The London Film Festival, now in its 58th year, is preparing to once again roll out its red carpet, with World War II this time taking a central focus for both the opening night with Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley’s spy thriller The Imitation Game, chronicling the events around Alan Turing’s breaking of the enigma code — and the closing night with Brad Pitt’s tank drama Fury, which many are likening to the heartfelt drama Saving Private Ryan.
While tickets don’t come cheap, and are not too easy to come by (a ticket ballot is open to BFI members until 15 September, with limited tickets remaining thereafter to the public) — the festival is now offering audiences a chance to see red carpet footage and screenings of both films, beamed live by satellite in local cinemas. A digital channel showing regular red carpet action and filmmaker interviews will also be available on the BFI Player, the BFI’s web VOD service.
If that doesn’t sound exciting enough — not to worry, the festival is offering some 248 films across 17 cinemas in the capital (including Odeon BFI Imax, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Odeon Leicester Square), something that can be rather daunting when trying to work out what to see. Here’s a few films we suggest, broken down by section:
These high profile films often foreshadow next year’s Oscar awards, and the bigger bonus, the festival promises many of the cast and the film-makers to be in attendance for opening presentations and Q&A discussions.
This year’s star-studded roster includes Cannes Film Festival favourite Foxcatcher, an ill-fated wrestling drama, directed by Bennett Miller and starring Steve Carell and Channing Tatum. Then there’s Wild, Reese Witherspoon’s critically acclaimed performance in an adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s popular book of the same name. Mike Leigh’s awards contender Mr Turner depicts the later years of artist J.M.W. Turner and stars Cannes Film Festival winner Timothy Spall. Rosewater is Jon Stewart’s directorial debut detailing the story of Maziar Bahari, the journalist who was detained for 188 days in Iran. Then there’s A Little Chaos, Alan Rickman’s period romp about a landscape-gardener employed by King Louis XIV with Kate Winslet playing the lead. Also getting good word of mouth is Testament of Youth, a World War I coming-of-age memoir by British writer and feminist Vera Brittain, starring Emily Watson, Hayley Atwell and Dominic West.
As per usual, a highly credited list of film stalwarts will be on hand to give workshops and talks. Dreamworks will give a detailed run-through of its upgraded animation set-up; director Bennett Miller will talk Moneyball and discuss his next awards contender Foxcatcher; documentary aficionado Frederick Wiseman will chat documentary through the decades; and Imitation Game’s production designer Maria Djurkovic will provide insight into her craft.
Film titles up for the festival’s main competition include Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Cannes award-winner Leviathan, appropriately centred around Russia’s corruption within a political landscape; Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu, a beautifully moving account of the temporary occupation of northern Timbuktu by militant Islamic Jihadists in 2012; Céline Sciamma’s much talked-about film Girlhood showing the inequalities of black young women in the suburbs of Paris; and Australia heist thriller Son of a Gun, starring Ewan McGregor.
First Feature Competition
Synonymous with the Sutherland Award, this category always showcases a host of talented up-and-comers. Don’t miss IRA cat-and-mouse thriller 71, starring the next ‘big thing’ Jack O’Connell; Catch Me Daddy, following a 17 year-old and her boyfriend on the run from a traditional Pakistani family in the Yorkshire Moors; The Tribe, a Ukranian crime drama set in a boarding school for deaf people, (told entirely in sign language); and Difret, an arresting story of an Ethiopan girl accused of killing a man who sexually abused her.
With documentaries nowadays taking centre stage at many festivals, this category (which hands out the Grierson Award for Best Documentary) is never an easy one to decide what to see. We like the sound of Hockney, which provides eye-opening accounts of the artist via archival, home-movie footage; National Gallery, Frederick Wiseman’s masterly and absorbing portrait of Britain’s esteemed gallery; Maidan, Sergi Loznitsa’s street footage of Ukrainian protests earlier this year; and The Possibilities are Endless, a haunting account of singer Edwyn Collins’ long and difficult recovery from a stroke.
French thespian Mathieu Amalric’s Blue Room is one to watch out for, about a machinery rep in lust with a pharmacist’s wife (played by sexy Stéphanie Cléau). Kelley & Cal sees Juliette Lewis’ return to the big screen as a bored housewife who is keen on her younger neighbour and the highly anticipated Love is Strange, starring Alfred Molina and John Lithgow, depicts a tender relationship story set in Manhattan.
The festival notes a further ten sections, including Debate, Dare, Laugh, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Sonic, Family, Experimenta, Treasures, along with a line-up of live-action and animated shorts — with each category boasting a wealth of subjects from both new (and established) film-makers. As with most film festivals, many of these will never receive a UK release so it’s worth taking a risk and lending your support to the lesser known films — they are often the undiscovered treasures (plus they make less of a dent in your bank account).
London Film Festival takes place between 8-19 October. Tickets are available for BFI’s champion members on 10 September its cinema members on 11 September and the general public on 18 September. See the full programme for details.