What to watch at the BFI Future Film Festival 2021 – the programmers’ picks

Ahead of the UK’s biggest festival for young filmmakers, we asked our young programmers which films and events have got them most excited this year.

Dungarees (2020)

The BFI Future Film Festival is the UK’s largest festival for emerging filmmakers aged 16 to 25. For the first time ever, the festival is totally free to attend and will be presented entirely online.

In the past year, young people have faced disruption, uncertainty and countless challenges to their physical and mental health, education and relationships. The festival is a celebration of their resilience and creativity, and proof that – now more than ever – their talent and voices cannot be ignored.

As the festival prepares to kick off, we asked the BFI Future Film Festival programmer and producer Aleks Dimitrijevic and the BFI Film Academy Young Programmers (all aged 25 and under) to each pick a favourite film strand and industry event from this year’s programme.

We Are Not Our Trauma

Strand picked by: Aleks Dimitrijevic

Bulldog (2020)

In selecting our film programme, we noticed that a lot of young filmmakers’ stories were focused on issues surrounding mental health. Unsurprising, after the year we’ve all had! There’s more open dialogue about mental health than ever before, but the taboo remains, partly because it’s so hard to explain an emotional experience using words alone. Fortunately, film is (as critic Roger Ebert so eloquently put it) the ultimate empathy machine.
The films in the We Are Not Our Trauma strand put the viewer smack-bang inside the minds of mental health survivors. Experience the complexity of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with The Moderator and disjointed, deepen your understanding of anxiety and depression with An Alternative Method and Bulldog, and reflect on the power of mindfulness and breathing with Breath and Mind (FULL). View the world as experienced by these resilient characters, and share their stories in a way made possible by cinema’s compassionate eye.

LUX Artists presents: Demystifying the role of the art department in a film crew

Event picked by: Aleks Dimitrijevic

Saint Maud (2019)

Fresh from landing 3 wins at the London Critics’ Circle Film Awards, including British or Irish film of the year, the Saint Maud art department team will join us at the Future Film Festival to talk about creating the ominous world of religious mania and obsession that first brought scares to the audiences of the Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness event in 2019.

It’s surprising to me how many film schools and courses don’t cover the various roles that make up the art department and what they each contribute to the filmmaking process. So when LUX Artists approached us with the idea to ‘demystify’ this department, using the bleak and tortured world of Saint Maud as a case study, we naturally jumped at the opportunity. If you want to break into the field of production design and become the mastermind behind the visuals that will haunt audiences’ dreams forever, this event is for you.

The Dark Side

Strand picked by: Chris Childs


I love programmes that feature dark, strange and unclassifiable short films. When I’ve been lucky enough to have my own work selected in festivals, this is where you can usually find it. If I’m seeking out kindred spirits in film and animation, these programmes are where I go first, and this selection of shorts introduced me to new, fascinating talents. BURN THE WITCH and The Tale of Edgar Hare are brilliantly tactile works, while The Quiet is so visual and cinematic it’s a shame it can’t be experienced on a big screen.
Wastopia was a particular highlight for me: a dreamy animation set in a bizarre world of discarded rubbish. Although climate catastrophe was a recurring theme among the film submissions I viewed, few were as joyous, bold and experimental as this piece.

Blink x BlinkInk presents: The making of 45 minutes of visual content for Dua Lipa’s 2020 remix album of Future Nostalgia

Event picked by: Chris Childs

Future Nostalgia (2020)

Since researching them at university, I’ve had a strong curiosity about London-based animation studio BlinkInk. Although my interests usually focus on independent animation, I’m always impressed at how bold and visually experimental the studio’s work is, especially in a commercial context. This chance to hear from some of BlinkInk’s key figures, discussing their recent collaboration with musician Dua Lipa, is a must-watch for me.
The project consists of 13 segments completed by different creatives, and with a run-time of 45 minutes I’m intrigued to hear how such a complex, collaborative project is possible. Personally, it excites me to picture emerging animators using similar production methods, combining their distinctive short films into a single, long-form piece. I think this talk will hold valuable insights for those ambitious creatives.

The Infinite Playlist

Strand picked by: Billie Collins

Burn & Soothe (2019)

For those missing a good gig, The Infinite Playlist taps into the unbridled joy of music and dance, proving that storytelling is as much about rhythm and beat as anything else. The delicious colours of Burn & Soothe have me longing for summer drives with the radio on, windows down. Sam Arbor’s yandass.mov is pure collaboration – a film that’s as stylish as it is galvanising. In Music for the End of the World, Emmanuel Li takes cues from Edgar Wright in a post-apocalyptic groove.

The intoxicating camerawork of Damn Hobo! has us swaying through the streets of Mexico City, and Neeraja Raj’s sci-fi meow-sical Meow or Never is delicately crafted and totally unique. Finally, Edie + Elin’s Magic Show pays homage to the movie magic of pioneer Georges Méliès, reminding us in under 2 minutes why we go to the cinema. A true cinematic jukebox, this strand showcases some of the festival’s most experimental work.

How to be a successful freelancer in the screen industries

Event picked by: Billie Collins

There’s a lot they don’t teach you in school. While you learn everything there is to know about the Spanish Armada, they stay very quiet on things like ‘what a mortgage is’ – stuff that, later on, really comes in handy. As a teenager, when I said I wanted to work in the arts, people spent more time telling me it was ‘very competitive’ than they did explaining what it would practically involve: namely, registering as self-employed and working short-term contracts.

On paper, freelancing sounds absurd: no consistent hours or income – and don’t even get me started on the HMRC website. So, while managing your finances and doing taxes aren’t the most showbiz bits of filmmaking, I reckon this is the most important event in the festival. Edi Smockum and David Thomas are going to give us the freelance cheat codes – how to get started and how to stay afloat.

In Their Shoes 

Strand picked by: Jessica Haygarth

Please Introduce Yourself (2020)

In Their Shoes is a celebration of the empathic abilities of cinema. These films allow us to not only observe but to experience life from someone else’s perspective.  

Loco, directed by Rory Wilson, delves into the tumultuous world of a train driver with PTSD, while Jesse Lewis Reece’s Eyelash explores the experience of falling in love through the perspective of someone with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Both films create strong internal worlds that remind us of how much is always at play beneath the surface. 

In this strand we dive into the world of a d/Deaf woman applying for a job (Please Introduce Yourself), an autowala in New Delhi (Life Is a Highway) and a couple suffocated by their family (Double Happiness). These films don’t just tell stories, they allow us to see the world differently and encourage us to be curious about and compassionate towards others. 

Writing for comedy with Hannah George 

Event picked by: Jessica Haygarth

I’ve often thought I could be a comedian after a couple of pints. I’m excited to put my theory to the test with Hannah George’s workshop Writing for comedy. Hannah will give tips on how to find your comedic voice and break into the comedy writing scene. Seeing such a powerhouse female comedy writer delivering this workshop is empowering. Repeat after me: “Women are funny!” 

Laughter has helped everyone get through the last year. Whether it’s putting on a funny show to entertain your kids, unwinding by watching a short film or chuckling along to a podcast on your daily walks. We’ve all realised the importance of laughter, so what better time could there be to explore the world of writing for comedy, to do what we do best and have a good old giggle.

What’s Left Behind

Strand picked by: Aisha Jan

Skeletons (2019)

Grief can bring people together. Loss can inspire togetherness in collective healing. But it can also reveal deep tears, betrayal and distance. What I saw in Skeletons and Early Grief Special were starkly different visual explorations of grief: Skeletons with a blue coolness to the picture and restrained, naturalistic structure, and Early Grief Special with its surreal design and unnerving dark humour. Both challenge expected behaviours around grief and mourning.
The most prominent theme across this selection of films is familial bonds – most pertinent in Heartbreaker, Jude and princess. Laced with images of joy and remembrance, these films deliver a complex sense of melancholy. Sharing these lessons in compassion allows us to feel deeply, reflecting on what can be a cathartic, uniting experience.

How to pitch your ideas for television

Event picked by: Aisha Jan

Alt title: Pitch-a-Vision

Is a pun-tastic title the key to a successful pitch? Unlikely. Get the real industry experts’ advice on how to sell your latest creative venture as a panel of commissioners and producers aim to demystify the process.
When you have a compelling idea, you may often find obstacles in bringing your work to fruition. With little experience of financing a project or gaining a commission, not knowing which direction to head in, or finding bureaucratic barriers in your way, this event is perfect for filmmakers and creatives wanting to arm themselves with the tools to craft a successful pitch and get their foot in the door. Pose any burning questions to the panellists as they share insightful tips, best and unforgettable pitches, and common pitfalls.
Leave that virtual Zoom room with newfound levels of persuasion and the confidence in being your best pitching self.

The Real Me

Strand picked by: Siavash Minoukadeh

Black [Dudu] (2018)

It’s easy to think ‘diversity’ is just boxes we tick on equal opportunities forms, but this strand shows how powerful representation really is. It was the details in Hard as Nails and Almost Blue that got me, half-thoughts that I thought only I’d had. They told me that these characters didn’t just share the same ‘label’ as me but that they were telling some part of my story to other people too. 

Equally, I’ll never know what it’s like to be a Black woman or a Chinese teenager, but watching Black [Dudu] and Sunny showed me why people facing prejudice would feel both anger at the treatment they receive and confusion at how it got to this, but also pride in spite of it all. Dungarees shows us all that if we let each person shine as themselves, we’ll all be happier for it.

Shooting on film: what you need to know

Event picked by: Siavash Minoukadeh

Why do we still shoot on film? Digital is cheaper, quicker and easier, but loads of top filmmakers – from Joanna Hogg to Robert Eggers – still go the old-school way because, at the end of the day, no amount of post-production tweaking can beat that rich, grainy look. Shooting on film also makes better directors of us, forcing us to plan our scenes carefully since we can’t watch them back instantly.

Getting started with film isn’t easy though, with its range of formats, film stocks and developing options. It can get expensive too, especially, as I learned, if you mess up a shot and end up with a blank roll of film. Film specialists Digital Orchard will be running through the basics, making sure you won’t end up getting it wrong like I did. Put the memory card away and load a roll of film instead.

Finding My Crew

Strand picked by: Lilia Pavin-Franks

Girls’ Night (2020)

A cheeky botanical animation, an experimental look at the intricacies of connection, a stop-motion that begs a visceral response, and a film that shows us that, sometimes, to find your crew, you need to find yourself first. 

Finding My Crew is a strand all about the different dynamics of friendship. As young people, our crew has immense influence over the direction of our lives. They give us the much-needed space to chat shit (often over drinks) or the opportunity to signal for a helping hand. They encourage us to look within ourselves and challenge who we are. They push us to ask the difficult questions about human connection. Each of the films included in this strand approaches the idea of a ‘crew’ in wholly unique and interesting ways. You’ll find yourself in great company with this bunch. 

Archive fever: unlocking the storytelling potential of film archives

Event picked by: Lilia Pavin-Franks

Ballet Black (1986)

Film is a powerful medium in itself, but throw archival footage into the mix and it can be taken to new heights of emotion. From video of sprawling metropolises built from the ground up, via shots of Prides and protests, to shaky, handheld clips of your nan at Christmas, the whisper of history can be found in every grainy frame. By preserving key moments from history – big or small – the past is given a second life in archive film. These precious keepsakes are invaluable to our lives today, telling us where we came from but also helping to shape who we will become. 

In collaboration with Make Film History, Archive Fever will delve deep into the endless possibilities of archival film and images, exploring why accessibility and preservation are integral to the current and future landscape of cinema. 

Broken Hearts 

Strand picked by: Maya Sfakianaki

Heartthrob (2020)

Political and societal turmoil, and the insecurity of the future, are issues that have been troubling young filmmakers increasingly – and fairly so. Yet, with politics in focus, intimate relationships and passionate romances have been getting less attention on screen. Meanwhile, young hearts still shake with desire and love stories still need to be told. 

The Broken Hearts programme is bursting with tales of love and loss, miscommunication and fractured connections, disappointments and hesitation. Enigmatic shorts such as Instructions to Let Go and Hovering Between Us acknowledge the ambiguous nature of human interaction. In Crispy Love-Line, technology and its tendency to misinterpret rather than deeply connect is imaginatively highlighted. In In the Garden the deception lurking behind a couple’s conversation is humorously revealed. Unrequited love and untold yearning render the intricate stories behind Heartthrob and Girls & the Party relevant and moving. This programme explores familiar themes in a way that’s refreshing and unafraid. 

Film Academy Young Programmers present: Let’s talk about sex, baby! 

Event picked by: Maya Sfakianaki

I’m all for erotism in film. I really believe in the potential of an artistic, tasteful representation of nudity, sex and desire. So I’m looking forward to learning more about the history of sex on screen and to discussing the ability of erotic art to shatter heteronormative and misogynistic beliefs. Sex is powerful and it’s political, and it should be seen as such in order to become a means of empowerment and inspiration.

Offering a variety of perspectives on the subject, including those of film historians, sex educators and industry professionals, Let’s talk about sex, baby! promises to be a provocative event. Enter with a non-biased attitude and don’t fight shy of controversy!

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