From 7 to 18 October the BFI London Film Festival will be the first ever edition to be widely accessible wherever you are in the UK, with over 50 virtual premieres, free online events and cinema screenings across the land.
2020 has been the most extraordinary year and the London Film Festival follows the trend in bringing something completely new to the year. The 64th BFI London Film Festival this year is not bound by London, you can see films all over the country. To add to that, the festival this year is providing many opportunities to see over 50 virtual premieres via the BFI’s online platform. It’s a change that may affect the festival for many years to come which isn’t a bad thing. It’s great that the festival can go ahead this year even though the World has had the Coronavirus pandemic to deal with. So many things ground to a halt, but it hasn’t stopped the festival, and in this landmark year, there are still loads of films to see, immerse yourself in and live through.
In addition to the short films and feature films, the BFI London Film Festival is offering LFF Expanded – a set of films and experiences – an augmented reality, and AI-driven Virtual Reality -experiment. Some of the content on offer is best viewed via a VR headset, but many also offer direct viewing via your web access.
Here is our 2020 selection of films, LFF Expanded and events. Highlights include two films from Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology series – Mangrove and Lovers Rock. Regina King’s directorial debut with One Night In Miami, based on Kemp Powers stage play about a night in Miami with Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown. Kemp Power also brings Pixar movie, Soul co directed with Pete Docter and featuring Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, and Phylicia Rashad. Yemi Bamiro’s One Man and His Shoes looks at the legacy of Nikes, Michael Jordon promoted, basketball shoes, Air Jordons. Time takes us on a 20-year campaign by wife Fox Richardson to get her husband released from a life sentence, and 15 years after his film, Injustice charting deaths in custody, Ken Fero brings us Ultraviolence.
One Man and His Shoes:
“The Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill doubled as a community centre for Black Londoners to exchange ideas and to commune. As police brutality and harassment intensified, the Mangrove also became a site of resistance leading to the wrongful arrest for incitement to riot of nine local activists including Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Letitia Wright) and Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby). Oscar-winner Steve McQueen’s depiction of the infamous 55-day trial is a moving instalment from his Small Axe anthology series, a collection of films that evoke memories, political events and a critical perspective on life for London’s West Indian community between the 1960s and 1980s.”
United Kingdom 2019 | 126 minutes
Directed by: Steve McQueen
Featuring: Letitia Wright, Shaun Parkes, Malachi Kirby, Rochenda Sandall, Jack Lowden
Farewell Amor (also 12th October)
“A New York-based Angolan man finally reunited with his wife and daughter – Esther and Sylvia arrive from Angola to live with Walter, who left his war-torn homeland 17 years ago. Sharing a tiny apartment in Brooklyn, they try to rebuild their lives together and overcome the personal and political differences that developed in their years apart. Walter accepts that he can no longer play the role of the single man, while Esther has become a devout Christian, secretly sending what little they earn to her church back home. Meanwhile, Sylvia tries to adjust to life in this foreign land.”
USA 2019 | 101 minutes
Directed by: Ekwa Msangi
Featuring: Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, Zainab Jah, Jayme Lawson
Time (also 10th, 11th, 13th, 15th October)
“Fox Richardson has spent over 20 years campaigning for the release of her husband, who was sentenced to life without parole for a botched armed robbery. At the same time, she single-handedly raised six sensitive and bright sons. Garrett Bradley’s (America) feature showcases her tremendous talent and ambition, deftly combining home video archive and contemporary footage of Fox and her sons, presenting a remarkably resilient woman who transformed from being collateral damage of the US penal system into an inspirational campaigner. Enhanced by stunning black and white photography and an evocative blues score. An epic personal journey of hardship and hope, it reveals the devastating effects of mass incarceration on Black communities in America.”
USA 2020 | 81 minutes
Directed by: Garrett Bradley
I Am Samuel (also 13th October)
“Samuel was born and raised on a farm in rural Kenya. Moving to its capital, Nairobi, he meets and falls in love with Alex. Samuel’s father, a preacher at his local village church a few miles from the capital, expects his son to marry and looks forward to the day when he brings home a daughter-in-law. While Alex and Samuel’s love for each other thrives, they remain constantly aware of the shadows of violence creeping around them. After all, under the Kenyan constitution’s penal code, introduced by the British some 100 years ago, homosexual acts carry a 14-year prison sentence.”
Content warning: this film contains scenes of homophobic violence.
Directed by: Pete Murimi
Eyimofe (This is My Desire) (also 14th October)
“The rich tones and complex hues of the Esiri brothers’ striking portrait of migration highlights what is left behind. Set in Lagos and divided into the provocatively titled chapters ‘Spain’ and ‘Italy’, we follow Mofe (Jude Akuwudike), a factory technician and Rosa (Temi Ami-Williams), a hairdresser as tragedy and survival fuel their desires for a better life’ in Europe. Captured with stoic precision on 16mm, Eyimofe (This is My Desire) resists the temptation of high drama to show the sprawling city and the forces that propel its unique social dynamic. The elegant directorial eye of Arie and Chuko Esiri combined with skilful performances from Akuwudike and Ami-Williams mark the film as another great contribution to the burgeoning independent Nigerian new wave.
Nigeria 2019 | 114 minutes
Directed by: Arie Esiri, Chuko Esiri
Featuring: Jude Akuwudike, Tomiwa Edun, Temi Ami-Williams
Industry (also 14th October)
Episodes 1, 2 and 4
“An investment bank’s graduate programme is a hotbed of ambition and insecurity in this timely, tightly-plotted drama. Led by rising star Myha’la Herrold, these friends and rivals navigate a toxic culture of ego, excess and the legacy of the 2008 financial crisis as they compete for permanent jobs. Lena Dunham directs the first episode with verve, providing a typically frank lens on sex, drugs and millennial vulnerability. Writers Kay and Down subvert expectations at every turn, delivering a fresh and incisive exploration of race, class and the price of success.”
UK 2019 | c.145 minutes
Directed by: Lena Dunham, Tinge Krishnan, Ed Lilly
One Night in Miami… (also 12th October)
“Based on Kemp Powers’ award-winning stage play, One Night in Miami… is the imagined story of what followed 22-year-old Muhammad Ali’s (Eli Goree) 1964 victory over heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. Sat ringside are Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge). The film explores the personal and political conflicts faced by the men — balancing their public image in a world where the pinnacle of success for a black person was to be a sportsperson or entertainer, alongside their drive to fight for black liberation. The conversations that followed were not without conflict and King’s depictions of their lives apart from each other is as much a testament to the strength of their character as it is the power of the film’s thrilling narrative. This was a meeting of minds on a historic night.“
USA 2020 | 111 minutes
Directed by ; Regina King
Featuring: Ben-Adir Kingsley, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr
Soul (also 13th, 14th, 17th October)
“Jamie Foxx is Joe Gardner, a music teacher who lives for his art. Just as his professional career is about to take off, a fateful mishap finds him embarking on an unexpected journey of self-discovery to The Great Before, an incredible place where new souls are born. Unfolding across a series of beautifully realised worlds, Soul takes a refreshing look at how we become ourselves. With an all-star cast that includes Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs, Angela Bassett and Tina Fey, Docter and co-director Kemp Powers along with producer Dana Murray have crafted a universal narrative that will appeal to all ages, and a universe that is as smart and life-affirming as it is funny and exciting. The perfect film for your heart, body and, well…soul.”
USA 2020 | c100 minutes
Directed by: Pete Docter, co-directed by Kemp Powers
Featuring: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Phylicia Rashad
“New York City, 2013. Introspective bisexual Ben drifts from one casual encounter to the next. While his recent relationships barely last past morning, things change when he meets Sam, a handsome stranger with whom he forms an immediate connection. But as they spend more time together, both men begin to recognise the need to confront past traumas if they are to truly let the other person in. Based on personal experience, writer/director/star Matt Fifer and co-director Kieran Mulcare have crafted a richly textured drama, tackling complex subjects with grace, delicacy and uncompromising honesty. Fifer’s sympathetic central performance is ably matched by co-writer Sheldon D Brown’s nuanced turn as Sam, with the pair establishing an effortless on-screen connection that brings real heart to their timely and, ultimately, hopeful tale.”
USA 2020 | 93 minutes
Directed by: Matt Fifer, Kieran Mulcare
Featuring: Matt Fifer, Sheldon D. Brown, Sandra Bauleo
“Since 1969, there have been over 2000 deaths in police custody in the UK. It is a frightening statistic that Ken Fero approaches with seasoned conviction. 15 years after his ground-breaking film Injustice, Ultraviolence employs unflinching archival footage to document the tragic and undignified deaths that took place between 1995 and 2005. Victims include Fero’s classmate Brian Douglas and Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot and killed whilst travelling on the London underground. With intimate access to a variety of sources, Fero encounters families devastated by these killings and subsequently thwarted in their struggle for justice. Ultraviolence shows a corrupt system failing UK citizens.”
United Kingdom 2020 | 75 minutes
Directed by: Ken Fero
One Man and His Shoes (also 13th, 16th October)
“South Londoner Yemi Bamiro follows his impressive short works with a debut feature documentary of scale – examining the cultural and commercial phenomena of Michael Jordan against the increasing commodification of Black culture and a lack of corporate accountability. A sportsman with once-in-a-generation talent, Jordan was held up as a symbol of Black progress; he had his own phenomenally successful trainer brand that made Nike one of the most profitable companies in the world. Bamiro deftly charts the rise of Jordan against 80’s and 90’s pop culture milestones: hip hop, Spike Lee, the emergence of the mega-watt and mega-rich sports personalities. He also highlights how brands became savvy manipulators of youth culture by stoking America’s toxic obsession with consumerism and celebrity in a climate of increasing class and race inequality.”
United Kingdom 2020
Directed by: Yemi Bamiro
David Byrne’s American Utopia (also 15th October)
“‘Do we get stupider as we grow up?’ In his wildly popular Broadway show American Utopia, Byrne reflects on human connections, life and how on earth we work through it. He joins the dots with his music and it all starts making sense. Spike Lee here transforms the production into immersive, dynamic cinema that radiates with astounding performances, inventive contemporary dance and political urgency. American Utopia flows like an iridescent dream vision. Work by James Baldwin, Janelle Monáe and Kurt Schwitters is highlighted among exhilarating renditions of Byrne’s solo work as well as Talking Heads classics. According to the multi-hyphenate, we love looking at humans more than anything else. Anti-fascist and anti-racist, Byrne illuminates our responsibility to care for one another as he and his co-performers burn down the house.”
USA 2020 | 105 minutes
Directed by: Spike Lee
Featuring: David Byrne, Jaqueline Acevedo, Gustavo di Dalva, Bobby Wooton III
African Apocalypse (also 19th October)
“When British-Nigerian poet and activist Femi Nylander discovered Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the novel that Barack Obama claims helped him understand why ‘white people are afraid’, he was immediately drawn to understanding this distorted vision of Africa. Embarking on a spiritual journey to Niger, Femi uncovers the violent legacy of the real-life counterpart to Conrad’s novel, French Captain Paul Voulet, whose genocidal mission in 1898 can still be felt today, through subsequent generations of his victims. A brutal indictment of colonialism that never shies away from the horrifying terrorism Africans endured under colonial rule.”
United Kingdom, Niger 2020 | 88 minutes
Directed by: Rob Lemkin
“Limbo is at once deadpan comedy and also poignant tale of a group of refugees stuck, pending asylum, on a weather-beaten Hebridean outpost, the Uists. Sharrock cites Elia Suleiman as an inspiration and here too we see a deep humanism behind the wry gaze and a desire to move beyond cross cultural narratives of simple reconciliation. Rising UK star Amir El-Masry impresses as Omar, one of four men in this ‘limbo’ together, who find a bond in the shared strangeness of their situation and distance from their own countries and families.”
United Kingdom 2020 | 103 minutes
Directed by: Ben Sharrock
Featuring: Amir El-Masry, Vikash Bhai, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Kwabena Ansah, Ola Orebiyi
“Another in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe collection of vivid memories, political indictments and historical artefacts depicting Black West Indian presence in London. In this edition, it’s a Saturday sometime in the 80s, Samson preps his sound system for Blues dance while Martha shimmies down her drainpipe, and Franklin, drenched in Brut, is primed to steal a heart. Red Stripe costs a pound, sweat drips from the walls as hips lock to the rhythm of lovers’ rock, and souls are possessed by dub vibrations. McQueen’s roving camera and luminous cast spread out and fill the screen. Inviting us to remember, not so much the good times, as the spectres of racism and violence loom, but the risk and reward of letting go for a night.”
United Kingdom 2020 | 68 minutes
Directed by: Steve McQueen
Written by: Courttia Newland, Steve McQueen
Featuring: Amarah-Jae St Aubyn, Michael Ward, Shaniqua Okwok, Kedar Williams-Stirling
Available 7th-18th October 2020
The National Theatre’s musical VR experience transports the viewer into a vibrant theatrical world inspired by the influence of Caribbean culture upon the UK music scene.
You’ll need an Oculus Rift, Rift S or HTC Vive tethered headset to experience this work for free
UK, 2019 | 14 minutes
World Premiere (Individual Audience Version)
Devised and Directed by Toby Coffey
Composed by Raffy Bushman & Nubiya Brandon
Lyrics by Nubiya Brandon
You don’t need any special tech to experience this work for free, or you can use a headset.
World Premiere (360 Version)
Written, Produced and Directed: Darren Emerson
Jean Bartlett, John Boughton, Kevin Holland, Aysen Dennis, Judi Bos, Anthony Badu
Get to know 5 members of the thrilling Ballroom scene in the UK while they explore their gender and sexuality through dance, in this ravishing VR documentary.
Virtual (Black) Reality:
Immerse yourselves in the lives of 4 Africa-descended Berliners and Parisians, whose realities offer a window into very different experiences of everyday life. Comprising the Afropean experience, they follow the stories of Bella, Babs, Kwesi, and ShaNon, unified by their origins and cultural backgrounds.
Angolan-descendant Bella embraces life as a dancer and dance teacher in Berlin.
UK 2020 | 14 minutes