The 65th BFI London Film Festival (LFF) in partnership with American Express today announced the full 2021 programme line-up that will be presented both in cinemas and virtually, incorporating some of the most popular elements of the successful 2020 edition into the full large-scale festival model.
Over 12 days from 6 to 17 October, flagship venue BFI Southbank and the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, the LFF gala venue for 2021, will make London’s South Bank one of two London hubs at the heart of the film festival experience. Films will also screen in a number of cinemas in London’s West End, with a selection of films at 10 venues in cities and towns across the UK. Audiences will enjoy a rich and varied programme of fiction, documentary, animation, artists’ moving image, short film, restored classics from the world’s archives as well as programmes of exciting international works made in immersive and episodic forms.
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The festival will also be accessible online to audiences across the whole of the UK with a specially selected programme of feature and short films available on BFI Player, with online short films and online events free to access. Our LFF Expanded programme of immersive art and XR will have a large physical exhibition at 26 Leake Street and the National Theatre and also be available UK-wide and internationally via our bespoke virtual exhibition space, The Expanse.
“I am very excited to be welcoming audiences back to the BFI London Film Festival – for everyone, everywhere across the UK, in cinemas and online on BFI Player,” says Ben Roberts, BFI CEO. “Our amazing festival team have put together a daring, vital and conversation-starting edition. I’m in awe of all of the filmmakers across the world who have found the ways and means – practical, creative, emotional – to get their stories told in such challenging and turbulent times and I want audiences to immerse themselves in the sweet glow of the cinema screen and celebrate their very existence. More than ever, we are indebted to our loyal supporters, including our principal partner of 12 years American Express. Heartfelt thanks to them and to the many other sponsors, funders, partners and National Lottery players who do so much to enable both the festival and our work throughout the year.”
Tricia Tuttle, BFI London Film Festival Director, says: “In early 2020, we set out how we would build on the vibrant established film programme at LFF to expand the festival: with programming to include series and XR, new free and UK-wide screenings and events, and by developing the industry programme to showcase new British talent to international industry guests. While we had to adapt those ambitions for the pandemic, we are back in full force this year and you’ll really see that vision played out in the model for the festival this year.
“After this last 18 months so many of us are eager for opportunities to connect around shared cultural events, and we’re looking forward to bringing people together over the 12 days of the LFF to view this truly exceptional programme of film, series and immersive art we’re announcing today. These are works which have moved us, provoked us, made us think and feel, and made us look at the world a little differently this year. There is absolutely something for everyone here and we can’t wait for people to join us for BFI London Film Festival – whether in London, around the UK or at home”.
The LFF is delighted to be inviting audiences back to the big screen and it doesn’t get much bigger than our new gala venue. Each night of the festival a gala will screen at the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall across an 18-metre screen with full high-spec 7.1 channel surround sound ensuring every seat in the over-2000-seater venue is the best in the house. Films in Official Competition will be presented at BFI Southbank itself with a host of London cinemas also screening titles from the programme including: Odeon West End, the Prince Charles Cinema, ICA, Curzon Soho and Curzon Mayfair.
This year’s headline galas are:
- American Express Gala – The Power of the Dog (d. Jane Campion)
- American Airlines Gala – Belfast (d. Kenneth Branagh)
- The French Dispatch (d. Wes Anderson)
- Benedetta (d. Paul Verhoeven)
- King Richard (d. Reinaldo Marcus Green)
- Last Night in Soho d. (Edgar Wright)
- BFI Patrons’ Gala — Mothering Sunday (d. Eva Husson)
- The Lost Daughter (d. Maggie Gyllenhaal)
- The Londoner Gala — The Souvenir: Part II (d. Joanna Hogg)
- Spencer (d. Pablo Larraín)
- Ron’s Gone Wrong (d. Sarah Smith, Jean Philippe-Vine)
Also screening at the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, this year’s special presentations are:
- The Mayor of London’s Special Presentation — Ali & Ava (d. Clio Barnard)
- Drive My Car (d. Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
- Benediction (d. Terence Davies)
- Great Freedom (d. Sebastian Meise)
- The Phantom of the Open (d. Craig Roberts) — in association with Empire Magazine
- Memoria (d. Apichatpong Weerasethakul) — in association with Sight and Sound
- Titane (d. Julia Ducournau) — in association with Time Out
- Paris, 13th District (d. Jacques Audiard)
- The Velvet Underground (d. Todd Haynes)
- BFI Flare Special Screening – Flee (d. Jonas Poher Rasmussen)
- Experimenta Special Screening — Neptune Frost (d. Saul Williams, Anisia Uzeyman)
- Series Special Screening — Succession (creator-showrunner: Jesse Armstrong)
The LFF is one of Britain’s leading cinema events and one of the world’s most important film festivals, and the programme offers audiences the chance to be the first to see some of the most anticipated new films from around the globe, including a host of new works destined to be major awards contenders.
The LFF competitive sections will return, recognising remarkable creative filmmaking achievements, and be presented at BFI Southbank. The winners will be selected by a soon-to-be announced jury across four categories: Official Competition, First Feature, Documentary and Short Film and The LFF Audience Award, introduced in 2021, with festival-goers voting for their favourite film of the festival. The winner of the IWC Schaffhausen Filmmaker Bursary Award in association with BFI will also be announced at the virtual awards ceremony.
Presented in partnership with the National Theatre, LFF Expanded will return in 2021 and will feature work from artists and creative teams working in immersive media including virtual, augmented and mixed reality from across the UK and internationally. With the full programme being announced later in the week, the strand will showcase vibrant and daring new work which will be exhibited both physically and virtually to audiences in the UK and globally via the virtual exhibition space, The Expanse.
The LFF will also this year showcase some of the best in new episodic programming with a new series strand of work from around the world in an exciting move that reflects the ever-blurring line between television and film. Audiences can enjoy screenings of the most hotly-anticipated new series from across a number of the LFF strands including a European premiere and special presentation of Succession S3.
The festival includes many ways audiences can engage with the LFF for free, including an international programme of short films featuring established and breakthrough film talents, Screen Talks with major filmmakers and actors and online Q&As across the festival. The LFF Expanded strand of immersive art and XR will also be free to access both virtually and in-person at LFF Expanded at 26 Leake Street and LFF Expanded at the National Theatre and Rambert for the duration of the festival.
The programme in full
Opening and closing films
As previously announced, this year’s opening film will be Netflix’s The Harder They Fall, directed by Londoner Jeymes Samuel. The film will receive its world premiere at LFF gala venue the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, with Samuel expected to attend along with key cast. The festival closes with Joel Coen’s bold and fierce adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic play, The Tragedy of Macbeth from Apple Original Films and A24. The film will receive its European premiere at the LFF, with Joel Coen expected to attend. Both films will be available at LFF partner cinemas across the UK, with The Harder They Fall also going to a wider network of cinemas.
This year’s American Express Gala is the beguilingly dark drama The Power of the Dog from Oscar and Palme d’Or winning filmmaker Jane Campion starring a fantastic international cast including Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee.
This year’s American Airlines Gala is Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, drawing on his own experiences to tell the story of a young boy living in Belfast in the late 1960s as increasing social unrest and conflict is explored through a child’s-eye perspective. The French Dispatch, Wes Anderson’s delightful, star-studded homage to journalism and literary magazines is a feast for the eyes and a whip-smart comic delight.
Paul Verhoeven returns to psychosexual melodrama with Benedetta, a spectacular new genre blend about Catholic mystic and lesbian, Sister Benedetta Carlini, that tells a story that scandalised Florence in the early 1600s when an infamous nun rose to local power as a mystic, but was subsequently charged with committing heretic acts.
Will Smith delivers one of his best performances as the ambitious father of the Williams sisters in captivating biopic King Richard, directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, which tells the story of a father who has his sights firmly set on superstardom for his two young daughters, Venus and Serena.
In Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho, a young woman is transported back to the 1960s in an endlessly inventive, time-travelling horror fantasy starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Thomasin McKenzie and Matt Smith with captivating support from a host of British acting legends including Diana Rigg, in her last film role.
This year’s BFI Patrons’ Gala is Mothering Sunday, a beautiful adaptation of Graham Swift’s novel, starring Josh O’Connor and Odessa Young, from screenwriter Alice Birch and director Eva Husson, in which a writer has a creative awakening steeped in books, love and loss.
The Lost Daughter is the astonishingly assured directorial debut from Maggie Gyllenhaal. As psychologically rich as a great book, Gyllenhaal crafts scenes of pleasure, regret, mystery and peril, always offering a thrilling sense of not knowing exactly what will happen next in this tangled and messy human tale.
Joanna Hogg’s glorious follow up to The Souvenir is The Londoner Gala, supported by our 2021 Hotel Partner. The Souvenir: Part II sees Honor Swinton Byrne returning as Julie for this rich auto-fictional portrait of the birth of a filmmaker.
The much-anticipated Spencer will screen as part of the festival. Pablo Larraín’s sublime ‘fable from a true tragedy’ imagines a Christmas weekend at Sandringham in the early 1990s, as an unhappy Princess Diana contemplates saying ‘no’. Larraín ingeniously depicts the world of the young princess, played with intoxicating perfection by Kristen Stewart, who dominates almost every scene.
This year’s LFF Family Gala will be British animation’s Ron’s Gone Wrong. Ron is a walking, talking, digitally-connected B*Bot whois malfunctioning and Barney, a socially awkward middle-schooler, just wants to make his “Best Friend out of the Box” right, sending them on an action-packed journey in which boy and robot come to terms with the wonderful messiness of true friendship. Locksmith Animation’s hilarious and touching debut starring Zach Galifianakis, Jack Dylan Grazer, Olivia Colman, Ed Helms and Rob Delaney, is sure to delight audiences young and old.
The Mayor of London’s Special Presentation is Clio Barnard’s latest film Ali & Ava which charts an unlikely romance between two Bradford residents through an intelligent and nuanced depiction of 21st century Britain that addresses neurodiversity, race and class dynamics and mental health.
Inspired by Haruki Murakami’s short story, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car takes audiences on an unpredictable and self-revelatory journey in this serene yet riveting drama. This is an intense and sensorially rich film, sustained by great performances and bold long takes that will screen to audiences on Saturday 9 October.
Terence Davies’ Benediction evocatively explores the life of Siegfried Sassoon, known for his poetry on the horrors of the Great War, but also his love affairs with other notable men. In his first film about an openly gay man, Davies casts Jack Lowden and Peter Capaldi to play poet Sassoon as a young man and in later life.
Winner of the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes, Sebastian Meise’s Great Freedom is a searing prison drama and a captivating chronicle of queer history. It is a hard-hitting, often uncompromising piece of work, yet beneath its tough exterior lies a deeply unsentimental, disarmingly tender love story that is almost impossible to forget.
This year’s Special Presentation in association with Empire is the delightful and charming The Phantom of the Open from director Craig Roberts. A tribute to Maurice Flitcroft, the ‘world’s worst golfer’, who secures a coveted spot in the qualifying round of the 1976 British Open, this is a heartfelt celebration of an eternal optimist who never let his sporting inadequacies stand in the way of his dreams.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s beguiling rumination on memory and the human condition, Memoria screens as a Special Presentation in association with Sight and Sound, Tilda Swinton stars as a woman visiting her sister in Bogota, who becomes obsessed with finding an explanation for a mysterious sound.
Our Special Presentation in association with Time Out is Julia Ducournau’s electrifying techno-chiller Titane, one of the most provocative Palme d’Or winners ever, and only the second for a female director. French filmmaker Ducournau dazzled with cannibal-themed debut Raw which won the Sutherland Award at LFF in 2016 but goes way further in her genre-shattering follow-up. It’s extreme-dream cinema.
Twice Best Film winner at LFF, Jacques Audiard returns with Paris, 13th District, a film which ventures into new territory with a vibrant take on love and Paris, as four characters cross amorous paths in the modern city. It’s based on three stories by graphic novelist Adrian Tomine, with Audiard (with co-writers Céline Sciamma and Léa Mysius) offering a panorama of love, desire and everyday survival in a racially, culturally, sexually diverse contemporary city.
The Velvet Underground is a riveting tribute to the beloved band from director Todd Haynes who employs dynamic use of split-screens to examine the cultural amniotic fluid that nurtured the band – the experimental music, art, film and fashion, and of course, the coalescing influence of their early ‘manager’ Andy Warhol, who instigated happenings at The Factory around them.
Winner of the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at Sundance Film Festival, this year’s BFI Flare Special Presentation is Flee. This tender interview between film director Jonas Poher Rasmussen and his school friend Amin, years after they first met, blossoms into an extraordinary story of love, survival and resilience.
The Experimenta Special Presentation is Neptune Frost, the directorial debut of poet-musician Saul Williams and actor-playwright Anisia Uzeyman. An exhilarating anti-capitalist sci-fi musical entirely shot in Rwanda and made with an entirely Rwandan and Burundian cast and crew, the film presents an intoxicatingly original way to explore economic inequality specific to this mining region of Africa.
The acclaimed Succession is this year’s inaugural Series Special Screening with the festival delighted to share episodes 1 and 2 from the much-anticipated third season. The Roys are back in town with the return of Jesse Armstrong’s critically lauded and award-winning series about vicious power struggles within a US media corporation, and the family that runs it.
Official Competition – Best Film Award
The Best Film Award in Official Competition recognises inspiring, inventive and distinctive filmmaking, and includes the following shortlisted titles:
- Belle — a captivating animation from Oscar-winning anime director Mamoru Hosoda
- Il buco — a meticulous and engrossing true story of cave mapping from Michelangelo Frammartino, made for the big screen
- The Hand of God — a bitingly funny, semi-autobiographical tale about a tight-knit Neapolitan family’s supposedly settled lives, from acclaimed filmmaker, Paolo Sorrentino
- Nitram — the disturbing true story of a Tasmanian serial killer who went on a killing spree in 1996, starring Caleb Landry Jones in the title role, from bold Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel
- Hit the Road — a tender, quirky and laugh-out-loud funny road movie from debut Iranian film director Panah Panahi
- Sundown — from one of contemporary cinema’s most original filmmakers, Michel Franco, comes a complex, searing study of what it means to try and be someone else, starring Tim Roth as a man in crisis with Charlotte Gainsbourg starring alongside him as his sister
- Lingui, the Sacred Bonds — acclaimed African filmmaker Mahamat-Saleh Haroun follows the international success of A Screaming Man, Daratt and Abouna with a profoundly humane and visually ravishing drama about a woman caught between her faith and her love for her daughter
- True Things — UK filmmaker Harry Wootliff unites Ruth Wilson and Tom Burke in a fascinating psychological drama which explores the darker side of relationships and the fine line between infatuation and obsession
First Feature Competition – Sutherland Award
Titles in consideration for the Sutherland Award in the First Feature Competition recognising an original and imaginative directorial debut are:
- The Alleys — Bassel Ghandour’s gripping debut is as tightly woven as the interlocking alleys it depicts – a neighbourhood where gossip circles mercilessly and reputation is everything
- Azor — this compelling conspiracy thriller directed by Andreas Fontana sees Yvan, a Swiss banker, navigating his way around an Argentinian dictatorship where disappearances have becoming a worrying fact of life.
- Costa Brava Lebanon — in a Lebanon of the near future where the refuse crisis has made Beirut uninhabitable, the simmering tension of unresolved disputes contrasts with the electricity of first love in Mounia Akl’s dazzling debut
- Prayers for the Stolen — Tatiana Huezo’s incisive feature debut places a coming-of-age story at the centre of a rural community in Mexico blighted by drug cartels
- The Feast – you are cordially invited to the dinner party from hell, courtesy of Lee Haven Jones’ Welsh-language horror opus which is a masterclass in insidious discomfort and escalating tension
- Small Body — this strikingly original and enthralling feature debut from Laura Samani details the odyssey of a young mother as she tries to save her baby’s soul
- Playground — the harsh world of playground politics is seen through the eyes of a seven-year-old girl in a gripping debut from Belgian writer-director Laura Wandel
- White Building — remarkably nuanced and emotionally engaging, Kavich Neang’s film delves into the impact of gentrification in Phnom Penh and pays homage to the enduring memory of the iconic White Building
Documentary Competition — Grierson Award
The Grierson Award recognises feature-length documentaries with integrity, originality and social or cultural significance.
- All About My Sisters — Wang Qiong ‘s impressive debut takes us to the heart of her unresolved family trauma and asks critical questions about privacy and permission in documentary practice
- Babi Yar. Context — Sergei Loznitsa’s film reconstructs the events that led to the 1941 massacre of the Jewish population of Kiev in the nearby ravine of Babi Yar.
- Becoming Cousteau – this riveting doc from Oscar®-nominated director Liz Garbus brings a fresh take on the life of the inspiring inventor, explorer, environmentalist and filmmaker Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau
- The Dance – documenting the seemingly haphazard creation – from nothing initially decided on – of a new dance suite, acclaimed Irish filmmaker Pat Collins reveals how experimentation becomes art
- A Cop Movie – be prepared to be surprised by this wildly inventive, hybrid documentary drama by Mexican director Alonso Ruizpalacios, following two Mexico City police officers on the beat
- Faya Dayi — Jessica Beshir’s bewitching film is a fascinating portrait of the city of Harar and the intimate rituals of Ethiopia’s most lucrative produce, khat
- Cow — Andrea Arnold takes you on a seemingly simple, yet ultimately radical journey, offering an insight into the life of a dairy cow. The aim of Arnold’s mesmerising documentary is to get down and dirty with Luma, a cow on a working dairy farm, staying as close to her as possible
- Nascondino (Hide and Seek) — Victoria Fiore’s astonishing feature documentary debut is a surreal journey of a young boy’s final days of freedom before he is taken away from his family
As in previous years, the feature film programme is organised by strand to encourage discovery and to open up the festival to new audiences. These are: Love, Debate, Laugh, Dare, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Create, Experimenta, Family and Treasures. As mentioned, audiences can find also find a new and exciting Series offering in many of the strands.
Full details of all the films found in the strands, including late additions will be found on the festival website.
Sweet, passionate, tough, complex – love is a complex and many splendoured thing and the films here chart the highs and lows of many kinds of love from around the globe.
In Ivan Herrera’s bold and stylish Bantú Mama, a French-Cameroonian woman running from a drug deal gone wrong in the Dominican Republic finds shelter with three young siblings. Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest is a quirky portrait of friendship between unconventional heroes within the magical world of arcade gaming from Danish filmmaker Mads Hedegaard. Juho Kuosmanen’s Cannes Grand Prix winning Compartment No. 6 stars Seidi Haarla as a Finnish trainee archaeologist who embarks on a grungy train journey to Siberia and finds herself in the close company of a hard-drinking Russian skinhead (Yuriy Borisov).
Upcoming French director-screenwriter Rachel Lang returns from her 2016 idiosyncratic Baden Baden with Our Men – a superbly acted drama fronted by Call My Agent’s Camille Cottin and Louis Garrel that explores life for those in the service of the Foreign Legion. Khadar Ayderus Ahmed’s debut feature The Gravedigger’s Wife follows a man as he desperately tries to seek help for his ailing wife. The Outlaws, from director-screenwriter Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken, is a dreamlike reminiscence of the lives of two damaged outlaw souls.
A Spanish-language teacher and her student form a life changing friendship after tragedy strikes in Natalie Morales’ charming debut Language Lessons which stars Mark Duplass alongside Morales. Céline Sciamma returns to the festival (Portrait of a Lady on Fire, LFF 2019) with Petite Maman, a radiant tale which explores childhood and grief. Martyn Robertson’s Ride the Wave follows Scottish champion teen surfer Ben Larg who prepares to roll the dice with the death-defying big wave surfers at Mullaghmore Head in Ireland.
Winner of the FIPRESCI Prize at the Berlin Film Festival, Alexandre Koberidze’s second feature What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? is a poetic drama set in Georgia which follows the story of Lisa and Georgi who fall in love at first sight. The hot flush of first love sizzles through Leyla Bouzid’s A Tale of Love and Desire when Ahmed’s (Sami Outalbali) world is thrown off-balance when he encounters Farah (Zbeida Belhajamor). Winner of Berlin Film Festival’s Silver Bear, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is one of two films this year from LFF favourite Ryusuke Hamaguchi (along with Drive My Car) and centres on three women in seemingly disparate tales of coincidence.
Two Friends is a beautifully observed portrait of childhood set after the destruction of India’s Babri Mosque from director-screenwriter Prasun Chatterjee. Jide Tom Akinleminu’s captivating and intimate documentary When a Farm Goes Aflame takes us from Denmark to Nigeria as he unravels the complex history of his family. Joachim Trier’s innovative take on the volatility of love and happiness, The Worst Person in the World, features a Cannes-winning performance from the luminous Renate Reinsve.
Riveting films that amplify, scrutinise, argue and surprise.
Ahed’s Knee is a high-intensity political drama/satire from Israeli director Nadav Lapid about a filmmaker coming face-to-face with his conscience and the state of a nation’s culture. Academy Award-nominees Bing Liu and Joshua Altman collaborate for a second time (following 2018’s Minding the Gap) for All These Sons, an urgent document of two community groups in Chicago that empower young men. Juliette Binoche plays an undercover reporter in Emmanuel Carrère’s Between Two Worlds that investigates the conditions faced by France’s working women.
Through archive footage and interviews, directors Tim Travers Hawkins and Celia Aniskovich explore the cultural shift and political context that punctuated the disastrous Woodstock ’99 in Burn it Down! The First Wave is an essential film from Matthew Heineman that documents the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic from the eyes of New York City’s emergency medical workers. A Hero is Asghar Farhadi’s Cannes Grand Prix-winning drama which follows gentle-mannered Rahim who is imprisoned for an unpaid debt to his former brother-in-law.
Joaquín del Paso delivers a tense feature with The Hole in the Fence, a striking coming-of-age tale that exposes the fault lines and schisms of contemporary Mexican society. Abdallah Al-Khatib records the 2013 brutal siege of the Syrian Yarmouk Camp in Little Palestine (Diary of a Siege). Invisible Demons is an unsettling documentary from Rahul Jain detailing the profound impact of pollution and climate change in his home-city New Delhi.
Ann Dowd and Jason Isaacs star in Fran Kranz’s Mass, an intelligent drama following parents of two boys involved in a school shooting who strive for closure. Jan P Matuszyński’s second feature Leave No Traces provides a penetrating insight into Polish society as it follows the aftermath of the brutal killing of a Polish student by security police in 1983. In bitingly satirical and deeply personal documentary The Neutral Ground, CJ Hunt traces the troubled history of Confederate monuments in America.
Following an assistant medical professor who faces her own #MeToo moment, Abdullah Mohammad Saad delivers a gripping feminist drama from Bangladesh with Rehana. Juan Antonio Moreno’s Welcome to Spain shows Spain from the eyes of recently arrived immigrants.
As previously announced, debbie tucker green adapts her acclaimed play about racial injustice in the UK and USA, ear for eye (which will receive its World Premiere at the festival on 16 October and will TX the same evening on BBC Two and streamer BBC iPlayer).
The Debate Series offering is Dopesick from Best Director Oscar-winner Barry Levinson and Emmy winning writer/showrunner Danny Strong who take aim at Big Pharma in the dynamic series Dopesick starring Michael Keaton.
From mega LOLz through romcom to dry and understated – the Laugh strand brings humour in all its forms.
Roshan Sethi directs Geraldine Viswanathan and Karan Soni in 7 Days, a rom-com set during the COVID-19 pandemic about a couple forced to quarantine together after an awkward first date. All My Friends Hate Me is a dark and daring ensemble comedy from Andrew Gaynord about an anxious man (played by Tom Stourton who also co-wrote the film) who is invited to celebrate his birthday at a reunion with his university friends. Radu Jude’s scathing satire Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn finds school teacher Emi threatened with dismissal when a private sex tape goes viral.
Writer-director Fernando Léon de Aranoa’s corporate comedy The Good Boss sees Javier Bardem as a beleaguered Spanish factory boss in ruthless pursuit of winning an award for excellence. Action spoof Cop Secret, from director-screenwriter Hannes Thór Halldórsson, sees two maverick Icelandic policemen pair up to catch a ruthless crime lord. Bong Soo Ko’s ninth feature Humidity Alert is a farcical yet highly perceptive satire of the indie film scene in South Korea, set on one long, hot summer’s day against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Divide sees Catherine Corsini direct an electrically charged satirical portrait of France’s contemporary social divisions set in a hospital emergency room under siege. Neus Ballús’ wry documentary The Odd-Job Men, set in the outskirts of Barcelona, follows plumber-electrician Moha on his first week in a new job when colleague Valero isn’t proving too welcoming.
In Nana Mensah’s self-assured and charming millennial comedy Queen of Glory, she plays a Ghanaian-American woman whose life is thrown into disarray when she inherits her mother’s Christian bookshop. After Tangerine (LFF 2015) and The Florida Project (LFF 2017), Sean Baker’s Red Rocket follows a washed-up porn star (played by Simon Rex) who returns to his smalltown Texas roots and grooms a young local girl to join him in his return to the sex industry.
In-your-face and arresting films in Dare take you out of your comfort zone.
Marcos Mereles’ archly funny and reflective All Is Vanity explores a strange disappearance at a hip London fashion shoot. Tea Lindeburg’s feature debut As in Heaven is anchored by an award-winning performance by Flora Ofelia Hofmann as 14-year-old Lise who is on the cusp of escaping the confines of farm and family in 1800s rural Denmark.
Lorenzo Vigas returns to the festival with The Box, an unusual coming-of-age tale where the exploitative contradictions of contemporary global capitalism are brutally exposed. French cinema’s dream weaver Lucile Hadžihalilovic´ returns with Earwig, her latest eerie vision about a child with teeth of ice and her anxious guardian. Clara Sola is Nathalie Álvarez Mesén’s imaginative tale of self-discovery following Clara who finds meaning and solace in her relationship with animals, insects and plants.
Ahmet Necdet Cupur’s engrossing documentary Les Enfants terribles follows a Turkish family on the brink of implosion when the younger generation try to break free from patriarchy and traditional values and Lav Diaz’s sharp political fable Historya Ni Ha testifies to the ongoing reality of exploitation, channelled through Ha, a ventriloquist’s puppet who embodies art’s redemptive potential.
Natural Light is Dénes Nagy’s riveting debut drama that follows a lieutenant in a Hungarian special unit that won the Best Director award at Berlinale. Teenager Alex covertly goes through her mother Maia’s box of journals, audio tapes and photographs, which reveal a difficult adolescence in the war-torn Lebanese capital and a dark family secret in acclaimed directors Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige’s Memory Box. I
n Natesh Hegde’s Pedro, an outcast and drunk from a South Indian village accidentally kills a cow and sets off a revelatory chain of events that pits him against his entire community. La Mif is Fred Baillif’s raw drama that offers a glimpse of life within a residential care home for at-risk teenage girls. Petrov’s Flu, from one of Russia’s most controversial directors Kirill Serebrennikov, follows a comic book artist who contracts flu during an epidemic and subsequently embarks on a strange journey through Russian society.
Miguel Gomes and Maureen Fazendeiro collaborate for The Tsugua Diaries, a graceful and intelligent experiment that plays with our perception of time and understanding of cinematic storytelling set in the Portuguese countryside. Users is Natalia Almada’s stunning documentary that considers how an imitation of life is becoming second nature.
The Dare strand will also screen episodes 1-6 of series 4 Feet High, a delightful Argentinian web series following Juana who is determined to lose her virginity and not let her wheelchair hold her back and episode 1 and 2 of Oscar-winning producer Simon Chinn’s Curse of the Chippendales which explores the bizarre true story behind the rise and fall of the world’s most famous exotic dance troupe.
Nerve-shredders that will get your adrenaline pumping and keep you on the edge of your seat.
Stephen Graham stars in actor-turned-director Philip Barantini’s single-take thriller Boiling Point as an emotionally scarred London chef who struggles to keep it together during a busy shift at his top London restaurant. Turkish filmmaker Ferit Karahan directs Brother’s Keeper, a thrillingly unpredictable boarding school drama about a young boy who must fight to save his sick friend. Paul Andrew Williams goes back to his pulpy genre roots with Bull, starring Neil Maskell as a vicious gangster who returns to his old stomping ground. Hinterland, directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky, follows a group of soldiers who return to a Vienna they hardly recognise after two years in a Russian POW camp.
Riz Ahmed stars in Encounter as a father on a mission to save his sons in Michael Pearce’s hotly-anticipated follow up to his acclaimed debut Beast. George MacKay and Jeremy Irons star in political thriller Munich — Edge of War, Christian Schwochow’s adaptation of Robert Harris’ acclaimed novel, which sees British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain desperate to find a peaceful resolution in 1938 as Europe teeters on the brink of conflict.
In Randall Okita’s See for Me, a legally blind house-sitter (Skyler Davenport) turns to a mobile app for help when the remote mansion she’s looking after is targeted by a gang of thieves. Michael Greyeyes, Chaske Spencer and Jesse Eisenberg star in Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr’s sleek and stylish psychological thriller Wild Indian which centres on two very different men bound together by a violent secret from their childhood.
Train to Busan director Yeon Sang-ho’s supernatural mini-series Hellbound shows South Korea in the grip of a strange epidemic where people are receiving text messages announcing the exact date and time at which they are going to hell. The festival will screen episodes 1-3.
From the mind-altering and unclassifiable to fantasy, sci-fi and horror.
A young woman’s stay with her beloved nana turns into a waking nightmare in La abuela, the latest scare-fest from director Paco Plaza. Ruth Paxton’s extraordinary psychological debut A Banquet follows teenage Betsey who undergoes a disturbing transformation. Blumhouse Productions’ Dashcam is Rob Savage’s much-anticipated follow up to lockdown horror hit Host, and follows Annie, a politically incorrect, COVID-denying vlogger from the States who travels to London to visit her friend during the pandemic.
Valdimar Jóhannsson’s Cannes-winning feature Lamb sees an Icelandic sheep farming couple haunted by an unspoken, ever-present sadness. After relocating to his wife’s old family mansion, a novelist finds his new enigmatic young housekeeper is obsessed with his work in Fabrice du Welz’s psychosexual thriller Inexorable. the Medium is Banjong Pisanthanakun’s chilling supernatural mockumentary that centres on Nim, a shaman who has for many years served as physical host for the benevolent goddess Ba Yan.
Three Nigerian filmmakers, Abba T Makama, C J ‘Fiery’ Obasi and Michael Omonua, come together in Juju Stories, a thrilling portmanteau film that presents an alternative Lagos through the modern interpretation of folk tales. In Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon Ana Lily Amirpour directs Jeon Jong-Seo as Mona, a girl who has the psychokinetic ability to control the actions of others.
In Charlotte Colbert’s striking gothic film She WilL (starring Alice Krige, Kota Eberhardt and Rupert Everett) an aging actor recovering from a mastectomy taps into a mysterious power at a remote Scottish retreat. Shepherd is the stunning gothic horror debut from writer-director Russell Owen about a grieving shepherd who is overcome by malevolent forces in the wake of the unexpected death of his wife.
Series creators Dominique Rocher and Eric Forestier present French mini-series The Rope, which follows a team of scientists who face a test of faith and survival when they discover a mysterious rope in the middle of a forest. The festival will screen episodes 1-3.
Whether it’s the voyage or the destination, these films transport you and shift your perspective.
Citizen Ashe, from directors Rex Miller and Sam Pollard, tells the story of the original sports activist Arthur Ashe, the first Black man to win Wimbledon, The US Open and the Australian Open, who also fought for many global causes. Florence Miailhe’s ground-breaking animation The Crossing uses oil paint on glass to follow two youngsters who flee their unnamed Eastern European home when they find themselves in danger.
Luzzu is writer-director-editor Alex Camilleri’s powerful neorealist drama that centres on self-employed fisherman Jesmark (played by non-professional actor Jesmark Scicluna) who is struggling to make ends meet in an increasingly challenging profession. Gessica Généus’s debut Freda follows a strong-willed young woman struggling to decide whether to leave the violence of Haiti for the chance of a better life. Briar March’s Mothers of the Revolution is a rousing documentary that revisits one of the longest protests in history: Greenham Common’s peace camp, where thousands of women fought against nuclear proliferation.
Liesbeth De Ceulaer’s hybrid film Holgut captures the otherworldly landscape of Yakutia as three Yakutians walk through the vast, utterly ethereal wilderness of Eastern Siberia, in search of a past that is always disappearing over the horizon. Winner of the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, Maria Speth’s Mr Bachmann and His Class is a moving documentary centred on a teacher and his teenaged pupils who live in Stadtallendorf, formerly the site of a secret Second World War munitions factory and now an industrial town that’s home to generations of economic migrants.
In Nudo Mixteco, debut filmmaker Ángeles Cruz crafts an engaging and timely triptych of stories centred on indigenous women in the fictional location of San Mateo. Expanding on his 2015 Camera d’Or winning short Waves 98, Ely Dagher’s compelling debut feature The Sea Ahead takes the pulse of present-day Beirut to extraordinarily prescient and chilling effect.
In Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut Passing, two childhood friends (played by Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga) are reunited as adults in 1920s New York and find they are magnetically drawn to each other despite living on opposite sides of the racial divide. Sediments is a warm, honest documentary from Adrián Silvestre about a group of Spanish trans women who go on a road trip and share openly about their life experiences. A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces is Shengze Zhu’s gripping, observational portrait of Wuhan that offers a poetic reflection on the pandemic, set against the ever-changing Yangtze.
Troubled by conflicting accounts of her parents’ break-up and happy memories growing up in Walthamstow, The Wolf Suit shows Sam Firth investigating if you can trust childhood memories. Jonas Bak’s debut Wood and Water is a compassionate and precise record of a woman exploring Hong Kong and awakening to a new side of herself with a leading performance by Bak’s mother.
Eliza Scanlen stars in Australian series Fires about the catastrophic bushfires that swept across the country in 2019-2020, leaving devastation in their wake.
Celebrating artistic expression and electricity of the creative process
Ewen Spencer’s 8 Bar – The Evolution of Grime is an intriguing and expansive documentary that looks at the complex history and impact of Grime on modern UK music and culture. Bergman Island is Mia Hansen-Løve’s complex romantic drama that stars Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth as a couple on a summer retreat to Swedish Island Fårö who, as filmmakers, both hope to make progress on their respective scripts. A brave and enthralling autobiographical documentary from Marco Bellocchio, Marx Can Wait shows the Italian filmmaker exploring the impact of his brother’s suicide on his family life and career.
Sadie Frost’s documentary debut Quant pays electrifying homage to British fashion designer Mary Quant, who set the world alight in the 1960s. Maung Sun’s confident feature debut Money Has Four Legs takes us on a journey to the turbulent centre of the Burmese film world. In The Real Charlie Chaplin, Peter Middleton and James Spinney offer a new perspective on the tumultuous life and remarkable career of one cinema’s most elusive icons.
Veteran Syrian director Hala Alabdalla returns to LFF with Omar Amiralay: Sorrow, Time, Silence, a moving portrait of her late friend and pioneer of Arab non-fiction cinema. Emerging Chinese talent, Wei Shujun’s returns to LFF following his debut Striding Into the Wind in LFF2020. His latest, Ripples of Life is a wry and tender tale of an indie film crew shooting in a small regional town, and explores questions of home, celebrity and authenticity.
Ten years after the epic Story of Film: An Odyssey, critic and filmmaker Mark Cousins returns to the festival with another essential examination of cinema The Story of Film: a New Generation, that brings us up to date with the way the medium has developed over the course of the last decade. Mark Cousins also explores the long and illustrious career of one of the UK’s most iconic producers, Jeremy Thomas in The Storms of Jeremy Thomas.
Alexandre O Philippe explores the way cinema has transformed Monument Valley into a mythical landscape, imposing meaning on it and informing cultural perceptions in the process, while at the same time erasing Native American histories in The Taking. Filmmaker Alice Diop’s We (Nous) is an inquisitive and deeply revealing journey on the tracks of the Rer B, a suburban train crossing Paris from North to South.
Films by artists that revolutionise and reshape our vision of cinema.
The Afterlight is a mesmerising collage of moments drawn from the first half of film history, performed by actors who are now deceased, and a poignant reminder of the ephemeral power of cinema by Charlie Shackleton. Drawing parallels between the mechanics of train travel and early cinema, renowned avant-garde filmmaker Peter Tscherkassky takes us on a hypnotic journey of acceleration and deconstruction in Train Again.
In Anachronic Chronicles: Voyages Inside/out Asia, an inventive rewriting of the home videos of filmmakers Yu Araki and Lu Pan, leaves us with the urge to open up boxes of old video cassettes. The Bang Straws, by Michelle Williams Gamaker, is an aesthetically invigorating reworking of the casting process of Sidney Franklin’s The Good Earth (1937), a film notorious for a white actor’s racist portrayal of a Chinese character. The contested history of Mount Malabar, West Java is unearthed, prompting questions about colonisation, modernity and indigenous communities’ relationship with the land and its spirits in Tellurian Drama by Riar Rizaldi.
Eye Cut takes us into a surreal journey, shot on sumptuous colour 16mm, into a sinister realm of gender display and its consequences by Sarah Pucill. By recreating personal stories though testimony, poetry and archival material, the artist and performers explore deep traumas that no single place or language can contain in What We Shared by Kamila Kuc.
Kevin Jerome Everson’s latest feature-length film Lago Gatún, shot in black-and-white 16mm, is a minimalist odyssey that traverses the waterway between the Earth’s two great oceans and will screen with Everson’s short film The I and S of Lives. The intimately told, extraordinary story of anti-fascist fighter and Auschwitz resistance survivor Sonja Vujanovic´, drawn from interviews filmed over ten years in Marta Popivoda’s Landscapes of Resistance. This 1960s station, set up in the North Vietnamese mission in Stockholm, recruited American military deserters to create recordings in an attempt to persuade others to desert in Liberation Radio by Esther Johnson.
The Memorials of Meaning section comprises short films that dissect the hypocrisies of received communications and encoded corruption responsible for suppressing the human imagination and killing the body are contrasted with films that celebrate ancient wisdom and creative energy persisting through time, despite attempts at eradication. Colectivo Los Ingrávidos’s Tonalli is a shamanic composition that manifests in the world as the flowing cosmic blood in which all beings are immersed.
Birds of the world sing together on a video call to mourn the deaths of Egyptian satirist Shady Habash and queer activist Sarah Hegaz in International Dawn Chorus Day by John Greyson. In Didem Pekün’s Disturbed Earth the genocide at Srebrenica unfolds under the guardianship of the UN, as the world’s leading diplomats and military experts are unwilling to intervene.
A dreamlike territory of imagery sensations in music, painting, poetry, and dance – inspired by the people of the Bijagó archipelago in Guinea-Bissau – speak of revolution in Welket Bungué’s Mudança. By Jasmina Cibic, The Gift is based on examples of cultural production in times of ideological crisis and employing allegory and architecture, here is a competition for a gift that could heal a divided nation.
Three films imagine multisensory ways to relate to natural phenomena in the Thinking with Other Senses section. Resisting visual narration and self-reflexivity as dominant modes of expression, each work invites us to experience and attend to the invisible sounds that reverberate through and around us – generating a chorus from moss, hand gestures and twilight.
Ficciones is a layered and poetic attempt to reflect the perspective of the plant world by Manuela de Laborde. Developed over three years, the piece adopts the intentionality of moss by recognising different understandings of duration, rather than simply seeing through our eyes and pressing record. Different readings of the uncannily beautiful light of the desert at night lend a sense of mystery to this work in Desert Lights by Félix Blume. A world that we think of as empty and dark slowly reveals multitudinous layers of nocturnal life, supernatural stories and enigmatic sounds.
In The Hand That Sings, choreographed hand gestures, sung notes, and word games in Spanish and English mingle with the different textures of tree bark, match-light and a cityscape to perform a rich, non-hierarchical rehearsal by Alex Reynolds and Alma Söderberg.
What Are You Looking At? – defiantly non-conformist, this selection of shorts offers multi-perspective musings on existence, from the humorous to the sublime. Sarah and talking dog Whoopsie take a trip to the zoo in Patrick Goddard’s absurdist comedy Animal Antics with a political edge. Rachel Maclean’s bright, emoji-feminist fairy tale-style touches a new darkness in her first completely animated short “upside mimi ᴉɯᴉɯ uʍop ”. 2D Joan’s Immaculate Hair, Nails and Beauty salon hosts contemporary and historical figures of gender non-conformity, plus a televised CGI mythological baby in Child of Polycritus by Lauren John Joseph. In Joseph Wilson’s Isn’t it a Beautiful World, performers Soroya, Harry and Kenya lip-synch queer community experiences using archive sound, directed by London-based Joseph Wilson.
Neuro-diverse artist Eden Kötting’s remarkable drawings, paintings and collages create an illusory, animated world where the rules change and everything is possible in Diseased and Disorderly by Andrew Kötting. Visually dramatic episodes shatter the colonial and the conventional in Sin Wai Kin’s (fka Victoria Sin) stunning exploration of desire, identity and fantasy A Dream of Wholeness in Parts.
Films for the young…and young at heart
In Linda Hambäck’s The Ape Star, Jonna and Gorilla refuse to be divided when outsiders raise questions about their family set-up in this joyful animated tale. The forest literally appears to have come to life and Martin finds himself an unlikely hero, in Martin and the Magical Forest, an exciting Czech film by Petr Oukropec. Birds and mice are rarely known to mix, but Robin Robin has been raised by a mouse family in the comical musical delight, Robin Robin by Dan Ojari and Mikey Please.
Maya and the Three, the hotly anticipated series by Jorge R. Gutiérrez, is a ‘love letter to Mexican culture’ and tells the thrilling story of a world under siege from a slew of underworld Gods. The festival will screen episodes 1-4.
This year’s selection boasts some of the best new short films from around the world, including a student film from the UK’s National Film and Television School and work from Studio Ponoc, Disney and Skydance Animation. How can the animals deal with disquiet in the forest is the question posed in Bemol by Oana Lacroix. Tulip tells the story of a small girl with big adventures by Andrea Love and Phoebe Wahl. Curiosity gets the better of a young raccoon whose frustrated parent attempts to keep them both safe in Director Natalie Nourigat’s Far from the Tree.
With the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect, all can be achieved in Tomorrow’s Leaves by Yoshiyuki Momose. In The Wonderful Story of Aisha, Ali and Flipflopi the Multicoloured Dhow Boat, Aisha and Ali must decide what to do about abandoned plastic, by Kwame Nyong’o. In Roel van Beek’s A Film About a Pudding a city comes under threat from a large pudding. A stranded astronaut finds company on a far-away plant in Joe Mateo’s Blush. Janis Cimmermanis tells the story of a Rescue Team who travel to Greece when a search of underwater treasures goes wrong in Greece Treasures.
Revived and restored from the world’s archives
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s heady romantic masterpiece I Know Where I’m Going! has never looked or sounded finer than in this revelatory restoration from the BFI National Archive. Mike Leigh’s Naked, newly remastered by the BFI National Archive, is a ferociously powerful depiction of England’s underbelly is a brilliant amalgam of black comedy and doomsday prophecy.
The multi-Academy Award-winning Dickensian musical of big emotions and sing-along-able melodies Oliver! by Carol Reed is back in an epic new restoration. Francis Ford Coppola’s visually rich rites-of-passage drama The Outsiders succeeds in encapsulating the overwhelming and all-encompassing emotions of adolescence. A riveting neorealist testimony to Angola’s anti-colonialist struggle, not screened there until after independence, Sambizanga by Sarah Maldoror is an unforgettable revolutionary film.
The Treasures strand will also share a series of shorts around the themes: Around Japan With a Movie Camera, a selection of films from 1901 to 1913, newly restored by the BFI National Archive, which will take audiences on a fascinating journey through Meiji Japan, presented in partnership with The Kennington Bioscope; and From the Caribbean to West Africa in which pioneering West Indian filmmaker Edric Connor tours the Caribbean and Nigeria on the cusp of independence in a series of beautiful short films digitised by the BFI National Archive with funding from the National Lottery.
LFF Expanded (Presented in partnership with the National Theatre)
Established in 2020, this year’s hybrid programme features works from creators bringing stories and experiences to life through bleeding-edge immersive technologies, including interactive VR, 360 films, augmented reality, mixed reality and live immersive performance, which will be presented online and across multiple venues in-person, which will include LFF Expanded @ 26 Leake Street and LFF Expanded at the National Theatre and Rambert.
Using cinema as a jumping-off point, this exciting strand aims to literally expand audiences’ horizons on how to experience interactive storytelling and all kinds of immersive art forms. Presented with LFF Expanded partner the National Theatre, this year’s programme reflects the best of the intersection of visual art, immersive storytelling and creative technology and the full programme of works will be announced later this week.
As part of LFF Expanded, we will screen a number of works developed for LFF with support from the festival including the world premiere of Asif Kapadia’s striking VR animation, Laika, with Kapadia in attendance to present; Future Rites, a work-in-progress version of an interactive VR dance performance from the Alexander Whitley Dance Company; and Museum of Austerity, a co-production between English Touring Theatre, the National Theatre’s Immersive Storytelling Studio and Trial & Error which invites audiences to contemplate the human impact of austerity, from theatre/XR director Sacha Wares and John Pring, editor of Disability News Service.
We will also present Eulogy, a captivating and challenging performance that unfolds in complete darkness by cutting-edge production company Darkfield.
A number of other works will compete for our Best Immersive Art and XR Award:
The Best Immersive Art and XR Award recognises the most innovative work from artists and creators who are boldly exploring the intersection of art, film and expanded reality.
- Adult Children (lead artists – Ella Hickson, Sacha Wares)
- Atomic / Ghost in the Atom (lead artists – Felicia Honkasalo, Akuliina Niemi)
- Captured (lead artist – Hanna Haaslahti)
- Container (lead artists – Meghna Singh, Simon Wood)
- Eternal Return (lead artists – ScanLAB Projects and Lundahl & Seiti)
- Eulogy (lead artist – Darkfield)
- Fauna (lead artists — Adrien M. & Claire B. X Brest Brest Brest)
- Inhibition (lead artists — Zoe Diakaki, Marina Eleni Mersiadou)
- A Life in Pieces: the Diary and Letters of Stanley Hayami (lead artists — Nonny De La Peña, Sharon Yamato)
- Liminal Lands (lead artist — Jakob Kudsk Steensen)
- Missing Pictures: Tsai Ming-Liang (lead artists — Clement Deneux, Kuan-Yuan Lai)
- Noah’s Raft (lead artists — Joel Kachi Benson, Tal Michael Haring)
- Only Expansion – Audio Walk (lead artist — Duncan Speakman)
- Samsara (lead artist — Hsin-Chien Huang)
- Virtually There (lead artist — Leon Oldstrong)
Small but perfectly formed
Local community lies at the heart of the Find Me Here programme. From a late-night Ugandan town, New Orleans hair salon and musically-oriented Brazilian delivery culture to the bricks and mortar of British housing and the cruel nature of unbridled capitalism, we witness everyday lives. On the night before Christmas… A glimpse into the real lives of warehouse workers on the desolate streets of Austin, Texas, in this dual-screen documentary Happiness Is a Journey by Ivete Lucas and Patrick Bresnan. Late at night in the Ugandan town of Masaka, grasshoppers descend, alien-like, into the community, in Michelle Coomber’s lyrical and visually stunning documentary Nsenene.
In Pom Bunsermvicha’s Lemongrass Girl a film production manager carries out a Thai superstition, where a virgin can ward off rain by planting lemongrass. A fascinating peek into a dream-like world. In a New Orleans’ natural hair salon where self-care and communal reflection intertwine, Anastasia Ebel hosts dynamic and enjoyable discussions. Babybangz is a stylish window into the heart of the bayou by Juliana Kasumu. Where there’s money to be made by property developers, there are often lives to be overturned. Hanging On is subject-lead documentary about displacement that touches on community, identity and value by Alfie Barker. In Come by David McShane, meeting new people can be awkward, so mutual understanding of the situation goes a long way. This beautiful animation delicately shows the very real social poetry in app-facilitated hook-ups. Fantasma Neon is an all-singing, all-dancing musical fantasy set in the busy urban world of Brazil’s takeaway food delivery bike community by Leonardo Martinelli.
Marriage as an institution can be suffocating and the works here in the For Better or Worse section explore the more negative side to the vows taken between two people, particularly around how individuals can control and bully. Arriving at the hospital, things soon escalate between Mariam and her husband in powerful drama What We Don’t Know About Mariam by Morad Mostafa. A family kitchen becomes very lively when seen through the eyes of a young boy with a vivid imagination, in The Fourth Wall — a lively mix of animation and live action by Mahboobeh Kalaee. Kanama’s dream-like journey back to her family does not offer the homecoming she hoped for in Imuhira (Home) by Myriam Uwiragiye Birara. The initial solace of familiar surroundings and presence of friends is no comfort when she still feels tormented. In order to support her family, young mum Lili makes the heart-wrenching decision to leave her martial home in a remote part of Sichuan in Zou Jing’s Lili Alone. A pig killed in a slaughterhouse becomes the omniscient narrator in this animated tale Pork about modern marriage by Gareth Lyons. “How I wish you were here…” – the filmmaker’s family during the era of Coronavirus. A personal portrait of Javier Robles Álvarez’s loving parents dealing with lockdown in Sobre Mi Familia Cuando La Pandemia (About My Family During the Pandemic).
From home to the back of a taxi and back again, these stories encompass self-exploration and negotiating the importance of identity, while choosing a path to be proud of in the My Identity, No Crisis programme. Suffocating in the whiteness of drama school, Jonathan realises others’ discomfort is a trivial consequence of momentary cogency in Mitch Kalisa’s Play It Safe. At Night We Fly is a snapshot of three non-binary friends on dark, deserted streets where there’s space to be themselves – celebrating, crying, talking, enjoying by Gert-Jan Verdeyen. Across three Uber journeys, a woman of colour explains who she is to people who have already made their mind up. 5 Stars by Remi Itani is a poignant exploration of cultural lines and the desire for connection. Musician Nasir calls several family members by phone to discuss the decision to transition in Jackson Kroopf and Nasir Bailey’s Nasir. When Salewa has to return home, she finds herself back in a place where she once had to hide herself. But now she goes in search of her own peace in Olive Nwosu’s Egúngún (Masquerade). In Can Merdan Doğan’s Stiletto: ‘a Pink Family Tragedy’ tragedy may only be a matter of perspective. When a taxi driver receives a gift, it’s a chance for him to treat himself, albeit secretly.
Filmmakers showcase the strange in the Weird & Wonderful World selection that veers between the weirdness of folk horror to a wonderful celebration of Afro-futurism. At the peak of the Asian financial crisis in 1998, an ordinary family head to Sentosa island and face unknown terrors in Mark Chua and Li Shuen Lam’s A Man Trembles. In this British folk horror Know the Grass by Sophie Littman, three siblings in a rural town stumble upon a local community centre and family secrets are unravelled. Bill and Deb struggle to see eye to eye as their last-ditch camping trip takes a sinister turn, Dan Hope’s hilariously bizarre animation The Clearing. At the end of the world, Max is desperate to be with the woman he loves. But his destiny lies less in some dystopian space odyssey than an Afrofuturist dream in Earthbound (Jordbundna) by Baker Karim. There’s a sinister presence living in the attic, and a young girl is torn by her desire for a local boy and her ties to something evil at home in Nicolai G H Johansen’s Inherent. In Calving by Louis Bhose, there’s a new born calf that is bleeding and screaming. A vet is called in, but the locals treat him with suspicion.
The selection of shorts Your UK or Mine shows how varied and impressive new British filmmaking is, through stories of community, love and personal acceptance. With observant commentary on the changing landscape of London communities, this is a witty and energetic snapshot of an odd day at a black hair dressers in John Ogunmuyiwa’s Precious Hair & Beauty. Imprisoned in child detention, Jacob finds himself alone desperate to reach the outside world. Help from an unlikely source gives his predicament an even weirder twist in Joy by Alexandra Brodski. In a tense late-night journey, Jordan encounters a drug-dealer in a dangerous den populated by a gang of men and stifling with toxic masculinity in Sam H Freeman and Ng Choon Ping’s Femme. In The Other End by Nia Childs, Shona’s boyfriend hasn’t come home. She fears the worst, so ventures out into the sodium-orange glow of London’s streets at night to find him. Stereotypes are overturned in this story of physical disability, where a group of friends on a council estate find a way to assert their independence using the gifts others see as flaws in Missy Malek’ We’re Too Good for This. In this beautiful drama, For Love by Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor, a couple battle for a future where they can find a home and freedom that is not determined by where they’re from.
Life isn’t always a well-choreographed montage and the stumbles are often why we reflect on it. It’s how personalities are made and that makes for the richest of dramas in the It’s Not That Easy selection. A schoolgirl in the DRC is resembling the woman she wants to become in Kabibi by Elaisha Stokes, a tale that explores the solace we find in the clothes we wear and the shoes we walk in. Wild Flower by Somer Stampley and Sardé Hardie is young child’s retelling of growing up in foster care, through the colourful animation of paper cut-out memories. Before embarking on his first tour of duty, a young soldier and his father must face up to the painful realities that have long gone unspoken between them in Harris Dickinson’s 2003. If you’re looking for some sweet romance you’ve come to the right place, as we follow 13-year-old Mahdi and his undeclared love for Jada while on the school bus run in The Right Words (Haut les coeurs) by Adrian Moyse Dullin. In Evan LaMagna’s Sunshine City, three self-confessed homies are racing across town to get to a rap gig where they’re meant to perform, but numerous obstacles delay their journey. Filmmaker Diana Cam Van Nguyen’s heartfelt personal essay exploring her fractured relationship with her father and navigating Vietnamese Czech culture in Love, Dad. Superbly shot and featuring and unforgettable dance sequence, we witness the mounting tensions between mother and son as his techno dreams of the Berghain permeate their reality in Techno, Mama by Saulius Baradinskas.
Ten films will compete for Best Short Film: The Best Short Film Award recognises short form works with a unique cinematic voice and a confident handling of chosen theme and content.
Representing a broad range of disciplines, the films nominated for this award are drawn from the main short film selection and include short works screening in Experimenta:
- The Bang Straws (dir. Michelle Williams Gamaker)
- Diseased and Disorderly (dir. Andrew Kötting)
- Fantasma Neon (dir. Leonardo Martinelli)
- Femme (dir. Sam H Freeman, Ng Choon Ping)
- For Love (dir. Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor)
- Know the Grass (dir. Sophie Littman)
- Lemongrass Girl (dir. Pom Bunsermvicha)
- Love, Dad (dir. Diana Cam Van Nguyen)
- Precious Hair & Beauty (dir. John Ogunmuyiwa)
- Stiletto: ‘A Pink Family Tragedy’ (dir. Can Merdan Doğan)
LFF awards and awards ceremony
Following the success of our free virtual awards ceremony in 2020, The BFI London Film Festival Awards will once again be presented at an online award ceremony on 17 October.
The awards ceremony will see the announcement of the following winners:
- Official Competition: Best Film Award
- First Feature Competition: Sutherland Award
- Documentary Competition: Grierson Award
- Immersive Art and XR Competition: Best Immersive Art and XR
- Short Film Competition: Best Short Film;
- Audience Award
The IWC Schaffhausen Filmmaker Bursary Award in association with the BFI will also be presented at the ceremony. The Bursary supports the future careers of exceptional new UK film talent and this year has a strong focus on representation and inclusion.
Industry & LFF Education
The majority of this year’s festival industry and education programme will be events and activities for delegates to attend in person as well as being accessible online including Press and Industry screenings, talks and events, and numerous networking opportunities with delegates and filmmakers.
The festival has seen considerable growth in the participation of international professionals over the last five years increasing opportunities for UK screen-based businesses and talent to forge new connections and collaborations. This year’s industry programme navigates a landscape which has seen the world’s film and screen sector in flux from production to distribution through to audience development and at every point in between. The thematic focus of creativity and convergence leads discussions and panel events around how technology has expanded the possibilities of creativity; how to move from one storytelling medium to another; how the need for a global pivot has changed who we work with and how; and what does the future of content production look like in an ever changing social, cultural and political landscape.
The BFI London Film Festival industry programme is supported by The Liberation Initiatives.
The festival’s UK Talent Weekend, supported by the British Council, will platform emerging professionals from across the screen sectors. This strand of activity includes the festival’s second edition of a Works-in-Progress showcase which presents UK work made by emerging talent for cinema, television and immersive platforms to international buyers, commissioners, producers and programmers. NETWORK@LFF will host masterclasses and events for 12 trailblazing UK-based writers, directors and producers to learn from leading international filmmakers and industry executives at the festival; a new talent reception will celebrate new UK work and creative talent involved in the festival; and the Festival’s Buyers & Sellers event will provide a unique opportunity for international sales agents to meet UK buyers.
The industry programme, supported by the Mayor of London via Film London, includes the two-day Film London Production Finance Market, which connects filmmakers and financiers from around the world hosted as a virtual online market, and a focused programme of Spotlight talks and panel discussions.
The 2021 edition of the LFF also marks the sixth year of the IWC Schaffhausen Filmmaker Bursary Award in association with the BFI. At £50,000, the Bursary is the most significant of its kind in the UK, supporting exceptional new filmmaking talent. The Bursary is eligible for emerging writers, directors and writer/directors resident in the UK, and premiering their first or second feature in the festival. 2020’s winner was Cathy Brady (Wildfire); previous recipients of the Bursary are Rose Glass (Saint Maud) in 2019, Richard Billingham (Ray & Liz) in 2018, Daniel Kokotajlo (Apostasy) in 2017 and Hope Dickson Leach (The Levelling) in 2016.
Details of the full industry programme including talks and discussion events will be announced later this month. Industry delegate accreditation is open now.
BFI LFF Education will give young people of all ages a range of opportunities to engage with the BFI LFF programme to develop their creative and critical skills. Young people age 16+ can take part in Film Academy Days on Sunday 10 and Sunday 17 October 2021, a series of events providing opportunities for young, aspiring filmmakers to learn about filmmaking from industry professionals, as well as their filmmaking peers. They can also enjoy #GenerationNow, a curated selection of short films from the main programme on the BFI Player and BFI Facebook channels, as well as accompanying SCENE interviews with the filmmakers, live on the BFI Film Academy Instagram. Through BFI Film Academy accreditation, 350 young filmmakers aged 18-25 will gain access to industry screenings and events. In addition, the Film Academy Young Programmers will curate four themed events for young people as part of the free public programme. Primary and secondary schools can access free online and in-venue schools’ events and specially selected shorts and features with learning resources. These include: live webinars with industry professionals exploring the worlds of film production and distribution; a programme of specially selected diverse short films with resources examining topics such as design, narrative and representation; a special project focussing on Black short filmmakers and where to see their work and a guide to the Virtual Exhibition.
The BFI London Film Festival Education programme is supported by The Liberation Initiatives, Netflix, Old Possum’s Practical Trust. BFI Education is supported by the Reuben Foundation.
Sponsors and funders
We are delighted to welcome back American Express, our Principal Partner and Preferred Payment Partner, as we celebrate 12 years of this extraordinary partnership.
We are thrilled to see the return of American Airlines as Main Sponsor and Official Airline. We extend a very warm welcome to our new Main Sponsor The Liberation Initiatives who will be supporting a number of key programmes across the festival and will help in our continued efforts to make the festival more inclusive to underrepresented communities.
We’re delighted to have IWC Schaffhausen return as the festival’s Official Time Partner and celebrate the sixth year of the prestigious IWC Schaffhausen Filmmaker Bursary Award in association with the BFI. The award benefits an outstanding first or second time British writer, director, or writer/director in the LFF with the recipient receiving £50,000. It returns in 2021 with a strong focus on representation and inclusion. For the first time, all films applying for the Bursary Award will have to meet the BFI Diversity Standards.
After 12 years of partnership with The May Fair Hotel, we’re delighted to welcome the Edwardian group’s newest addition to their portfolio, The Londoner as our official Hotel Partner.
A very warm festival welcome to our returning sponsors: Bloomberg Philanthropies, Heart of London Business Alliance on behalf of Leicester Square and Netflix.
And we are also so grateful to Col & Karen Needham who support our LFF for Free programmes, as well as Simon & Harley Hessel who support LFF Expanded, our programme of Immersive Art and Extended Reality.
A huge thank you goes to the festival’s generous in-kind Sponsors: returning photography sponsor Getty Images. Additionally, we would like to welcome back DDA and thank Audemus Spirits: Pink Pepper Gin, Christie’s, Dalston’s Soda, Fourpure, Global, Ned’s Club and Newman Displays for their continued support.
Festival venue partners
LFF partner venues around the UK include:
- BFI Southbank
- Curzon Soho (Screen 1 & 3)
- Curzon Mayfair (Screen 1)
- Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA)
- LFF Expanded at 26 Leake Street
- LFF Expanded at the National Theatre
- LFF Expanded at Rambert
- ODEON Luxe West End (Screen 1) — Londoner Hotel
- Prince Charles Cinema
- The Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall
- Vue West End (Screen 6) – for delegate press & industry screenings only
- HOME, Manchester
- Watershed, Bristol
- Glasgow Film Theatre, Glasgow
- Broadway, Nottingham
- Showroom Cinema, Sheffield
- Queen’s Film Theatre, Belfast
- Chapter, Cardiff
- Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne
- Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry
- Edinburgh Filmhouse
Additional screenings on selected titles may also be added during the festival window at other venues. These are at the discretion of the distributor and will be signposted on the festival website where added.
The 65th BFI London Film Festival in partnership with American Express takes place from Wednesday 6 October to Sunday 17 October, 2021.
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