navel-gazing film, even if it is a film about filmmaking, here you get to see the texture [of filmmaking]. To me, this film has all the elements you want to go and sit in a dark room for an hour and a half.

On how to get the best out of Bill Nighy and on playing a ‘hammy’ actor
Bill Nighy: I have never worked with RSC, and there is a very distinct hole of classical work on my CV because I refuse to operate in those trousers. If you want the best out of me, I have to be in a decent lounge suit. I have never met ‘ham’ [actors], I don’t think they survived into the modern era. This script is extremely satisfying in every area for me; it is a great role. They were looking for a chronically self-absorbed actor to play someone in their declining years and they came to me.

Why not make your own history?’: Žiga Virc on Houston, We Have a Problem!

Yesterday we caught up with director Žiga Virc to chat about his film Houston, We Have a Problem! This playful mixture of documentary and fiction takes the myth of the former Yugoslavia’s space programme and imagines how the Kennedy government might have co-opted it for America’s gain.

A couple of stylishly simple posters from films screening this evening. First up, Those Who Jump (Les Sauteurs), an intimate portrait of Malian refugees on northern Africa’s Mediterranean coast. It plays at 18:30 today at BFI Southbank, with two further screenings over the weekend.

Those Who Jump (2016) poster

Those Who Jump (2016) poster

Two Lovers and Bear is a mesmerising, occasionally terrifying journey through a remote frozen wilderness, starring Dane DaHaan and Tatiana Maslany. You can catch it at the Vue West End at 18:30.

Two Lovers and a Bear (2016) poster

Two Lovers and a Bear (2016) poster

‘A film that tries to bridge the conversation between gentrified and gentrifier’: Shola Amoo on A Moving Image

Here’s Joseph Walsh with a dispatch from the premiere of A Moving Image, which screens again this weekend.

A Moving Image (2016)

A Moving Image (2016)

“It is only now people are realising how cool and interesting south London is,” begins Shola Amoo, presenting his debut feature as part of the Festival’s Debate strand.

A Moving Image is a mixed media film which reflects on the impact of gentrification on South London, and the effect it has had on the ethnic communities who have resided there since the Windrush generation.

Explaining his decision to focus on Brixton he said, “It is because of its cultural legacy, and how it functions as a place for the Afro-Caribbean community, and that needs to be documented, but we need to broaden the conversation from the one note. We need to find nuances and layers in the conversation about gentrification.”

Amoo, who was born and raised in south London, is more than aware that, as a filmmaker living in the area, he is complicit in the problem of gentrification. “I had to ask who is this film benefiting, me or the community? That is a valid question, and that is the same question that our central character goes through.”

Amoo is referring to his protagonist Nina, played by Tanya Fear, an artist returning to her home after years away. “She feels hard done by, because she left, went to a more affluent area, but still feels she is a native Brixtonian. But she has to ask, how can she identify and create this project for the community in the knowledge she is part of the problem?” In many ways Nina could be seen as an embodiment of Amoo, whose own life reflects her moral dilemma.

For Amoo it is about asking the right questions in an attempt to understand a very complex issue that exists not only in London, but also Berlin, Paris, and New York, all of which are covered in his film. “Gentrification is such an international issue that the broad narrative of the piece is very relatable. While the film is experimental in form, the content is very accessible. People either felt on board with the issue of gentrification, or if they weren’t they were aware of their own complicity in gentrification.” He goes on to say, “A Moving Image is a film that tries to bridge the conversation between gentrified and gentrifier and puts them in space where they have to acknowledge the subject and discuss it.”

Their Finest: first pictures from the red carpet

Gemma Arterton attends the Their Finest Mayor of London's Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Gemma Arterton attends the Their Finest Mayor of London's Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Gemma Arterton meets fans at the Their Finest Mayor of London's Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Gemma Arterton meets fans at the Their Finest Mayor of London's Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Sam Claflin and Laura Haddock attend the Their Finest Mayor of London's Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Sam Claflin and Laura Haddock attend the Their Finest Mayor of London's Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Bill Nighy attends the Their Finest Mayor of London's Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Bill Nighy attends the Their Finest Mayor of London's Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Gemma Arterton and Sam Clafin rally the troops for WW2 comedy-drama

Watch the moment when the stars of Lone Scherfig’s comedy-drama Their Finest, about a crew of hapless filmmakers tasked with making propaganda during the Blitz, arrive at the our Mayor of London Gala

Star-packed day at LFF

Some exciting news this morning: Leonardo DiCaprio is now confirmed to attend the premiere of his new eco doc Before the Flood tomorrow…

And, talking of stars, today we’ll be seeing no less than Amy Adams and director Tom Ford hit Leicester Square for today’s headline gala Nocturnal Animals. 

Not to mention Michael Fassbender, who will be here for Trespass against Us.

And the small matter of Marion Cotillard and Léa Seydoux for It’s Only the End of the World.

In fact, that’s all just the tip of the iceberg.

We’ll have all the pictures and soundbites from the red carpet right here.

Top 5 Jake Gyllenhaal films

In about 40 mins we’ll find out what the press made of Nocturnal Animals, which is screening right now for assembled journalists ahead of its gala premiere tonight.

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

This latest film from Tom Ford (A Single Man), adapted from Austin Wright novel’s Tony and Susan, is exciting for many reasons – but not least as the latest stage in the unstoppable career of Jake Gyllenhaal, who has already been getting attention for his dark, twisted performance.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s Hollywood ascent has hardly been typical, writes Brogan Morris. Roland Emmerich’s climate change disaster flick The Day after Tomorrow aside, Gyllenhaal’s flirtations with the mainstream – Prince of Persia, Love & Other Drugs, Everest – have had limited impact, while his forays into indie and arthouse cinema, including Donnie Darko, Brokeback Mountain and Nightcrawler, have helped make him an A-list name.

While we wait for Nocturnal Animals to be unveiled, we couldn’t resist a quick take on Jake’s top 5 to date…

Donnie Darko (2001)

Donnie Darko (2001)

Donnie Darko (2001)

The film was almost buried by the studio after 9/11, owing to its plot hinging on a freak plane crash, but Donnie Darko’s mix of pulp science fiction, 80s nostalgia and teen comic drama was so irresistible, word-of-mouth turned Richard Kelly’s debut into a cult item and its lead into a new alternative star. Gyllenhaal here plays his first of many loners, a high schooler who may be schizophrenic or superman, depending on your interpretation. He would come to specialise in dark autopsies of American life, but Gyllenhaal’s breakthrough movie – a showcase for his gut-punch vulnerability – remains one of his most beguiling.

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

A landmark film for LGBT cinema, Ang Lee’s doomed romance Brokeback Mountain would help a group of former teen stars make their transition to adult roles, something Gyllenhaal particularly appears to relish in the lead. As the idealistic, hard-drinking lover of Heath Ledger’s buttoned-down ranch hand, Gyllenhaal gets the showier role, but he approaches it with quiet precision. His convincing evolution from young dreamer to bitter middle-aged patriarch, resentful of the family unit he’s built around himself as a way of hiding his homosexuality, betrays the fact Gyllenhaal was just 23 at the time of filming.

Zodiac (2007)

Zodiac (2007)

Zodiac (2007)

Gyllenhaal may have clashed with David Fincher on the set of the famously fastidious director’s sixth picture, but the struggle at least bore some of the richest fruit of either’s career. Gyllenhaal at first plays San Fran cartoonist-turned-Zodiac hunter Robert Graysmith as an everyman, but as a meticulous true crime thriller morphs into a study of obsession, Gyllenhaal’s wide-eyed naiveté gives way to an unblinking focus that borders on unhinged. Of all Gyllenhaal’s lonely men, Graysmith may be the most tragic, isolating himself to work out a puzzle that would never be solved.

Prisoners (2013)

Prisoners (2013)

Prisoners (2013)

After a string of critical and commercial flops, two filmmakers kickstarted Gyllenhaal’s creative rejuvenation in the 2010s: David Ayer, whose End of Watch Gyllenhaal said “changed [his] life”, and Quebecois filmmaker Denis Villeneuve. Gyllenhaal’s second collaboration with Villeneuve, 2015’s mind-bending Enemy, would find Gyllenhaal ably navigating a tricky double role (something he attempts again in Nocturnal Animals), but 2013’s Prisoners offered us our first clue that Gyllenhaal had shifted into a more introspective gear. In Villeneuve’s chilly mystery thriller, Gyllenhaal plays Det. Loki, a driven cop cliché on the page, but in whom the actor locates a deep well of anger, which occasionally erupts in bursts of rage or involuntary tics.

Nightcrawler (2014)

Nightcrawler (2014)

Nightcrawler (2014)

LA by night is fertile ground for sensationalist news vampire Lou Bloom, a freelance cameraman who discovers that cultivating his sociopathic tendencies (by creating his own gory headlines) is a good way to get ahead in today’s cutthroat media landscape. Gyllenhaal, starved and sunken-eyed, gives an unnervingly mannered performance as Bloom, who talks in learned catchphrases and prepared speeches as if he had to take a course in how to be human. It’s a turn both ghoulish and darkly comical, with Gyllenhaal maintaining Bloom’s chirpy façade even as the bodies begin to pile up.

Three to see today

If you’ve got that Friday festival feeling, but have not yet worked out how to scratch that itch, here are three options that come highly recommended by roving critic Matthew Thrift… with words too from their directors.

Callback

Callback (2016)

Callback (2016)

Ready for something intense today? You’ll not find a performance as brilliantly uncomfortable as that given by Martin Bacigalupo in Carles Torras’ English-language debut, Callback. Comparisons to John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer are hard to resist in this tale of a psychopathic loner who takes in a guest he’s found online. Strong stomachs are definitely needed for what follows, despite the lashings of black humour as Bacigalupo’s Larry attends a series of auditions in New York City. Torras and his lead maintain an excruciating level of squirming intensity, one scene in particular a litmus test for those who consider themselves fans of extreme cinema.

On Call

On Call (2016)

On Call (2016)

This terrific film from Alice Diop playing in the documentary competition covers the year the filmmaker spent with a GP and psychoanalyst at a walk-in centre for asylum seekers in Avicenne hospital. With no voiceover or authorial commentary, On Call brings to mind the films of the great documentarian Frederick Wiseman in its patient eye for its subjects’ stories. Shot entirely within the cramped confines of the doctor’s office, the film presents a series of consultations with men and women who suffered serious trauma in their respective journeys to France. The static camera captures the horrors of asylum and the bureaucratic restrictions faced by the staff at the centre in heartbreaking extended takes. A film of incredible compassion and humanity.

What the director said

On gaining access

I came across this place in a very random manner. I was doing a study on access to health for the poorest people in society. I came across this centre that’s built within a hospital, that’s run by a GP and a psychiatrist. It really moved me to see how they were treating refugees and people who really didn’t have anything left. So I asked the doctor if I could stay there a bit longer and talk to people, and I stayed there for a whole year with no cameras, just scouting the place and talking to people, trying to get a feel for what it is. That was a very long process, then I spent a year filming. A year allowed people to get used to the camera, get used to me and become a lot more open in telling their stories.

On the question of form

A lot of people confuse documentaries with journalistic reports. For me, a documentary is more of a work of art than a journalistic work, and a voiceover is something that a journalist would use for commentary. I don’t choose to comment, it’s my own subjective, artistic project and I wanted to allow the viewers to really get a sense of the suffering that these people endured. That’s why I chose to linger so long on their faces, not saying anything, because I felt that it helped create a better connection and say so much more than just words.

On the line between observer and participant

The last scene of the film really embodies what I was trying to show, where a South African woman has an anxiety attack. The doctor asked me to intervene, so I stopped being the filmmaker and became an active participant in what’s happening. The filmmaking process and the camera is part of the therapeutic process, it’s a part of their experience as much as it’s my experience. I’m not just their as a passive filmmaker, I’m the person they’re speaking to, I really engage with them. I have no qualms about that, I think it’s a good thing ultimately as it’s allowed these people to speak about their experiences and allowed their stories to travel.

After Love

After Love (2016)

After Love (2016)

Belgian filmmaker Joachim Lafosse returns to the LFF with this unflinching study of a relationship in decline. Recalling Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage in its relentlessly claustrophobic examination of what happen to a family when love has run its course, it’s anchored by two stellar performances from Berenice Bejo and Cedric Kahn. Lafosse’s refusal to pass judgment on his protagonists or take sides in a breakup defined by financial entanglements (its original title is L’Economie du couple) means no easy lessons are learned come the shattering resolution. Confined almost entirely to the home the couple are forced to share, the film is stifling in its emotional intensity, the few glimmers of hope that pass between the pair – especially a certain dance scene – prove shattering for being so fleeting.

What the director said

On avoiding tragedy

It was very important for me, because life isn’t tragic. It’s why I don’t like he translation of the title, it’s not the story of the end of love, it’s a story of the transformation of love. Both of these adults continue to love their children, and I wanted to show how it’s possible to go from one thing to another. The original title is ‘L’Économie du couple,’ which has a double-meaning in the context of the film. Our grandparents didn’t dare separate for moral or religious reasons, but our parents did, and with our generation we see – especially in the big cities – that people stay together for economic reasons, which isn’t really a progression. Often in love, when financial issues occur, it’s  a symptom of something much deeper.

On the question of class

There is a class struggle between the two characters, she’s from a wealthier background than him, but I think that he exaggerates and takes advantage of his position to make himself the victim. The question I’d like the audience to ask themselves is why isn’t it working out between them? To be in love and be in a loving relationship is always about losing something, really love is a big defeat. I’m not being cynical, it doesn’t mean that love is not possible, but it means that in order to love you need to accept he defeats and the losses. Once you’ve accepted that and if the relationship fizzles out, there’s always the desire to take back what you’ve given, which isn’t possible. They want to keep good accounts of their relationship, but you can’t count for love.

On not choosing sides

It’s the audience reaction that gives me the most pleasure. I’ve met so many people who have told me that this is their story, or they know people in similar circumstances, and as a filmmaker that’s the greatest compliment. A French psychoanalyst said something that I think is very true, “the father of a work of art is the public.” When I made this film, I wanted people not to have to choose between the characters, it’s what we say to children when people separate. I wanted the audience to experience the same thing. It was very interesting to work with four screenwriters, including myself. I didn’t want it to be egalitarian, where both characters are “right”. I wanted it to be obvious that it’s story that starts and ends with two people. If someone says that it’s all one character’s fault, that’s the beginning of immaturity.

There’s been a scramble from Leicester Square to Picturehouse Central, as the press legged it in their hoards from the Nocturnal Animals preview screening to Free Fire. The latter is the new Ben Wheatley, which will close the festival on Sunday. The press are getting a sneak peek as we speak…

‘A lot of the 60s and 70s filmmakers see women as this mysterious “other”’ - Gabe Klinger on Porto

Ahead of the screening of Porto at Curzon Mayfair tonight, Matthew Thrift caught up with the debut feature director Gabe Klinger to discuss this cinematic love letter to the Portuguese city and its cinephile influences.

Porto (2016)

Porto (2016)

What made you decide to set the film in Europe?

Aren’t all great love stories set in the old world? It’s Manoel de Oliveira’s hometown. He’s cinema’s patron saint of Porto. Like the Variety review said, a valentine like this one is long overdue.

Where did the idea of using multiple film formats come from?

It started as a conceptual challenge. I wanted there to be certain limitations as to how we could tell the story. So I decided on these three formats and had a structure for that at the beginning, which changed along the way. At its core though, it’s the same as when we started out. You’d think that the process might change things, but your best ideas survive the evolutionary process.

How much did the project evolve from your initial conception?

Even at our budget level you still want the producers and the money people to have some assurance that you have a plan. I didn’t want to be cavalier about how I was spending their money. I mean, if someone comes along and gives you a blank cheque, that’s another story. If you’ve presented a script, you are in a certain way beholden to it, I think there’s some responsibility.

I was talking to Olivier Assayas last night about that aspect of making movies that get distributed in cinemas, where people have already read the script before the movie is made, you don’t want to disappoint them. You can’t go off the rails, or maybe you can if you’re Terrence Malick, but I’m not there yet.

Anton Yelchin and Lucie Lucas shooting a street dialogue scene for Porto

Anton Yelchin and Lucie Lucas shooting a street dialogue scene for Porto

How did your other job as a programmer and critic play into the filmmaking process? There’s that great shot in the fog that looked like an homage to Angelopoulos’ Landscape in the Mist, and Godard’s Le Mépris in the bedroom scenes…

It’s funny, people have brought up Le Mépris a lot, but it’s not a movie that was on my mind while we were making it, but maybe unconsciously? There are certainly other Godard films I was thinking of…

And Resnais?

Resnais, sure. More in the script stage and in the editing stage. I think those are the best times to bring in references, because shooting is just so chaotic you don’t get a chance, which is great because then you can just be really intuitive about your influences. Nobody on a film crew responds to references, they want specific instructions. You’re working with people who perhaps aren’t cinephiles, so you have to meet them halfway and find other ways to approach the material.

I’m a cine-child and tend to approach everything through the lens of cinema, which makes it very hard for certain people to relate to. So this was a process for me of community-building and goodwill, of growing as a human being. It’s really about storytelling – I know that’s a term that gets thrown around a lot – but it’s not really about me indulging my fantasy of making this operatic film, it’s just about telling a moving story.

Philippe Garrel came to mind while watching the film as well, his intimate miniatures of amour fou…

Well that’s a great compliment for us! J’entends plus la guitare (1991) is just so great in the way that it uses ellipses to tell the story.

Gabe Klinger

Gabe Klinger

My favourite is the one he made with Nico after La Cicatrice intérieure, but I can’t remember the title…

Shall we IMDb it?

That’s cheating! It’ll come to me in a second… But Lucie Lucas’ character in Porto has a little Nico in her, as the Proust-quoting ‘crazy’ girl…

I think a lot of the 60s and 70s filmmakers, and I include Godard in this equation, see women as this mysterious ‘other’, they’re really fawning. In Godard’s case it can be quite misogynistic sometimes, like Masculin Feminin not only borders on misogyny but actually goes full-on into it.

So I’m not proud when people say to me that it reminds them of those muses of that period. On the other hand, there are some incredible performances there and for every misogynistic representation of the female ‘other,’ there’s an amazing performance like Anna Karina in Vivre sa vie, or something as devastatingly real as Chelsea Girls by Warhol, which is a movie I think about a lot.

So if Nico is an influence for me, I’d put her more in the Warhol context than the Garrel context.

So how does one go about getting the balance right when dealing with that type of character, making sure she doesn’t fall into the manic pixie category of fantasy figure?

For me it was very important just to talk to Lucie about that, to get her perspective about it. There were little things we changed in the script as soon as she came on board. We’d have long conversations and she’d annotate her printout of the script, and sometimes at the end of the day I’d go and read it and see what we could work with.

Le Berceau de cristal – that’s the one!

Oh yes! That’s not a well known one at all. I’m surprised you got to see that one. I think he kind of disowns that one. A lot of those early ones he doesn’t often give permission to screen…

I’m getting the eye to wrap this up, but now I just want to chat some more about Garrel…

Can’t we just keep going?

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You’ve got to love these LFF origami notepaper sets… props to lollipopdesigns

Werner Herzog makes surprise appearance

It looks like Werner Herzog made a surprise appearance at LFF this afternoon to introduce the second screening of his connected-age doc Lo and Behold. He was around the festival for his Screen Talk, but audiences for the film did not know to expect the great German director…

All those people who took a day off to watch this… yeah, probably not regretting it.

Private Property ‘ranks alongside Psycho and Peeping Tom as a masterpiece of twisted male desire’

Our latest recommendation comes for a vintage film screening again this weekend: the long-lost film noir Private Property. Alex Davidson was bowled over…

Private Property (1960)

Private Property (1960)

Every year a grotto of restored archive treasures get their UK premieres at the London Film Festival. I’ve seen nearly 40 new festival features at screenings so far, but the best film I’ve seen yet is Leslie Stevens’ menacing noir from 1960, starring Warren Oates and Corey Allen (the latter is particularly arresting) as two drifters who set their immoral sights on a rich, neglected Beverley Hills housewife (Kate Manx).

With disturbing themes of sex, violence and misogyny, it’s unbearably tense and disturbingly sexy – a slow dance with Allen clamping his hand over Manx’s mouth is both unnerving and erotic. Unsurprisingly, the Legion of Decency in the US was horrified by the film. 1960 was a year that produced Psycho and Peeping Tom; Private Property is far less explicit, and Manx’s character has far more agency than the victims of the other films, but Stevens’ film ranks alongside them as a masterpiece of twisted male desire.

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‘Shooting action scenes on the streets of Cairo was suicidal’ - Clash director Mohamed Diab

Tomorrow night brings awards night to the festival, when we’ll find out who and what gets crowned the best of the best.

One of the films up for the best film prize is Mohammed Diab’s Clash, a thriller set within the confines of a police van as the Egyptian protests of June 2013 rage outside.

In case you missed the screenings, here’s a video catchup of the moment Diab told the audience about the risks in staging a fictional riot…including setting off a real one.

Final countdown to the Archive Gala

The Informer (1929)

The Informer (1929)

Over at BFI Southbank, final preparations are underway for this evening’s Archive Gala screening of The Informer, Arthur Robison’s masterly 1925 portrait of a newly-independent Ireland. Recently restored by our friends at the BFI National Archive, tonight’s screening will be accompanied by a newly commissioned score by Garth Knox, performed live.

Whether or not you’re heading along, check out this feature about the film and its restoration by Bryony Dixon.

 

LFF top fives

As we enter the final weekend of the Festival, it’s time for our bloggers to reflect on their personal highlights. First up, here’s Paul O’Callaghan with his top five.

5. The Untamed
I walked into Amat Escalante’s latest having read nothing about it, and was totally floored by its seamless melding of gritty domestic drama and erotic, sci-fi tinged body horror. It’s positively loaded with simmering intrigue and unsettlingly memorable imagery – think Cronenberg meets Carlos Reygadas.  

The Handmaiden (2016)

The Handmaiden (2016)

4. The Handmaiden
Every bit as bizarre as you’d imagine a Sarah Waters adaptation from the director of Oldboy might be, Park Chan-wook’s playful take on erotic melodrama Fingersmith is a gloriously overwrought affair. Closer in tone to the sumptuous Lady Vengeance than the ultra-violent thrillers that made the director’s name, it nevertheless builds to an eye-popping climax.

3. Elle
As a lifelong Paul Verhoeven fan (I saw Robocop aged 7 thanks to a friend’s spectacularly lax parents), it was a thrill to discover that the ageing enfant terrible has lost none of his ability to provoke in the 10 years since he last visited the Festival with Black Book. Elle is a sublime, genuinely unpredictable comedy thriller which explores the aftermath of a rape from the perspective of the victim, a steely Parisian video game producer played by Isabelle Huppert in what may be her finest performance to date.

2. Manchester by the Sea
I can’t think of another film in recent times that so perfectly captures the multifaceted messiness of grieving and processing trauma. Casey Affleck is magnificent as a hard-drinking Boston janitor, forced to return to his home town after the death of his brother. The real masterstroke is how writer-director Kenneth Lonergan mines tragic circumstances for organic humour, ensuring that the year’s most heartbreaking film is also one of the funniest.

Moonlight (2016)

Moonlight (2016)

1. Moonlight
Barry Jenkins’ Medicine for Melancholy (LFF 2008) was certainly a promising debut, but the leap he’s made as a filmmaker with this long-awaited follow-up is staggering. It’s a meticulously crafted, gently devastating portrait of a young African-American struggling to come to terms with his sexuality in an aggressively macho environment. I can think of no better response to last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy than for this exquisite, timely study of black masculinity to receive the wide distribution and awards success it so thoroughly deserves

Nocturnal Animals: first footage from the red carpet

Here’s Nocturnal Animals director Tom Ford explaining why we’ve had to wait so long for his follow-up to 2009’s A Single Man.

Nocturnal Animals: first pictures from the red carpet

 Amy Adams attends the Nocturnal Animals Headline Gala during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Amy Adams attends the Nocturnal Animals Headline Gala during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Aaron Taylor-Johnson attends the Nocturnal Animals Headline Gala during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Aaron Taylor-Johnson attends the Nocturnal Animals Headline Gala during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Elizabeth Chambers and Armie Hammer attend the Nocturnal Animals Headline Gala during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Elizabeth Chambers and Armie Hammer attend the Nocturnal Animals Headline Gala during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Tom Ford attends the Nocturnal Animals Headline Gala during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Tom Ford attends the Nocturnal Animals Headline Gala during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Amy Adams attends the Nocturnal Animals Headline Gala during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Amy Adams attends the Nocturnal Animals Headline Gala during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

‘To be in a loving relationship is always about losing something’: Joachim Lafosse on After Love

After Love is a beautifully observed portrait of the final weeks of a marriage, which screens this evening at 20:45. Matthew Thrift caught up with director Joachim Lafosse.

After Love (2016)

After Love (2016)

On avoiding tragedy
It was very important for me, because life isn’t tragic. It’s why I don’t like the translation of the title — it’s not the story of the end of love, it’s a story of the transformation of love. Both of these adults continue to love their children, and I wanted to show how it’s possible to go from one thing to another. The original title is ‘L’économie du couple,’ which has a double-meaning in the context of the film. Our grandparents didn’t dare separate for moral or religious reasons, but our parents did, and with our generation we see — especially in the big cities — that people stay together for economic reasons, which isn’t really a progression. Often in love, when financial issues occur, it’s a symptom of something much deeper.

On the question of class
There is a class struggle between the two characters, she’s from a wealthier background than him, but I think that he exaggerates and takes advantage of his position to make himself the victim. The question I’d like the audience to ask themselves is why isn’t it working out between them? To be in love and be in a loving relationship is always about losing something, love is really a big defeat. I’m not being cynical, it doesn’t mean that love is not possible, but it means that in order to love you need to accept the defeats and the losses. Once you’ve accepted that and if the relationship fizzles out, there’s always the desire to take back what you’ve given, which isn’t possible.

On not choosing sides
It’s the audience reaction that gives me the most pleasure. I’ve met so many people who have told me that this is their story, or they know people in similar circumstances, and as a filmmaker that’s the greatest compliment. A French psychoanalyst said something that I think is very true, “the father of a work of art is the public.” When I made this film, I wanted people not to have to choose between the characters, it’s what we say to children when people separate. I wanted the audience to experience the same thing. It was very interesting to work with four screenwriters, including myself. I didn’t want it to be egalitarian, where both characters are “right”. I wanted it to be obvious that it’s a story that starts and ends with two people. If someone says that it’s all one character’s fault, that’s the beginning of immaturity.

On directing children
I don’t do a formal casting session with the kids, I do it with the parents, because I know that it’s the parents of the potential child actors who will be on set and responding to everything. I think that every child can act, and they lose this capacity to act as they grow up. I’m not afraid to work with kids at all, there are certain methods that help — for example on set, I’m not the one who talks to them, I talk to the adult actors and they’re the ones who talk to the kids. If you’re coming from the outside and say ‘do this, do that,’ it doesn’t work, they take everything at face value. All the physical aspects of a shoot — the lights, the stopping and starting — help them realise it’s a fiction, and of course we talk about that before as well.

 

Nocturnal Animals director Tom Ford in London

Some Saturday morning viewing on, gulp, day 11… Tom Ford comes to London for Nocturnal Animals

The director of A Single Man brings his new film, along with cast members Amy Adams, Armie Hammer and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, to the capital. Based on the novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright, Nocturnal Animals tells the story of an unhappily married gallery owner (Adams) who starts to visualise a violent novel written for her by her ex-husband

Three to see today

It’s Saturday, the penultimate day of the festival and the film feast continues unabated.

Today brings not only the premiere of two politically charged new American films, Oliver Stone’s Snowden and the Leonardo DiCaprio climate change documentary Before the Flood, but it’s also awards night, when we’ll be crowning the winners of the festival’s competition strands and handing out a BFI Fellowship to the mighty Steve McQueen.

We’ll have moment-by-moment coverage of the awards right here, but let’s kick off the weekend with some Saturday viewing recommendations, which today come courtesy of critic Ben Nicholson.

Richard Linklater – dream is destiny

Richard Linklater - dream is destiny (2016)

Richard Linklater - dream is destiny (2016)

Richard Linklater fans are in for a treat with this warm documentary portrait of the perennially indie filmmaker. Louis Black, the editor of The Austin Chronicle, and Karen Bernstein take the reins and pull off the coup of extensive access to the man himself as they follow his career from his breakthrough debut Slacker to some behind-the-scenes footage of his most recent film, Everybody Wants Some!!

Linklater has had missteps and troubles along the way, and the film is not oblivious to them – particularly when it comes to financing less conventional fare, like Boyhood – but this an ode to him, not a penetrating investigation. Much like Linklater himself, it has undeniable charm.

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Goldstone

Goldstone (2016)

Goldstone (2016)

Back in 2013, Australian director Ivan Sen brought Mystery Road to the festival; a slow-burning outback cop thriller starring Aaron Pedersen as aboriginal detective Jay Swan. Now Swan, Pedersen and Sen are back with another dose of their particular brand of western-cum-crime drama with superior sequel, Goldstone.

Audiences will be quickly reacquainted with (or be introduced to) Jay as he pulls into the eponymous township to investigate the disappearance of a young girl, a bottle of liquor in hand. Soon he becomes embroiled in a plot that takes in secret prostitutes, people trafficking, police corruption, and a gargantuan goldmine. Jacki Weaver, David Denham and David Gulpilil all provide sterling support, but it’s Pedersen who really shines as the haunted detective surrounded by desert and afraid to turn his attention inwards.

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Rodnye (Close Relations)

Rodnye (Close Relations) (2016)

Rodnye (Close Relations) (2016)

Recent years have seen multiple documentaries made about the frontline of the Euromaidan protests, not least Sergei Loznitsa’s Maïdan and Evgeny Afineevsky’s Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom. Lauded documentarian Vitaly Mansky (Pipeline, Under the Sun) goes for a different tack, travelling the country from Lviv to Odessa to Sevastopol to visit relatives and craft the narrative of Czech uncertainty through the lens of fluctuating familial tensions and allegiances.

It’s a complex scenario for those without a vague knowledge of the Ukrainian situation, and rapt attention will probably be required. However, it all pays off in the end with a nuanced meditation on national identity and a unique personal look at the fractured fallout of the collapse of the soviet Union.

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Marion Cotillard and Léa Seydoux pictures

These stunning shots were taken on the red carpet last night for It’s Only the End of the World — the latest film from Canadian director Xavier Dolan.

Lea Seydoux and Marion Cotillard attends the It's Only the End of the World BFI Flare Special Presentation screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Lea Seydoux and Marion Cotillard attends the It's Only the End of the World BFI Flare Special Presentation screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Lea Seydoux attends the It's Only the End of the World BFI Flare Special Presentation screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Lea Seydoux attends the It's Only the End of the World BFI Flare Special Presentation screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Marion Cotillard attends the It's Only the End of the World BFI Flare Special Presentation screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Marion Cotillard attends the It's Only the End of the World BFI Flare Special Presentation screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Oliver Stone: 10 essential films

No stranger to controversy on and off the screen, Oliver Stone comes to the London Film Festival tonight with the whistleblower drama, Snowden, writes David Parkinson.

Snowden (2016)

Snowden (2016)

Stone has been ruffling feathers since his Oscar-winning screenplay for Midnight Express (1978) upset the Turkish authorities. He has since produced contested trilogies on the American presidency and the Vietnam war, as well as making several documentaries in Latin America and a combustible alternative history of the United States.

But, brandishing his ability to entertain and provoke, Stone remains unrepentant in his determination to make audiences think for themselves rather than sleepwalk into accepting the official version. Yet, he claims to specialise in “dramas about individuals in personal struggles” rather than political tracts. Perhaps that’s why he’s always been able to bounce back from furores with the mantra, “Don’t stop. Don’t think. Keep moving.”

With just hours to go before Snowden gets its UK premiere, here’s a reminder of Stone’s best.

Buy tickets for Snowden

Salvador (1986)

Salvador (1986)

Salvador (1986)

Based on the experiences of gonzo photojournalist Richard Boyle, Oliver Stone’s third feature has been castigated for its often reckless blend of fact and fiction. But the commitment to expose the American right’s role in El Salvador’s civil war and the gritty potency of the action have a Costa-Gavras ring to them.

Platoon (1986)

Platoon (1986)

Platoon (1986)

Stone requested combat duty in Vietnam in 1967 and this unflinching reflection on his experiences brought the twice-wounded infantryman the best picture and director Oscars to go with his Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Basing Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe’s sergeants on comrades in arms, Stone captures the divisiveness of the conflict and how little the American public knew of its dehumanising horrors.

Wall Street (1987)

Wall Street (1987)

Wall Street (1987)

The son of a stockbroker who had traded himself in Paris at 17, Stone was perfectly placed to assess the “greed is good” mindset of a community that had jettisoned an inconvenient value system. Michael Douglas reprised the Oscar-winning role of Gordon Gekko in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010), but Donald Trump’s scene was cut from the original.

Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

Central to the Vietnam trilogy completed by Heaven and Earth (1993), this adaptation of war-wounded peace activist Ron Kovic’s autobiography earned Stone his second Oscar for best director. The symbolism is hardly subtle. But, with Tom Cruise excelling as the all-American boy enduring unbearable truths, Stone builds an imposing edifice from the clichés that has a sobering recurring relevance.

JFK (1991)

JFK (1991)

JFK (1991)

Revered and reviled in equal measure by conspiracy theorists obsessed with the Dallas assassination of President John F. Kennedy, this technically dazzling assault on the Warren Commission is Stone’s masterpiece. If you want verifiable historical accuracy, look (in vain) elsewhere. But for cogent scripting, directorial audacity and bravura acting, this mythic, epic three-hour ‘artistic interpretation’ is hard to beat.

Natural Born Killers (1994)

Natural Born Killers (1994)

Natural Born Killers (1994)

Amid all the brouhaha over the rewriting of Quentin Tarantino’s script, the sometimes brutal on-set mayhem, the bitter censorship battles, the conservative backlash, the copycat killings, the lawsuits and Stone’s mischievous attitude to violence and product placement, it was almost forgotten that this unflinching satire on media sensationalism is a stylistic tour de force, whose c.3000 cuts across 18 different film formats took 11 months to complete.

Nixon (1995)

Nixon (1995)

Nixon (1995)

Joining JFK and W. (2008) in Stone’s presidential pantheon, this speculation on the demons that haunted Richard Nixon from his childhood to Watergate often feels like a Shakespearean variation on Citizen Kane (1941). Avoiding impersonation and caricature, Anthony Hopkins leads an impeccable cast in turning paranoic chicanery into an American tragedy.

Any Given Sunday (1999)

Tapping into insights gleaned while working on baseball movies in his pre-feature days, Stone sought to expose the dark side of football culture in a project welded together from three different scripts. Made without NFL sanction, this dramatically intense, technically flamboyant excursion into the blood-and-guts gladiatorial nature of sport could easily have been called Sacking Quarterback Ryan.

Comandante (2003)

Comandante (2003)

Comandante (2003)

The first of three films about Fidel Castro (he’s also made two about Hugo Chévez), Stone’s documentary debut is an intimate profile-cum-guided tour that was filmed over three days. The canny questions rarely breach the dictator’s defences. But Stone discovers a love of Bardot and Chaplin in coaxing “the About Schmidt of political leaders” into recalling the pivotal events of his career.

The Untold History of the United States (2012-)

Four years in the making, this 10-part television series trades on Stone’s reputation as a revisionist iconoclast. Yet, while the adroit amalgam of archive material and movie clips seeks to put a new spin on America’s 20th century, a reliance on historian Peter J. Kuznick and editor Alex Márquez largely prevents Stone from becoming too fanciful or contentious.

Not for the faint-hearted: The Autopsy of Jane Doe Q&A

If you enjoyed – if that’s the word – this year’s stomach-churning cult gala The Autopsy of Jane Doe, you may like to revisit this moment when Trollhunter director André Øvredal and his creative team took to the stage to dissect their film’s icky charms.

‘The story of Athens’ Olympic village tells much about the recent history of Europe’: Sofia Exarchou on Park

Screening at the Prince Charles Cinema this afternoon, Park follows a group of bored youths gathering in the concrete wasteland of Athens’ Olympic village. With little hope in life, they turn to the deserted site as a playground for teenage kicks and aggression. Georgia Korossi sat down with the director Sofia Exarchou to talk about her debut feature.

Park (2016)

Park (2016)

On winning the New Directors’ Award at this year’s San Sebastían Festival

It’s great! Park is only released recently and it’s fantastic to see it taking its own life so quickly and being received so positively.

On how her project kicked off

Sofia Exarchou, director and screenwriter of Park, attends the FilmMaker Afternoon Tea during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Sofia Exarchou, director and screenwriter of Park, attends the FilmMaker Afternoon Tea during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

I wanted to tell the story about kids who live in an abandoned place where there’s no hope. It could be anywhere in the world, in any time and any place. At first I was looking into the dangerous areas of Athens but when I heard about the story of the deserted Olympic village and its houses that were given to poor families via a lottery scheme, I thought it was perfect. People from different areas in Athens started living together out of nowhere.

When I saw the place I realised that it was the location I was looking for because it’s a no-man’s land, like a dystopia, not because of a war or a disaster but because of the Olympic Games. Of course it tells the story about Greece in the past decade but it also illustrates western reality right now. So it fit all my ideas and combined with the story of the kids it made me start the process of developing the script.

On filming in the Olympic village

We didn’t just use the Olympic village. At times we used other venues and created the environment of the village itself. Initially it wasn’t challenging at all to gain access and film there but it’s now harder because it’s being used as a refugee camp. The story of this place from 2004 to 2016 tells much about the recent history of Europe. It’s a place of sports glory that eventually got abandoned and now used as a roof for the refugees of Syria.

On a unique Greek/Polish co-production

It’s very rare and it came from its development stage at Sundance’s Directors’ Lab. I stayed there for a month and we practiced and shot some of the scenes with a whole crew. My director of photography, Monika Lenczewska, is Polish. She really wanted to do the postproduction in Poland because there’s a very good postproduction house so we decided to use these facilities.

On Athenian kids

I learned a lot from the kids I worked with. I wrote the story and when I read it to them I got this huge push to make this film only because I met these kids. I’m not the same age as them but I feel for them: they live in a difficult time, more difficult than the one I grew up in myself. Sad and difficult but at the same time I really believe they have the energy to go through these times.

On her majority-female crew

Collaboration and diversity are so important, not just in film but in the arts in general. But for us, I don’t know how it came up, but the producer, the head of department and so on happened to be all women. There are a lot of very good women filmmakers now in Greece and it’s getting much better for them. My advice would be don’t be afraid to reveal yourself and push things further. You’ll surely make something of it.

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Ire and Brimstone

Up for the best film prize at tonight’s awards bash, Martin Koolhoven’s dark western Brimstone has been ruffling lots of feathers so far at LFF with its uncompromising vision of the old American west. “If I make a film about violence to women, you should be uncomfortable watching it,” Koolhoven explained at the event’s Q&A, after the film’s first screening here in London.

Gael García Bernal in Neruda - poster art

Another awards night hopeful in the best film category tonight is Neruda, the latest film from Pablo Larrain, which he describes as an anti-biopic of the Chilean poet and diplomat Pablo Neruda.

Neruda (2016) poster

Neruda (2016) poster

The film is just getting under way in its second screening, down at the Embankment Garden Cinema, and this poster gives a sense of what the rest of us are missing, featuring a vest-wearing Gael Garcia Bernal against a backdrop of the Andes.

 

 

‘I don’t like violence in movies ... It’s pornographic to me’ - Carles Torras on Callback

Run, don’t walk if you want to catch Callback, which screens at the ICA in half an hour.

Carles Torras’ English-language debut follows budding actor – and budding nutcase – Larry on a series of auditions. When he rents out his room to a girl he meets online, things take a turn for the worse. Matthew Thrift asked the director about this indictment of the American dream from an immigrant’s perspective…

Watch the Callback trailer

On lead actor and co-writer Martin Bacigalupo

I was living in New York for a while, working on a different project, when a mutual friend introduced us. We started talking about working together one day, before sharing this vision of what it means to be an outsider in American society. Martin is an actor, who lived in New York for eight years, going to many auditions. We had many conversations about how humiliating it can be sometimes, so had this idea of a crazy guy who wants to break into commercials.

On theme

We wanted to make a film about a wannabe actor who’s a psychopath. I’ve met a lot of actors who appear to be acting all the time in their normal lives too, and this is about a man pretending to be something he’s not. It’s about an immigrant who’s pretending to be an American, who’s ashamed of being an immigrant, so reproduces all these American stereotypes.

On writing

First we developed the character, working out his goals. Then I took care of the structure and plot, while Martin wrote the dialogue. He speaks the language almost like a native, which was very necessary.

On budget and form

When we were writing the script, I knew that we’d have very little money to make the film. I wanted to work with a very small crew, just seven people. I didn’t use a makeup artist apart from a few scenes with blood, because I wanted the cast to look like they do in real life. If filmmaking is like cooking, I wanted to serve this steak rare. We didn’t use a score part from a couple of songs at specific moments, and never moved the camera unless we really had a reason to.

On screen violence

I don’t like violence in movies, where the filmmaker seems to be enjoying it, making it last longer and longer. It’s pornographic to me. So I try to approach violence in a very austere way, not showing something that’s unnecessary. The scene in the middle of the film is filmed in an establishing shot before a cut to the outside of the building. Of course, there’s the impact of the blow, but it’s like being punched in the face, you don’t know how to react. I tried to keep it real. It can be hard to watch for some people, but I tried to do it in an honest way.

A time capsule of a period before indie cinema: Born in Flames

The latest in the festival’s parade of archival treasures to screen is Lizzie Borden’s feminist classic Born in Flames, which audiences will be sitting down to in NFT3 at 17.45 today. David Parkinson explains why it still feels so relevant…

Born in Flames (1983)

Born in Flames (1983)

Five years in the making, this landmark of feminist cinema is set 10 years after the Social Democratic War of Liberation and reveals how New York women holding staunchly diverging opinions unite to challenge the iniquities and inequalities of the post-capitalist patriarchy.

As radical in its approach as in its politics (director Lizzie Borden cites Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers as an influence), the narrative links pronouncements, debates and confrontations with montages, set-pieces and a deceptive strain of satirical humour, as diametric radio presenters Honey and Adele Bertei enlist with Flo Kennedy’s vigilante Women’s Army after activist Jean Satterfield dies in police custody.

With Kathryn Bigelow playing a socialist reporter, this is a fascinating time capsule of a period before independent filmmaking, let alone social media. What’s depressing is how little some things have changed. But, of course, the climactic explosion at the World Trade Centre after the president’s speech about paid housework now has added potency and poignancy.

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LFF top fives

In the second of our series of LFF blog contributors’ top fives, Alex Davidson whittles his 40-strong viewing list down to a handful of the very best…

5. Taekwondo

Taekwondo (2016)

Taekwondo (2016)

BFI Flare favourites Marco Berger and Martín Farina return with a shameless homoerotic tale of a boys-only weekend in Buenos Aires that threatens to teeter into romance territory. It may be a gay man’s fantasy about how straight men play when women are away – I’m sure the reality doesn’t contain quite so much nudity – but when it comes to filming hot guys gone wild, nobody does it better.

4. La La Land

La La Land (2016)

La La Land (2016)

A lot of people have said this musical is their favourite film of the fest, and it’s easy to see why. The songs are great, the dancing even better. Emma Stone is wonderful as the romantic lead, it’s funny, it’s dreamy (check out the planetarium scene) and LA has never looked so good. The opening scene is a wowzer, but the final scene was my favourite.

3. On the Other Side

On the Other Side (2016)

On the Other Side (2016)

This one still keeps coming back to me weeks after I saw it at a press screening. A Croatian woman (Ksenija Marinković, brilliant) is haunted by memories of the past when her estranged husband calls her at work. Initially cold – we learn that he has a very dark past – she gradually softens to the idea of letting him become part of her life once again. It’s gripping throughout, not least in its final chapter.

2. Christine

The story of Christine Chubbuck, a talented local newsreader plagued by depression who killed herself on air, is so upsetting that I hope it doesn’t put people off seeing this excellent drama. Rebecca Hall has never been better, ensuring that Christine is not defined by her death, showing a clever, funny, flawed woman battling depression, chauvinism and loneliness – a fight she would ultimately lose.

1. Private Property

Private Property (1960)

Private Property (1960)

It’s been a marvellous year for new cinema, but my highlight was discovering this forgotten noir from 1960, newly restored and ready for its time in the spotlight. Two drifters (Corey Allen and a pre-stardom Warren Oates) set their sinister sights on seducing a rich, lonely housewife (Kate Manx). It’s tense, it’s unnervingly sexy (check out the slinky slow dance), and it’s begging for rediscovery. I pray it gets a cinema release.

Shelter with Lav

Just as the heavens open over London, those people with tickets for The Woman Who Left at the festival this evening look to have the right idea. Nothing says shelter like a four-hour Lav Diaz movie.

Matthew Thrift was over-awed by “one of the year’s best films”…

The Woman Who Left (2016)

The Woman Who Left (2016)

Despite having some 15 features to his name before its release, it wasn’t until 2013 that Lav Diaz broke out of the more obscure corners of the festival circuit with Norte, the End of History. It was the first of the Filipino filmmaker’s works to receive UK distribution, and he’s since become a force to be reckoned with on the international stage.

His follow-up to Norte, From What Is Before (LFF 2014) took the Golden Leopard at Locarno, while A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery saw Meryl Streep’s jury award him the Alfred Bauer prize “for a feature film that opens new perspectives” at the Berlinale back in February this year.

You’d think that one major prize-winning film in a year – especially one that runs over eight hours – would represent a pretty strong work rate, but Diaz was back seven months later with The Woman Who Left, taking the Golden Lion for best film at the Venice film festival in the process.

Running a mere 226 minutes, it’s effectively a short by Diaz standards (three of his films run over nine hours), and certainly the more easily digestible of his two 2016 titles; its more focussed and straightforward narrative concerns at odds with the previous film’s sprawling journey into the Philippine revolution.

Lullaby remains without UK distribution, and while The Woman Who Left’s comparative brevity suggests it stands a better a chance of being picked up, it’ll still be a brave distributor who takes it on.

The two LFF screenings might be the only chance you get to see one of the year’s best films.

Here’s Joely Richardson talking to us on the red carpet just now about her part in Oliver Stone’s new whistleblower drama Snowden.

Some mood-setting as Snowden gets under way… shout out to Instagrammer williamdorn.

Up-close shot with Steve McQueen arriving at Banqueting House, Whitehall for tonight’s awards ceremony. Later tonight, McQueen will be getting the BFI Fellowship, the biggest honour we’ve got to give. We’ll have coverage of the full awards ceremony here from 9pm tonight.

Jeremy Corbyn out for Snowden

An unexpected arrival on the red carpet for Snowden this evening. Here’s Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn at the side of Oliver Stone.

Jeremy Corbyn and director Oliver Stone attend the Snowden Headline Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Jeremy Corbyn and director Oliver Stone attend the Snowden Headline Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

And here are a few words from Stone…

The awards are about to begin!

We’re now in situ at Banqueting House, Whitehall for the glitzy awards ceremony which will crown this year’s festival competition winners.

It’s about 10 minutes till kick off now. To while away those moments, let’s enjoy these vox pops caught with several of the guests this evening.

These are the films that in the running for the best film prize tonight: a real cross-section of the best in world cinema at the moment. We’ll be finding out who’s won just after 10pm.

Martin Koolhoven, BRIMSTONE
Kelly Reichardt, CERTAIN WOMEN
Mohamed Diab, CLASH
Paul Verhoeven, ELLE
François Ozon, FRANTZ
Ivan Sen, GOLDSTONE 
Mijke de Jong, LAYLA M. 
Barry Jenkins, MOONLIGHT
Pablo Larraín, NERUDA
Terence Davies, A QUIET PASSION
Benedict Andrews, UNA
Makoto Shinkai, YOUR NAME

Host Michael Sheen has strutted onto the stage, giving a welcome to all “suckers for celluloid”.

Sheen’s opening speech is emphasising the international nature of the LFF programme this year, with films from more than 70 countries. “Immigrant films” he likes to call them, he says. Which raises a wry smile or two among the audience.

The nominations for best short are...

Anna Friel’s here to announce tonight’s first award: the one for best short.

This one goes out to a short form work “with a unique cinematic voice and a confident handling of chosen theme and content”. Which one of these will best fit that definition?

Ivete Lucas, Patrick Bresnan, THE SEND OFF
Réka Bucsi, LOVE
João Paulo Miranda Maria, THE GIRL WHO DANCED WITH THE DEVIL
Issa Touma, Thomas Vroe§ge, Floor van der Meulen, 9 DAYS – FROM MY WINDOW IN ALEPPO
Patrick Tarrant, THE TREMBLING GIANT
Anna Maguire, YOUR MOTHER AND I
Kevin Jerome Everson, EARS, NOSE AND THROAT
Ena Sendijarevic, IMPORT
Amy Nicholson, PICKLE
Ali Asgari, Farnoosh Samadi, THE SILENCE
Jed Hart, CANDY FLOSS
Ana Vaz, THERE IS LAND!

Anna Friel now introduces Slow West director and jury member John Maclean to announce the winner…

Best Short is 9 Days - From My Window in Aleppo

And the winner is 9 Days – From My Window in Aleppo, directed by Issa Touma, Thomas Vroege and Floor van de Muelen.

9 Days (2016)

9 Days (2016)

Jury president and Academy-Award-winner, Mat Kirkby said:

“When Syrian photographer Issa Touma decided to pick up his camera and film events from his window in Aleppo, he did not know whether he would be alive to finish the filming. 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 the nominations for best documentary are...

David Tennant’s up on stage now. It’s time for the Grierson Award for Best Documentary.

These are the nominated films:

Jenny Gage, ALL THIS PANIC
Eva Orner, CHASING ASYLUM
Jon Nguyen, Olivia Neergaard-Holm, DAVID LYNCH: THE ART LIFE
Claire Simon, THE GRADUATION
Khushboo Ranka, Vinay Shukla, AN INSIGNIFICANT MAN
Alma Har’el, LOVETRUE
Alice Diop, ON CALL
Ulrich Seidl, SAFARI
Marco Del Fiol, THE SPACE IN BETWEEN – MARINA ABRAMOVIC AND BRAZIL
Mehrdad Oskouei, STARLESS DREAMS
Keith Maitland, TOWER
Andreas Dalsgaard, Obaidah Zytoon, THE WAR SHOW

It’s to be Louise Osmond who announces the winner. As director of Deep Water and Dark Horse, she’s no stranger to great documentaries herself.

She presided over a jury that included producer and director David Dehaney; producer, director and writer Edmund Coulthard, whose credits include McQueen and I and Hunger; the Vice Chairman of the Grierson Trust Sanjay Singhal and the director, producer and cinematographer Sean McAllister, whose documentary feature debut A Syrian Love Story was BAFTA-nominated.

Best documentary is Starless Dreams

And the winner is Starless Dreams, the complex portrait of juvenile delinquent women at the extreme margins of Iranian society, by veteran documentarian Mehrdad Oskouei.

Starless Dreams (2016)

Starless Dreams (2016)

Mehrdad Oskouei

Mehrdad Oskouei

“Starless Dreams is the story of young women in a juvenile detention centre in Iran,” says Louise Osmond. “By that description you’d imagine a dark film exploring a bleak world of broken young lives. This film was the very opposite of that. It took us into a world none of us knew anything about – the street kids, thieves and children of crack addicts of Iran – and showed us a place full of humour, life and spirit.

“Beautifully paced with great characterisation and a very strong sense of place,” she continued, “director Mehrdad Oskouei captured the fears and friendships of these teenagers with such humanity. The profoundly moving irony of the film is that it was in this detention centre, with others like them, that these girls finally found a sense of family and home; you feared for them most the day they were released back into their family’s care. It’s a film that stays with you for a very long time”.

And the nominations for best first feature are...

It’s Romola Garai’s turn on stage to remind us what competed in the jury’s affections for the best first feature prize. Also known as the Sutherland Award.

These are the contenders:

Jorge Riquelme Serrano, CHAMELEON
Darren Thornton, A DATE FOR MAD MARY
Houda Benyamina, DIVINES
Johannes Nyholm, THE GIANT
Mohamed Ben Attia, HEDI
William Oldroyd, LADY MACBETH
Hope Dickson Leach, THE LEVELLING
Claude Barras, MY LIFE AS A COURGETTE
Bartosz M. Kowalski, PLAYGROUND
Gabe Klinger, PORTO
Julia Ducournau, RAW
Wang Yichun, WHAT’S IN THE DARKNESS
Daouda Coulibaly, WÙLU

Suffragette director Sarah Gavron will be crowning the winner. 

On her jury were novelist and screenwriter David Nicholls (Far from the Madding Crowd, One Day); director and producer George Amponsah, whose film The Hard Stop featured in the Debate strand last year (LFF 2015); chief UK film critic for Variety Guy Lodge; British actor Matthew Macfadyen (Anna Karenina, Frost/Nixon); and Nira Park, the BAFTA-nominated British producer of Spaced and the celebrated Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy.

The winner will be revealed any second…

Best first feature award goes to Julia Ducournau for Raw

Hurrah for Raw!

Director Julia Ducournau takes the first feature gong for her playful coming-of-age body horror tale about a young woman’s insatiable appetite for flesh.

Raw (2016)

Raw (2016)

About Raw, Sarah Gavron says: “It is a film that shocked and surprised us in equal measure. We admired the way the director did something completely unexpected with the genre. We enjoyed the outrageousness of the story-telling, and the glee with which events unfolded. We loved the eerie originality of the setting, the dark, dark humour, the great score and the truly distinctive visual language. And the bold charismatic acting of the women at the centre of a film that is both unique and unsettling and will quite literally make some swoon.”

The jury also give a special commendation to Uda Benyamina’s Divines for its standout female performance from Oulaya Amamra and for its “great energy and veracity”.

So now comes the time for the announcement of this year’s best film.

Striding to the stage to reveal all is Athina Rachel Tsangari, who got to be jury president this year after her film Chevalier won the LFF Best Film prize last year.

Those nominations again:

Martin Koolhoven, BRIMSTONE
Kelly Reichardt, CERTAIN WOMEN
Mohamed Diab, CLASH
Paul Verhoeven, ELLE
François Ozon, FRANTZ
Ivan Sen, GOLDSTONE 
Mijke de Jong, LAYLA M. 
Barry Jenkins, MOONLIGHT 
Pablo Larraín, NERUDA
Terence Davies, A QUIET PASSION
Benedict Andrews, UNA
Makoto Shinkai, YOUR NAME

And the winner is Certain Women

It’s Kelly Reichardt’s year for Certain Women!

Kelly Reichardt filming Certain Women (2016)

Kelly Reichardt filming Certain Women (2016)

“In a vibrant year for cinema”, reckoned the jury, “it was the masterful mise en scène and quiet modesty of this film that determined our choice for Best Film. A humane and poignant story that calibrates with startling vulnerability and delicate understatement the isolation, frustrations and loneliness of lives unlived in a quiet corner of rural America”.

Huge cheers around the room as Steve McQueen bounds to the stage to collect his BFI Fellowship. This is the last and most prestigious award of the night.

It’s his old compadre Michael Fassbender to present the award.

He’s only sure of two things: he’s black and he’s a Londoner. Steve McQueen’s words as he collects his Fellowship award.

And that wraps up another awards night. It’s been fun hasn’t it?

Time for the assembled guests to take a break from speeches and hit the bar… and the dancefloor.

Meanwhile, the press room here in Whitehall will slowly begin to empty out. Time to make a dash for the tube. How’s the weather looking?

 

Snowden director Oliver Stone: ‘What we do with his revelations is up to us’

Speaking at the Snowden premiere, director Oliver Stone explains how the world has changed since former NSA analyst Edward Snowden leaked information that proved that democratic governments were spying on their own citizens. Snowden, which stars Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Rhys Ifans and Joely Richardson, tells the story of how Snowden shared confidential information with the Guardian newspaper.

Three to see on the final day

And so here we are… the final day of the festival. This is the day that Ben Wheatley will bring a thunderous close to proceedings with the hail of bullets and F-words that is his warehouse shootout caper Free Fire. 

Free Fire (2016)

Free Fire (2016)

It would be a mistake to think that the pace slackens off until then though. Shake off that morning sleepiness and head out into the rain for your last chance to engorge yourself on a cinematic Sunday roast. These three tips from Alex Davidson should get you started…

The Last Laugh

The Last Laugh (2016)

The Last Laugh (2016)

Is it ever OK to make jokes about the Holocaust? Plenty of (mainly Jewish) comedians do, as seen in this intelligent, often very funny documentary featuring great insights from Mel Brooks (who makes fun of Nazis but not the Holocaust), Sarah Silverman (who has no such qualms), Abraham Foxman (National Director of the Anti-Defamation League who is disgusted by such jokes) and, most interestingly, a couple of survivors, who provide the sharpest commentary.

The film is often hilarious – I got glares in the cinema during Louis CK’s riff on the little girl screaming “Goodbye Jews!” in Schindler’s List, as I was laughing too loudly over the following discussion. But the serious points about freedom of speech vs the morality of making light of genocide are very well made.

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The Lives of Therese

The Lives of Thérèse (2016)

The Lives of Thérèse (2016)

Anyone who has seen Sébastien Lifshitz’s 2012 documentary Les Invisibles, in which French gay men and women in their 60s and 70s talk about their lives and loves, will remember Thérèse Clerc, who broke from a loveless marriage at the age of 40 to embrace feminism and queer activism. Suffering from an incurable disease, she allowed Lifshitz to film her final weeks, and the film serves as a very moving testimony to a remarkable woman.

You don’t have to have seen Les Invisibles to become immersed in this woman’s fascinating life story. She’s a very engaging documentary subject – my favourite scene is where she argues with her granddaughter about how the latter can possibly be a feminist unless she sleeps with women. It’s a fitting tribute to a true one-of-a-kind.

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Mercenary

Mercenary (2016)

Mercenary (2016)

A Pacific Islander (from New Caledonia) gets his chance to escape his cruel father when he attracts the attention of a professional football team scout in France. With no money, no friends and no experience outside of his home island, he nonetheless quits the family home and takes the plunge, flying to France to embrace an uncertain future.

Sacha Wolff makes a punchy directorial debut with this searing male melodrama, and elicits strong performances from his mostly non-professional cast. Wallisian culture and traditions, very rarely seen in fiction films, are sensitively depicted (this is another film at this year’s that knows how to deliver a killer final scene). I hope it gets UK distribution. If not, today may be your last chance to catch it in a cinema.

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Some breakfast viewing on the morning that Steve McQueen wakes up a BFI Fellow. Here he is talking at the festival awards last night, after he collected his fellowship on stage with Michael Fassbender…

Leonardo DiCaprio on climate change: ‘Denying it is like denying gravity exists’

In this candid video from last night, Leonardo DiCaprio sticks it to climate-change deniers at the premiere of his new doc Before the Flood.

With director Fisher Stevens, he reveals what compelled him to make the film charting the effects of a changing climate first-hand around the world.

Design classics: 10 of the best LFF brochures

Our festival may be drawing to a close, but 60 years ago on this very day the very first edition was just beginning. To celebrate, enjoy these vintage designs for LFF brochures from the 60s through to the 90s.

LFF brochure 1962

LFF brochure 1961

LFF brochure 1965

LFF brochure 1966

LFF brochure 1975

LFF brochure 1983

LFF brochure 1977

LFF brochure 1979

LFF brochure 1988

LFF brochure 1985

Fred Astaire’s favourite dancing partner?

Some films feel perfect for Sunday afternoons, and David Parkinson finds one of them at a festival matinee today: the Fred Astaire-Rita Hayworth romane You Were Never Lovelier.

Hollywood tended to blur the lines in its wartime ‘Good Neighbour’ movies. Indeed, Fred Astaire’s reunion with Rita Hayworth after You’ll Never Get Rich (1941) was going to be called Carnival in Rio before Columbia decided it made more sense to set its remake of Argentine Francisco Múgica’s comedy of errors, Los martes, orquídeas (1941), in Buenos Aires.

Despite being forced to rehearse in a funeral parlour, Astaire and Hayworth formed such a good team that he declared her his favourite dance partner after his sister Adele. However, the teasing scenario very much follows the format of Fred’s RKO pictures with Ginger Rogers, as romance only blossoms after the initially feuding twosome take a turn to the Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer number, ‘I’m Old Fashioned’. Hayworth’s vocals might have been dubbed by Nan Wynn, but she more than holds her own against Astaire in ‘The Shorty George’, while he ranked ‘Audition Dance’ among his best solos.

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‘I wanted to make the Arab Mad Max’ - Ali Mostafa on The Worthy

Audiences at Curzon Mayfair last night enjoyed a unique Arab world take on the post-apocalypse movie. Joseph Walsh asked director Ali Mostafa why changing perceptions of Arab culture is so important.

The Worthy (2016)

The Worthy (2016)

British-Emirati filmmaker Ali Mostafa has made a career trying to correct western perceptions of the United Arab Emirates. His first film, City of Life, repositioned Dubai as not a playground of the rich, but a place with real people living out everyday lives. He was heavily criticised for it, with some claiming his film showed the city in a less than positive light.

His latest film and third feature, The Worthy, takes a well-worn genre of western cinema – the post-apocalyptic sci-fi – and positions it against the backdrop of the UAE.

The planet has collapsed into chaos, and the Arab world is little more than a wasteland. Shuaib (Samer Al Masry), along with his children and a small band of survivors, heads for one of the last remaining water sources and sets up camp. Once established in their new home, Shuaib is met by two visitors who begin to test the survivors to judge whether they are worthy of life.

Director Ali F. Mostafa attends the FilmMaker Afternoon Tea during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Director Ali F. Mostafa attends the FilmMaker Afternoon Tea during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

“This is the first post-apocalyptic Arab film,” says Mostafa. “It is a story about humanity, and while it is an action thriller and an edge-of-the-seat film, it has a real soul,” he explains.

For Mostafa, this film was an opportunity to create a movie that is at once rooted in Arabic culture but conversely would have international appeal. “It is a universal story, and although it is set in Arabia, and has nuances of what is going on in that part of the world, it is about human beings caught in a battle for survival – there is little more relatable than that,” he explains.

It’s something he has sought to do in his other films. “Even in my last film, when I made a road movie about two guys that drive from Abu Dhabi to Beirut [From A to B], it was about making my people relatable to the western world, without the stereotypes or sense of Orientalism that is usually depicted in film.”

The Worthy is not for the faint of heart, and plunging the audience into the brutal, unforgiving world of his protagonists is central to Mostafa’s approach. “I wanted to make the world we see in the film truly uncomfortable for the audience. I want them to ask how they would feel in that situation, what they would feel, taste and smell if they faced such a situation. I wanted the audience to walk out of the cinema and feel stained and dirty from what these characters experience.”

As to what other movies had inspired this film Mostafa said, “I have always been a Mad Max fan. I love post-apocalyptic films and the grittiness that they possess. While I love western cinema, I wanted our film to have that but also to have its own voice; I wanted it to be the Arab version. I didn’t want to mimic, but rather to make a story that is unoriginal, original.” 

‘I tried to follow Herzog’s rule: “Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness”’

The Space Between: Marina Abramovic and Brazil, screening again shortly at the ICA, sees the performance artist travel to South America to experience a number of escalating rituals in preparation for a New York show. It’s an eye-popping experience, especially for cynical urbanites, climaxing in a nightmarish ayahuasca ceremony. Matthew Thrift spent a few minutes with the film’s director, Marco Del Fiol.

The Space in Between - Marina Abramovic and Brazil

The Space in Between - Marina Abramovic and Brazil

How did you first meet Marina?

I’ve been working on documentaries on contemporary artists for 16 years. I worked with a Brazilian performer called Paolo Garcia, who was Marina’s assistant on this project. She wanted to travel through Brazil to research spirituality for a gallery piece. Someone managed to finance the trip, but Paolo contacted me saying, “Marco, we need help!” They had an idea of making a documentary, but there wasn’t much more than that.

Were you at all cynical of the rituals she experienced?

Marco Del Fiol attends the BFI London Film Festival Awards during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Marco Del Fiol attends the BFI London Film Festival Awards during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

My main interest is in the line between spirituality and art. I think both expand our realisation of what it means to be alive, both expand the borders of what we think we know. I was very interested in the relationship between ritual and performance. The state of mind that Marina goes to in order to realise a performance and the state of mind reached by a medium, healer or shaman is almost the same. There are very specific elements that are the same: the long period of time taken to either perform one of Marina’s installations or a shaman takes for a ceremony, the element of repetition in both, the mental preparation…

The first shaman she visits was incredible, but so disturbing. He was basically a cult leader, right?

This guy has been doing this for 40 years! I don’t think he’s a fraud. He’s a very complex guy, people expect these kinds of healers to be saints, but he’s a regular guy. He’s full of faults and has a lot of issues to solve in his personality, but he’s allowing his body to open itself to these entities so they can work through him and do this stuff. You see in the film, it’s really impressive, he does these surgeries without any medical procedures, with no anaesthetic he just takes a kitchen knife and scrubs away someone’s blindness.

It’s a hard scene to watch.

He opens a woman’s belly with a knife, puts his fingers in and moves them around. Marina was like a child watching this. It was fascinating for me to see how this worked in parallel with her history as an artist, her work in the early years cutting herself and laying down in fire, it was all really brutal.

The ayahuasca ceremony was so tough to watch, but I could’t take my eyes of the screen…

This was the only ritual Marina asked me not to shoot. She felt very, very bad as you can see in the  movie. I was worried for her life and for the life of her photographer [who also took part]. I was seriously thought they might die. Then the shaman told me not to worry, they’re having a ‘peia,’ something like a hangover. “Nobody dies from a peia,” he said. So I thought, if no one dies from a peia, I’ll shoot it! Marina was so out of her mind that she couldn’t even see me, so I shot from a distance and tried to follow Herzog’s rule: Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness.

The Ghoul director Gareth Tunley: ‘We were galvanised by Ben Wheatley’

Ahead of its screening at Picturehouse Central this afternoon, The Ghoul’s director Gareth Tunley tells us why his early work as an actor in Ben Wheatley films such as Down Terrace inspired him to pick up a camera and shoot his own low-budget crime thriller.

LFF top fives

Last day is the time to tot up your festival experience and turn it into a listicle. This one comes from a contributor who has seen a staggering 70 of this year’s LFF titles. How did Matthew Thrift pick just five?

The measure of how great any given year’s LFF is, lies in how difficult it is to pick five favourites for this blog over the closing weekend. This year it’s basically impossible. Despite it only being October, I was thinking the other day of contenders for my top 10 of 2016. Another impossible (and premature) task, but of the 10 I came up with, eight played at the LFF. Even discounting films like Toni Erdmann and The Death of Louis XIV, which I caught at other festivals, doesn’t make this any easier. With my Polish-Meryl pleas of “don’t make me chooooooose!” going unanswered, I guess I’d better pick my five…

5. The Woman Who Left

The Woman Who Left (2016)

The Woman Who Left (2016)

With his last film running over eight hours, this late-addition to the LFF programme is practically a short by Lav Diaz’s usual standards. It’s also a much more focussed work than his last one, and sees Diaz return to Russian literature (Tolstoy, this time) after Norte, the End of History (LFF 2013). Few filmmakers prove as committed to ‘big themes’ like Diaz, or utilise time and form with such conceptual rigour. It took best film at Venice, deservedly so.

4. A Quiet Passion

A Quiet Passion (2016)

A Quiet Passion (2016)

Reviews out of the Berlinale back in February weren’t kind to Terence Davies’ Emily Dickinson biopic, but for this viewer, any cause for concern was quickly dashed. Forgoing the gut-wrenching melodramatics of last year’s (great) Sunset Song for a study of the crippling conflict between the emotional and artistic life, it’s a heartbreaking – and surprisingly hilarious – work of formal mastery from our greatest filmmaker.

3. Dawson City: Frozen Time

Dawson City (2016)

Dawson City (2016)

Working on the assumption that Kenneth Lonergan’s terrific Manchester by the Sea will deservedly find a place on most of these lists, I’m giving this slot to a stunning under-the-radar find. Bill Morrison’s love letter to film and the eponymous city proves a melancholically imbued act of excavation and salvage. Catnip for celluloid-romantics, here’s hoping this gets picked up for wider distribution. It demands to be seen on the big screen.

2. Certain Women

Certain Women (2016)

Certain Women (2016)

It’s impossible to do Kelly Reichardt’s most assured film to date any kind of justice in the space of a couple of sentences. It’s a work of magnificently understated, quiet power. Three stories; four exquisite lead performances (Oscar for Lily Gladstone, please); one filmmaker at the top of her game.

1. Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey

Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey (2016)

Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey (2016)

It’s fitting this should screen during a week that sees Marmite making headlines, given the polarising position occupied by Terrence Malick in recent years. I fell for this one, hard. In this feature-length expansion of the birth of the universe sequence in The Tree of Life (2011), Malick cements his peerless position as American cinema’s most singular poetic voice.

Michael Fassbender on Trespass against Us: ‘The script was like a slap in the face’

Another chance to see Fassbender in action here. This is him answering your questions with the cast and crew of new crime saga Trespass against Us, in which he stars alongside Brendan Gleeson. Last chance to see this one is at 15.15 this afternoon.

Paul Schrader: ‘Boooooooring! Another strip club scene’

He was the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood when he sold his script for The Yakuza. He wrote Taxi Driver and The Last Temptation of Christ, a film his dad campaigned against in his home town. He’s directed micro-budgeted independents (The Canyons), studio mega-flops (Dominion: The Prequel to the Exorcist) and more than his share of masterpieces (Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters; American Gigolo; Cat People).

A poster for Paul Schrader’s Dog Eat Dog (2016)

A poster for Paul Schrader’s Dog Eat Dog (2016)

Now, Paul Schrader’s back with new film, Dog Eat Dog, a stylistically batshit crime caper starring Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe, which screens again this afternoon at the LFF. Matthew Thrift chewed the fat with the great director…

You had a tough time with your last film, Dying of the Light. How did that experience feed into this one?

Dog Eat Dog wouldn’t have existed without Dying of the Light. Nic Cage and I wanted to work together again and have final cut, but I more than him wanted to redeem myself, to show that I was capable of delivering a film that people would see, that it didn’t need to be taken away from me. I came across this script that had no attachments to it, no financing. When I read that opening scene, I thought, “maybe this one…” I sent it to Nic, who said he wanted to do it, but that he had just played a crazy person, so he wanted to play Troy, the straight character.

So that’s how it all began, all of a sudden I’m doing a crime film. Now, I’m not a crime film director. I didn’t set out to make a crime film. So the task became: what does a crime film look like in 2015? After Tarantino, after Scorsese, after Guy Ritchie. That became the challenge. Not so much to be faithful to Edward Bunker’s novel, but to make a crime film that felt like today. To do this I assembled this group of young people, all from outside film, to try to look at this in a completely fresh way.

Did having an inexperienced crew bring a lot of benefits? Or challenges?

Well, they didn’t really know what the rules were. They had grown up in this post-rule generation where kids are making films with their phones at the age of seven or eight. When people say, “let’s think outside the box,” it means they’re already in the box. I wanted people who couldn’t find the box if you asked them.

Final cut gives you permission to act with abandon if you want to. This film looks like you really didn’t want to squander that permission.

It means you can be fresh without asking anybody permission for anything. At the beginning of the film there’s a strip club scene, and I said to the guys, “Boooooooring! Another strip club scene.” Every single one looks the same; the same red and blue light, same backlight and fog machine. How the hell do you make a strip club scene look interesting? Well there hasn’t been a black and white strip club scene since Lenny, so let’s just do that. Don’t explain why, offer no explanation, just shoot it and people will be so puzzled over why it’s in black and white that they won’t realise that it might be boring. That’s the only reason it’s in black and white!

Dog Eat Dog (2016)

Dog Eat Dog (2016)

What makes you decide to go looking for a script rather than choosing to write one yourself?

In this case I was looking for something for Nic, a genre piece that I could get financed. Every four or five years you back off and write a script the comes from the place you’re in at that time. That’s how I began with Taxi Driver, but you can’t write that script every year. As your life changes and your situation changes, you look for metaphors for where you are in life’s passage.

What makes Dog Eat Dog a Paul Schrader film?

Hahahahaaaa! Look, I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved over the decades with some important and prestigious films. This is not one of them. Hahahaahhaaaaaa!

Starless Dreams poster art

Last night’s winner of the best documentary prize, the Iranian doc Starless Dreams, screens again this evening at Curzon Soho.

Maybe next year we should have an award for best poster too?

Starless Dreams might have clinched this as well…

Starless Dreams (2016) poster

Starless Dreams (2016) poster

The LFF tickets pic is a veritable Instagram genre unto itself, but this is a particularly fine example. Props to transitorydreams

‘I made a graph in Excel to judge the flow of the movie’ - Jorge Caballero Ramos on healthcare doc Patient

It took me more than half an hour of Jorge Caballero Ramos’ Patient to realise I was watching a documentary, writes Matthew Thrift. It’s a testament not just to the formal qualities of one of the best documentaries playing this festival, but also to the resilience of its lead, Nubia, a mother battling not only with the Kafka-esque bureaucracies of the Colombian healthcare system, but with the emotional agony of a daughter dying of cancer.

Patient (2016)

Patient (2016)

One of the most tender and restrained films I’ve seen at this year’s LFF, Ramos delivers a heartbreakingly humane portrait of a mother and daughter in her dying days in a mere 70 minutes. Ahead of its second screening tonight in NFT3, we spoke with the director.

On finding a subject

It was a long process, almost five years between research and production. We wanted to make a film that was a much from the patient point of view as from the doctor’s. We found that the natural bridge were the carers, so we began by asking them if they’d like to take part. Over many months we were asking around and investigating, and we found various patients, one of whom was Nubia and her daughter. We explained the project to the daughter, who accepted before explaining it all to her mother. We shot for five or six months, filming every day, so we became very familiar with them.

On maintaining his subject’s dignity

This is my third film, and I always have a set of rules during production, from the symmetry of the shots to the lenses we use. The decision to keep the young girl out of the frame was a decision I made at the very beginning, made to maintain her dignity. It was very difficult because while we were shooting a film about bureaucracy with the Colombian health system, we were also filming the last days of a person. After two or three months we started shooting both Nubia and her daughter, as a means of keeping some record of her life. It wasn’t until the editing process that we realised it was a mistake. While we were shooting, I didn’t realise the distance the needed to maintain.

On managing material

We shot almost 150 hours of footage, but I have certain methods to work my way through it. I divided the material into three or four groups. The first was very aesthetic. The second – I’m an electrical engineer, I studied cinema on my own, so I have a very mathematical way of looking at things – I numerically classified what each segment represented, in emotional and formal terms; I assigned them a value based on the information each part gave to the viewer. I would make a graph in Excel to judge the flow of the movie in these terms, based on information vs feeling vs consequence.

I’d then, having come down to 40 hours of footage, bring in another editor to take a look from an outside perspective, which would take me down to six or seven hours of material. I’d then take back control and bring it down to two hours, before showing it to an audience. Once that was done, I’d fine tune it, and that’s what brought me to the 70 minutes we finished with.

Orange Sunshine: ‘These guys were making hundreds of millions of doses of LSD in a place where Reagan and Nixon were popular’

Orange Sunshine, another of tonight’s last-night options, is a documentary that tells of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, a group of surfers in 1960s California who were responsible for developing the psychedelic from which the film gets its name.

Orange Sunshine (2016)

Orange Sunshine (2016)

Director William A. Kirkley filmed this selfie for us to tell us about his movie, and also went longer on the film below.

On gaining access

I grew up in Orange County, where the story takes place. It was almost like a local urban legend, I’d heard stories when I was younger about this group in Laguna Beach that moved all this LSD, that Timothy Leary was involved with. When I decided to pursue it as a film, nobody wanted to talk about it. Some of the people involved were still on the run, still in hiding after all these years, while others were still involved in illegal activities, so it was hard to get going.

I started with the peripheral  members and worked my way up. I approached the husband and wife, Mike and Carol, at the beginning, and they were fiercely protective of their story, they’d never told it before. They felt that their story had been misrepresented so many times, always told by outsiders or from court transcripts, but they still weren’t interested in sharing their story.

So over the course of seven years, I did 25 interviews while still trying to get them involved. After those seven years, I went to them with a rough cut, telling them it was their story and that I’d be willing to start over if they said yes, which they finally did three years ago.

Director William A Kirkley attends the FilmMaker Afternoon Tea during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Director William A Kirkley attends the FilmMaker Afternoon Tea during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

On staying objective

To a degree I wanted to give them agency of their story, but the story of the counterculture movement has been told so many times, the film had to be from their perspective. The spiritual approach to LSD and drugs was kind of interesting, you don’t hear that so much, which is important in documenting their history. I do have law enforcement in there to keep it balanced, and I didn’t want to glorify drug use: there was plenty of tragedy as a direct result of it.

On the specificity of place

Orange County now is a very conservative place, and growing up there I couldn’t believe that something that interesting had happened where I lived. These guys were making hundreds of millions of doses of LSD in a place where Reagan and Nixon were popular.

There’s still a magical quality to Laguna Beach that feels like a by-product of those times, and it feels like we’re kind of going back to that time, especially with how polarised our political system is. There’s a renewed interest in psychedelics, where tech CEOs are micro-dosing and doctors are starting to use it again for the first time in 40 years for therapy.

On tripping in VR

We have a virtual reality piece that we made to accompany the release, a five minute LSD experience with the Brotherhood. It’s live action with 3D photorealistic CGI. You put on the headset and you’re in a mid-1960s living room, with the Brotherhood sat on the floor around this big coffee table, which has this gnarled wood base.

Everybody closes they eyes and focuses their energy on the table, before the glass ripples away and the wood starts to smoke and turn into this bonfire. The ceiling disappears to reveal thousands of stars. Everything’s reactive, so whatever you look at gives an effect, before the walls fly away and you’re around a bonfire under the aurora borealis. It’s all guided by Timothy Leary saying a psychedelic prayer.

Interview by Matthew Thrift

A whole lotta excitement down at Leicester Square at the moment, with our closing night gala Free Fire about to commence.

Here are a few snatched words with the director, Ben Wheatley.

Free Fire premiere - the first pictures

Sharlto Copley, Cillian Murphy and Ben Wheatley attend the Free Fire Closing Night Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Sharlto Copley, Cillian Murphy and Ben Wheatley attend the Free Fire Closing Night Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Sharlto Copley and Tanit Phoenix attend the Free Fire Closing Night Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Sharlto Copley and Tanit Phoenix attend the Free Fire Closing Night Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Sam Riley attends the Free Fire Closing Night Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Sam Riley attends the Free Fire Closing Night Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Madeline Mulqueen, Cillian Murphy and Jack Reynor attend attend the Free Fire Closing Night Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Madeline Mulqueen, Cillian Murphy and Jack Reynor attend attend the Free Fire Closing Night Gala screening during the 60th BFI London Film Festival

LFF top fives

Our contributor top fives continue with this countdown of festival favourites from Georgia Korossi

5. Neruda

Neruda (2016)

Neruda (2016)

Chilean director Pablo Larraín’s latest project is an ‘anti-bio’ about the Nobel prize-winning poet and diplomat Pablo Neruda that doubles as a Hitchcockian chase story. At its centre is a magnetic cast: Luis Gnecco as Neruda, Mercedes Morán as his wife Delia, and heart-throb Gael García Bernal as the detective Oscar Peluchonneau.

4. Sieranevada

Sieranevada (2016)

Romania’s Cristi Puiu returns with a distinctive and technically astonishing feature set in a crowded flat as a family congregates to pay their respects to their departed patriarch. Their patience, emotions and hunger are tested over the nearly three-hour running time, but Sieranevada is above all a film about bonding and compassion.

3. Park

Park follows a group of bored, disenfranchised youths gathering in the concrete wasteland of Athens’ Olympic village, which becomes the playground for their teenage kicks and aggression. Made with a majority-female crew and a cast of teenage non-professionals, director Sofia Exarchou’s debut feature is a triumphant addition to the ever-fertile Greek new wave.

2. The Levelling

The Levelling (2016)

The Levelling (2016)

Another bold female directorial debut, Hope Dickson Leach’s The Levelling is set during the 2013-14 Somerset floods, and focuses on the frailty of the lives of local inhabitants – particularly farmers – already enduring recession. This is a rare British film to focus on trouble at home rather than looking overseas.

1. Ascent

Ascent (2016)

Ascent (2016)

The Experimenta special presentation at this year’s festival was this ode to nature, images and travelling. A study of Mount Fuji, still an active volcano, it opens out to examine philosophical themes of presence, photography and memory, and the relationship between history and nature, storytelling and tradition.

Special mention:

Minute Bodies: The Intimate World of Frank Percy Smith

Minute Bodies: The World of F Percy Smith (2016)

Minute Bodies: The World of F Percy Smith (2016)

Minute Bodies is a hypnotic and magical tribute to the world of naturalist and pioneering microscopic filmmaker Frank Percy Smith (1880-1945). It is the latest collaboration between Tindersticks’ Stuart A Staples and filmmaker Dave Reeve, which combines a constantly evolving soundtrack with the hidden life of nature as filmed by Smith’s lenses. It’s one of the jewels of this year’s festival, so I hope it gets released far and wide.

‘Slashers for me are about the anticipation of the knife rather than lashings of blood and gore’ - Lake Bodom director Taneli Mustonen

If you’re bummed that you’re not at closing night, there’s still just about time to grab this 60th edition of the festival by the horns. How about a Finnish slasher movie for instance?

Lake Bodom (2016)

Lake Bodom (2016)

Screening at 21.00 in NFT3, Lake Bodom takes its cue from a horrific, lakeside triple-murder that shocked the country back in 1960. Playing with audience expectations of genre, it’s Finland’s most successful horror film to date, screening – naturally – in our Cult strand. We put some questions to its director, Taneli Mustonen.

On the original case

These things happen all over the world, but in Finland it represented the end of a certain kind of innocence. We’d always been told that it was safe country, that you could camp out anywhere, then in 1960 this horrible thing happened. Four kids were attacked one night while camping, and the case just grew and grew because they couldn’t find the killer. It became this urban legend, but the last trials were only 10 years ago.

The one boy that survived claimed he couldn’t remember anything of the night, but there were a lot of discrepancies in his story. There are so many books and documentaries about Bodom, every kid knows the story. I first heard it when I was 13, and it was so movie-like, like Friday the 13th. I think we got the money for the film because we weren’t telling the exact story, it was more inspired by the case, so less problematic.

On slasher movies

I’m really scared about saying what type of film it is, because I’m really not a genre guy. Slashers for me – starting with the shower scene in Psycho – are about the anticipation of the knife rather than lashings of blood and gore. I just wanted to show real characters and make it as entertaining as hell, hopefully. We didn’t want to make a traditional horror film, because those things are so difficult to make work, people have seen so many of them. I started by asking how small things can lead to such an ugly event, about the line between love and murder.

Lake Bodom (2016)

Lake Bodom (2016)

On a challenging shoot

This was my third film but my first horror film. I’d only done a couple of days of night shoots before this, and suddenly I’m shooting for seven weeks in the forest, where it’s so cold and you can only shoot within a small perimeter at night. I’ve been working with the same crew since the beginning though, and half the fun is coming up with solutions to difficult situations.

Interview by Matthew Thrift

Ben Wheatley and co send 60th festival out in blaze of glory

These were the scenes on closing night, as Ben Wheatley joined cast members Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Sharlton Copley and Michael Smiley on the red carpet to premiere their blistering 1970s-set action movie Free Fire.

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