BFI London Film Festival 2016

London Film Festival 2016

This site thrives on one 12 day event that occurs every year in October; the BFI London Film Festival. The festival is now in its 60th year and we are in our 7th year of covering the film bonanza in as much detail as we can without actually losing our minds. Each year the films get better and better, I see more and more films, and I get less and less sleep.

On Thursday the line-up for this year’s event was announced and I have gone through the various strands and pulled out a film for each that really has me excited. As for my overall list of films I want to see… I am currently trying to get that down to double digits.

Galas - Free Fire

Free Fire

The Gala films tend to be the hardest tickets to get your hands on but are also the most likely to get a cinema release so I advise you look elsewhere for gems at the festival. That aside I am desperate to catch this year’s closing film Free Fire as it unites the fearless Brie Larson with revolutionary Ben Wheatley. I’ve seen three Larson films (1, 2, 3) and two of Wheatley’s (1, 2) at previous festivals and cannot wait to get my eyeballs on this bloody, funny, and no doubt dazzling action comedy from a filmmaker like no other. Amy Jump has written a 1970s American crime drama shot just outside Brighton which looks as farcical as it does violent. Bring it on.

Love - The Son of Joseph

The Son of Joseph

Back in 2011 we found ourselves very briefly delving into a surreal and stylised world of Portuguese cinema. The film that ended this baffling cinematic education was The Portuguese Nun. I’m almost certain that we enjoyed it. That film’s director, Eugène Green, is back with a French film about a young man searching for his father. I guarantee that this will be a unique film that will be either tedious, hilarious, or a delirious mixture of both.

Debate - Lo and Behold Reveries of the Connected World

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

Werner Herzog is the only documentarian that has both appeared as a baddie in Jack Reacher and as an estate agent in Parks and Recreation. So great is the caricature surrounding Herzog sometimes I forget that he is actually a skilled filmmaker who is not afraid to offer up his opinion and produces works of lyrical beauty. His latest is an exploration of our connected world; looking at how the internet has affected our real world personal relationships. Apparently it includes the line, “Can your dishwasher fall in love with your refrigerator?”. Sold.

Laugh - Lost in Paris

Lost in Paris

My favourite film of 2012 was a strange Belgian comedy called The Fairy which starred a limber comedic duo like nothing I had seen before. In their latest they play a couple who find one another in Paris and go on a series of absurd adventures. Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel thrive on genuinely funny physical comedy that relies on flexibility, ingenuity, and impeccable timing. I will not be missing this.

Dare - The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden

Park Chan-wook has brought us Korean classics including Thirst and The Vengeance Trilogy before impressing with his English language triumphs Stoker and Snowpiercer. Now he has taken the English novel Fingersmith back to his native South Korea to create an erotic and stylish period thriller that apparently involves some amazing wallpaper. No other director can wring so much tension from so little so I can only imagine what he does with this saucy source material.

Thrill - City of Tiny Lights

City of Tiny Lights

A crime thriller set in contemporary London starring Riz Ahmed and Billie Piper. This leapt out at me having watched Billie Piper give a career defining performance in Yerma at the Young Vic last week and feeling the need to double-check that she really is the incredible actress I saw that night. With a plotline involving a radical mosque, multiculturalism, and commercial development City of Tiny Lights sounds like a ripe and topical slice of modern noir set in the city I love.

Cult - The Void

The Void

There are numerous horrors I am keen to lose my composure to at the festival but the one that I keep coming back to is this throwback from Canada. Said to include the influence of John Carpenter and classic practical effects along with knowing nods to frighteners of the past The Void looks to be the perfect way for me to lose a few nights’ sleep.

Journey - Two Lovers and a Bear

Two Lovers and a Bear

Starring two of the most underrated and talented young actors working today, Dane DeHaan and Tatiana Maslany, Two Lovers and a Bear brings us magical realism in the Arctic. The two titular lovers are trying to overcome their childhoods in a remote and isolated town. Presumably a bear shows up at some point too.

Sonic - London Town

London Town

Imagine a time of social, political, and racial unrest under a Tory Prime Minister. Now stop thinking about last month and throw your mind back to 1979. Representing the festival strand dedicated to music we have a British comedy drama following a young teenager struggling with family life after his mother leaves the family home. What will help him get through this troubled time? Punk of course!

Family - Phantom Boy

Phantom Boy

At a film festival there are no BBFC certificates and as such there is no guarantee that the animated film you have chosen to see will not feature graphic sexual content. Thankfully the festival has the Family strand which is the only safe place for the young or prudish. Leo is a sick boy trapped in hospital who discovers he can leave his body and fly around like a phantom. A surreal animation about a new type of superhero.

Experimentia - Have You Seen My Movie

Have You Seen My Movie?

I am wary of the Experimenta strand as the films veer away from narrative cinema and towards pure art. For a novice like me this can be a challenging experience and writing about it is almost impossible. I get an abusive email roughly once every six months from one artist whose work I didn’t enjoy back in 2013. A film my brain might be able to comprehend is Have You Seen My Movie? which consists of a two-hour montage of scenes from other films that either feature people going to the cinema or in the act of making film themselves. How can this last for so long? Will it be enjoyable or tedious? This is the joy of Experimenta; you have to take the plunge and risk being proven wrong.

Treasures - Born in Flames

Born in Flames

Truly embracing the risk I am even tempted by a film that straddles both the Experimenta strand and the Treasures collection. In the latter group are older films that have been remastered or simply need to be revisited, perhaps having gained greater relevance since their initial release. This example is a slice of 80s feminist science fiction in which women never gained equality with men and so turn to violent revolution to fight for what is rightfully theirs. Anyone mocking SJWs online might want to watch their step.

The festival runs 5th – 16 October 2016 and tickets go on sale 8th September for BFI members and 15th September for everyone else.

BFI London Film Festival Short Film Award

I have just watched the twelve films up for the Short Film Award at this year’s London Film Festival. Short film is an underappreciated medium and always worth seeking out. The films were a diverse bunch; some were incredible and others were so pretentious I was genuinely angry that someone would want to steal other people’s time by asking them to watch. Below are four that particularly caught my eye:

Edmond

Edmond

Director: Nina Gantz
A charming, surreal, and funny stop motion film about Edmond; a man looking back on the significant moments of his life. Moments that often seem to involve him trying to eat loved ones. The felt characters were enhanced with hand drawn facial features creating a pleasing animation hybrid. I loved it.

Mother(s)

Mother(s)

Director: Maïmouna Doucouré
A French short drama with a plot! You have no idea how much you can long for plots when watching short films. Told from the point of view of a young girl Mother(s) explores what happens when the father of a nuclear family returns homes with the woman he has impregnated. Incredibly touching and with an impressive young actor at its centre. I loved it.

Operator

Operator

Director: Caroline Bartleet
The first time I have noticed a Kickstarted short out in the wild. A woman and her son are trapped in a house fire and dial 999 for help. All we see is the 999 operator’s face as she deals with the situation in an incredibly tense six minutes. Excellent face acting. I loved it.

Over

Over

Director: Jörn Threlfall
In a quiet suburban street we see a series of vignettes depicting what appears to be the aftermath of a crime. With each shot we slowly move back through the day leading up to the reveal of just what has happened. This short is shocking and has a message ingrained in it while also subtly showing how little impact an incident can have on those who just pass by. I loved it.

All the shorts are screened on Saturday 17th October in two chunks and tickets can be bought on the BFI website here and here. If you ask me, I’d go for the first block of films over the second.

BFI London Film Festival 2015 – The Briefing

BFI LFF 2015

At nine this morning I nestled into a leopard printed seat at the Odeon Leicester Square along with hundreds of other international film writers, of varying degrees of professionalism, to watch my first film of this year’s London FIlm Festival.

What does this mean for you? Between today and 18th October I will be watching 30+ films and trying, probably failing, to keep up with reviewing them over here.

It’s going to be a manic twelve days in which I miss sleep, become an emotional wreck, and make all manner of typos. Please bear with me.

Should you wish to look at the films on offer or even buy some tickets for yourself then take yourself to the BFI website. See you soon with some opinions.

BFI London Film Festival 2014 Line-up

BFI London Film Festival 2014

It has begun. Booking for BFI members began for this year’s London Film Festival this week and it was the usual bloodbath as cinephiles fought to obtain tickets to this latest collection of cinematic delights. There are plenty of gems to be found among the hundred of films within the line-up and plenty that don’t star Benedict Cumberbatch or Brad Pitt. Ticket go on sale for the public on Thursday 18th September and you can peruse the full catalogue online at bfi.org.uk/lff. Each film is assigned to one of eleven strands at the festival. Below I take you through the strands one by one and pick out a personal highlight for each.

Love

Love is Strange
Love is Strange

The love strand is all about love, lust, and everything in between. What greater examination of love can there be than looking at a couple 39 years into their relationship? The couple in question are Alfred Molina and Footloose‘s own John Lithgow, a pair who find themselves looking for somewhere to live when one loses his job. During the hunt for a new home each stays at a different apartment and this new distance puts their relationship to the test. From what I have read this is the film to make you fall in love with love again and so is a must see at this year’s festival. Both Molina and Lithgow are hitting career highs and to have them come together as a couple promises to be unmissable.

Debate

Rosewater
Rosewater

Jon Stewart is best known for presenting the scathingly truthful comedy news show The Daily Show, a show that far too often feels like the only honest coverage world news can get. Who better than to present his directorial debut as part of the strand designed to spark debate. Focussing on world politics rather than comedy Stewart explores the incarceration of BBC journalist Maziar Bahari who was arrested for treason while covering the 2009 elections in Iran. If there is anybody who can cover such an event in a balanced way it is Jon Stewart.

Dare

Thou Wast Mild & Lovely
Thou Wast Mild & Lovely

When looking for a daring piece of cinema you can’t go wrong with what the writer-director calls a “magical-realism-romcom-mumblecore-western-with-horror”. The plot involves a married man taking a summer job on a ranch staffed by just the ranch owner and his daughter. I can only imagine what unfold as the BFI give it the just as baffling description of “a rural erotic horror romance”. Sign me up.

Laugh

Night Bus
Night Bus

I’ll let you figure out for yourself what this strand is all about. Night Bus has a simple enough premise; for ninety minutes we follow a double-decker through the streets of London at night. As passengers get on and off we meet a variety of characters, all travelling through the capital when most people are asleep. This appeals to me simply because I know first-hand the joys of the night bus and am curious to see how they translate to the big screen. Possibly one of the most “London” of the films at the festival.

Thrill

The Salvation
The Salvation

An actor that most befits the word “thrilling” is the great Dane Mads Mikkelsen. Mads is taking his chiselled cheekbones to the old West in the what the BFI have dubbed a “smørrebrød western”; I just hope they don’t say that to the director’s face. Fleshing out the international cast are Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and the increasingly prevalent Eric Cantona. If you weren’t convinced at the first mention of Mads Mikkelsen then you clearly haven’t watched enough of his work.

Cult

The Town That Dreaded Sundown
The Town That Dreaded Sundown

You’ve to be careful with cult cinema as what one fan might watch on a weekly basis, you might struggle to sit through once. My pick in this strand is the perfect example of this; a remake of a 1976 horror film set in a world in which the original film is not only true but exists as a film. Call this a sequel, remake, or reimagination, I call it a future cult classic.

Journey

My Old Lady
My Old Lady

There are a few things make a film extra-appealing to me and one prime factor is the presence of a British actor over a certain age. Kevin Kline plays an American writer who inherits a Parisian flat but is unable to sell it unless he can convince its current tenant to move out or die. That tenant? Why it’s Maggie Smith! I’m sold. The Journey strand is filled with journeys, destinations, and beautiful locations.

Sonic

The 78 Project Movie
The 78 Project Movie

Sonic is a collection of films and documentaries that surround the subject of music. My pick of these musical delights is a documentary about American folk music in which the film’s director travels the country recording all manner of musicians performing folk songs on retro recording equipment. The film promises to be a love letter to folk music and analogue technology. Sounds lovely to me.

Family

The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow
The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow

The Family strand is precisely what it sounds; a collection of films the whole family can enjoy. As someone without children to hand I would also like to point out that a film suitable for children isn’t automatically out-of-bounds for an adult. The more I read about this particular film the more I want to see it. A satellite crashes to Earth and turns into a girl who, along with a cow that used to be human, seeks help from a wizard who has been turned into toilet roll. Pure joyful madness.

Experimenta

Vampire Bat
Imitations of Life

In Experimenta art meets film to create something that doesn’t necessarily feel the need to contain a narrative, character, or any of the usual cinematic devices. Do not go into this expecting the usual collection of shorts, Experimenta is something else entirely. This particular collection of shorts takes existing films and remixes, reshapes, and remakes them. Some will delight you, some with infuriate you, but none will be anything you have seen before.

Treasures

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Here’s what I love about the London Film Festival and the BFI in general. When hearing that part of the festival includes the screening of classic films you might presume that the chosen features would be those held up as artistic masterpieces; beautiful but not necessarily fun. Instead what we have, amongst the artistic, musical, and masterful, is one of the most intense horror films committed to film. While lacking in the gore and nudity more common nowadays Massacre instead maintains a tense, almost unbearable, tone of absolute horror and suspense.

Review of the Two Year Review of the UK Film Policy Review

Film Policy Review Squared

Two years ago Lord Chris Smith convened a panel of industry experts to examine UK film policy and the work of the BFI. The result was a report that ran to 111 pages in length and out of kindness to you dear reader I read it all and condensed the findings into 10 key sections. You can re-read my summary by clicking here.

To give you some context the report was published in January 2012 shortly after the UK Film Council had been abolished and the BFI suddenly found themselves responsible for distributing National Lottery funds and became responsible for not just the cultural well-being of the British film industry but the commercial side too. The report gave the BFI some guidance as to what was expected of them as they ventured into new territory. The BFI was used to being an archivist, not a producer, and needed all the help it could get.

Two years on and the panel has reconvened and I am pleased to say that the findings are largely positive, the lovely BFI have done well in their new role with some areas for improvement. The full pdf of their new report can be downloaded here but I have once again summarised it all for you below.

1: Audience Development
“Public policy should be used to maximise audience access to films of every kind.”
As a result of the panel’s recommendations the BFI have launched the Film Audience Network and the BFI Player. Thumbs up from the panel. However the BFI failed to properly connect with the commercial side of the exhibition sector, including small and large cinema operators, which has lost them lots of potential support. Large cinemas account for 75% of screens and should not be ignored when it comes to developing audiences. Could this be a case of snobbery on the BFI’s part? In 2017 the BFI are expected to get more independent films into both multiplex and art-house cinemas. Finally I can recommend the smaller films without annoying everyone.

2: Film Education
“Film education can assist in growing the audiences of today and tomorrow, ensuring that more people have an improved understanding and appreciation of the value of different kinds of film.”
The BFI have established a new film education organisation, Film Nation UK (FNUK) to encourage 5 – 19 year olds to learn about film. Another thumbs up. The aim now is for the FNUK to gain independence from the BFI and be self-sustaining after 2017. FNUK needs to engage better with schools and teachers and to do so needs to work closer with the Department for Education. “FNUK can enable film to be recognised far more widely as a cultural peer of literature, drama and music, in terms of both artistic and educational value.” Also need to ensure that there is a clear path for young people to get involved in film as a career.

3: The Virtual Print Fee
This was established as a cost to distributors every time a film is played at a new cinema and has been used to fund the cost of digitising UK cinemas. This was a success in the sense that the UK has become a fully digitised sector, including a total of 300 digital independent cinema screens. On the downside this has meant higher distribution costs for smaller films which might have in the past used the same 35mm print at various cinemas as part of a slow, rather than saturated release. This fee is actually slowing the distribution of independent films. The panel are proposing to only charge for the number of concurrent digital “prints” in use or simply waive the fee on films released on a number of screens below a specified threshold (99).

4: Development, Production, Distribution
The panel gives a sympathetic shrug to the BFI for having to tackle new responsibilities and deal with a large cut to government funding. Despite this the BFI have implemented some of the reports recommendations including the Vision Awards, the recycling of development funds, a new animation development partnership, and supporting the development of family films. Lots of admin in this section so skipping along… Lots of complicated money stuff… Way over my head…

5: Broadcasters
“The Panel is frustrated there has been little progress on its recommendations concerning broadcasting”
The government gets a ticking off here as they endorsed the panel’s proposals to get BSkyB, ITV, and Channel 5 to do more to support the UK film industry but have failed to use their relationship with the broadcasters to prioritise the issue. “In particular, by the end of 2015, the Panel would like to see BSkyB investing at least £20m, ITV £10m, and Channel 5 £5m per annum in original feature film production, as well as acquiring a greater number of British and specialised films.” We all know that the BBC and Film 4 are major players in the film world so it makes sense to expect the same from our other big entertainment brands.

6: International Strategy
“UK films earned a combined worldwide gross of $5.3 billion in 2012 – a 15% share of the global box office – with the twenty-third James Bond film, Skyfall, earning over $1.1 billion alone. The 2012 gross for UK films was less than 2011’s high of $5.6 billion, but more than any other year recorded.” The Film Tax Relief has kept a steady supply of films being made and the relief will be extended to high-end TV productions from April 2014 which is lovely. More needs to be done to promote the UK industry as a solid investment to international investors, particularly major US studios. Despite UK films success worldwide there is a lack of structured support for delivering UK films to the global audience. All sorts of companies and agencies need to work together to explore partnerships. BBC Worldwide in particular look to be a key avenue for getting UK films out to international sales.

7: Skills & Talent Development
“The future success of the UK film industry, and the vitality of its film culture, depends on the ability to nurture new talent and skills.”
Skills and talent development are two distinct strands but need joined up planning to make the best use of funds. BFI and Creative Skillset have worked together on a funding strategy for 2013-17 and the BFI and Creative England have launched a new Talent Network. All these agencies need to collaborate going forward and, along with the government, must support the BFI’s new Diversity Strategy to ensure opportunities in the industry are available to women, ethnic minorities, and socially deprived populations. As a straight white male I need to check my privilege.

8: Research & Knowledge
More research is needed into the UK film acquisition market and to the impact the Virtual Print Fees are having on independent distributors versus traditional print fees. All the new initiatives need to be rigorously measured and evaluated. The BFI Film Research & Statistics Fund (a very exciting set of words to a film and data geek like me) has been put out to tender which pleases the panel as it offers some separation between the research and those being researched but the relationship between the research and policy needs to remain strong.

9: The BFI as Lead Agency for Film
“The BFI seems to have been less confident in seizing the leadership of the commercial needs of British film than it has been in sustaining its traditional expertise in cultural, educational and archival work.” There is still work to be done for the BFI to truly represent all parts of the UK film industry. As the BFI matures into its role as lead agency for film in the UK it needs to act as a strong industry leader whilst also allowing partners enough freedom to deliver.

I feel like I’ve just read someone’s school report. Still, nice to see a good level of transparency and accountability.

I’ve saved my favourite excerpt for the very end, it is from the section on Education: “The Panel believes that by putting the needs of schools at the centre of its approach  FNUK can enable film to be recognised far more widely as a cultural peer of literature, drama and music, in terms of both artistic and educational value.”

Isn’t that a lovely sentiment? I think I was just moved by a governmental policy review. How unsettling.