The 65th BFI London Film Festival builds on the online only festival of 2020’s ‘year of the pandemic’ and continues to include the newer streams of augmented reality, and AI-driven Virtual Reality content in LFF Expanded, plus TV Series’ reflecting on the changes and developments in the way we consume content.
As always, there are loads of films to see, immerse yourself in and live through. Highlights include: Jeymes Samuels, The Harder They Fall, Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, and King Richard, based on Richard Williams drive to turn Venus and Serena into tennis superstars.
The festival is on from 6 to 17 October 2021, with films available in cinemas with screenings around the UK, available virtually, and with access to free events and films.
We’ve also picked out some superb SHORT FILMS which you can view for free on the BFI Player.
Here are our 2021 selection of films, LFF Expanded and Awards:
OPENING NIGHT GALA
The Harder They Fall: Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) has dedicated his life to hunting down members of the gang led by the vicious Rufus Buck (Idris Elba), who murdered his parents in front of him. Inspired by the real-life stories of African-American cowboys and featuring an all-star cast. London-born musician and filmmaker Jeymes Samuel’s feature debut is an explosive and stylish Western quite unlike any other.
Wed 6 | Thur 7 | Sun 10
Director: Jeymes Samuel. Screenwriter: Jeymes Samuel, Boaz Yakin. Producers: Shawn Carter, James Lassiter, Lawrence Bender, Jeymes Samuel. Cast: Jonathan Majors, Zazie Beetz, Delroy Lindo, LaKeith Stanfield, Regina King, Idris Elba.
CLOSING NIGHT GALA
The Tragedy of Macbeth: Shakespeare’s iconic and much adapted text, written on these shores over 400 years ago, gets a wonderfully fresh and singular reworking in Joel Coen’s first solo outing as a director. Coen dazzlingly adapts this Scottish play for the screen with Frances McDormand and Denzel Washington mesmeric as the couple whose political ambitions proved their fatal downfall.
Director-Screenwriter: Joel Coen. Producers: Joel Coen, Frances McDormand, Robert Graf. Cast: Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Bertie Carvel, Corey Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson.
King Richard: In the Compton suburbs of the early 1990s, Richard Williams has his sights firmly set on superstardom for his two young daughters, Venus and Serena. Will Smith delivers one of his best performances as the ambitious father of two sporting prodigies in this rousing, hugely enjoyable biopic.
Fri 15 | Sat 16
Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green. Producers: Tim White, Trevor White, Will Smith. Screenwriter: Zach Baylin. Cast: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Tony Goldwyn, Jon Bernthal.
Paris, 13th District (Les Olympiades): Jacques Audiard ventures into new territory with a vibrant take on love and Paris, as four characters cross amorous paths in the modern city.
Thur 14 | Fri 15
Director: Jacques Audiard. Producers: Jacques Audiard, Valérie Schermann. Screenwriters: Jacques Audiard, Céline Sciamma, Léa Mysius. Cast: Noémie Merlant, Lucie Zhang, Makita Samba, Jehnny Beth
Neptune Frost: The directorial debut of poet-musician Saul Williams and actor-playwright Anisia Uzeyman is an exhilarating anti-capitalist sci-fi musical entirely shot in Rwanda.
Sat 16 | Sun 17
Directors: Saul Williams, Anisia Uzeyman. Producers: Ezra Miller, Dave Guenette, Maria Judice. Cast: Cheryl Isheja, Bertrand ‘Kaya Free’ Ninteretse, Eliane Umuhire.
Countries: USA, Rwanda
OFFICIAL COMPETITION NOMINEE
The Best Film Award recognises inspiring, inventive and distinctive filmmaking.
Lingui, the Sacred Bonds (Lingui, les liens sacrés): Following his international success with A Screaming Man, Daratt and Abouna, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s powerful new drama once again celebrates the heroic individualism of ordinary people.
Mon 11 | Tue 12 | Sun 17
Director-Screenwriter: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun. Producer: Florence Stern. Cast: Achouackh Abakar Souleymane, Rihane Khalil Alio, Youssouf Djaoro.
Countries: Chad, France, Germany, Belgium
DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION NOMINEE
The Grierson Award recognises feature-length documentaries with integrity, originality and social or cultural significance.
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.
Sat 9 | Sun 10
Director-Producer-Screenwriter: Jessica Beshir
Countries: Ethiopia, USA, Qatar
SHORT FILM COMPETITION
The Short Film Award recognises short-form works with a unique cinematic voice and a confident handling of chosen theme and content..
6-17 Oct: Watch on BFI Player for Free
Fantasma Neon: An all-singing, all-dancing musical fantasy set in the busy urban world of Brazil’s takeaway food delivery bike community.
Director-Screenwriter: Leonardo Martinelli. Producers: Ayssa Yamaguti Norek, Rafael Teixeira, Leonardo Martinelli. Country: Brazil
Femme: 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. (This film contains scenes of drug use and strong violence.)
Directors-Screenwriters: Sam H Freeman, Ng Choon Ping. Producers: Sam Ritzenberg, Hayley Williams, Rienkje Attoh. Country: UK
For Love: In this beautiful drama, a couple battle for a future where they can find a home and freedom that is not determined by where they’re from.
Director-Screenwriter: Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor. Producer: Emily Morgan. Country: UK
Precious Hair & Beauty: 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.
Immersive Art and XR CompetitioN
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 extended reality to fully immerse audiences in the moment.
(All part of the EXPANDED Strand: Step into a new dimension of storytelling with Immersive Art and Extended reality.)
6-17 Oct, 11am-9pm. Book a slot at 26 Leake Street, London SE1 7NN.
Container: This immersive film project makes us aware of how closely modern forms of economic enslavement compare with earlier forms that ‘civilised’ society claims to have cast aside.
Lead Artists: Meghna Singh, Simon Wood. Country: South Africa
Noah’s Raft: Acclaimed Nigerian filmmaker Joel Kachi Benson’s VR documentary shows how one person with a vision can transform a whole community by means of education.
Lead Artists: Joel Kachi Benson & Tal Michael Haring. Country: Nigeria.
Virtually There: Leon Oldstrong’s first VR film shines a light on a violent knife crime from multiple perspectives in an attempt to empathise with all parties involved.
Lead Artist: Leon Oldstrong. Production Company: Solaris2 Media. Country: UK
LOVE: Sweet, passionate, tough – love is a complex and many-splendoured thing.
Bantú Mama: A French-Cameroonian woman running from a drug deal gone wrong in the Dominican Republic finds shelter with three young siblings in this striking, lyrical film.
Sat 9 | Sun 10
Director: Ivan Herrera. Producers: Ivan Herrera, Clarisse Albrecht. Screenwriters: Clarisse Albrecht, Ivan Herrera. Cast: Clarisse Albrecht, Scarlet Reyes, Euris Javiel
Country: Dominican Republic
The Gravedigger’s Wife: With his deceptively simple but heartfelt feature debut, director Khadar Ahmed follows a man as he desperately tries to seek help for his ailing wife.
Fri 15 | Sat 16
Director-Screenwriter: Khadar Ayderus Ahmed. Producers: Misha Jaari, Thanassis Karathanos, Stéphane Parthenay. Cast: Omar Abdi, Yasmin Warsame, Khadar Abdoul-Aziz Ibrahim.
Countries: Finland, France, Germany
When a Farm Goes Aflame: This captivating, intimate and contemplative documentary that takes us from Denmark to Nigeria where is a superb and worthy continuation from his first feature a Portrait of a Lonely Farmer.
Wed 6 | Fri 8
Director: Jide Tom Akinleminu. Producer: Florian Schewe.
DEBATE: Riveting films that amplify, scrutinise, argue and surprise.
All These Sons: The second collaboration from Academy Award-nominees Bing Liu and Joshua Altman is an urgent document of two community groups in Chicago that empower young Black men.
Tue 12 | Wed 13
Directors: Bing Liu, Joshua Altman. Producers: Zak Piper, Kelsey Carr, Bing Liu, Joshua Altman.
ear for eye: At times furious, joyous and moving, debbie tucker green’s adaptation of her acclaimed play on racial injustice in the UK and USA is nothing short of mesmerising.
Sat 16 | Sun 17
Director-Screenwriter: debbie tucker green. Producer: Fiona Lamptey. Cast: Lashana Lynch, Carmen Munroe, Tosin Cole
The Neutral Ground: In this bitingly satirical and deeply personal documentary, CJ Hunt traces the troubled history of Confederate monuments in America.
Thu 14 | Fri 15
Director: CJ Hunt. Producer: Darcy McKinnon. Screenwriters: CJ Hunt, Jane Geisler, James Hamilton
LAUGH: From mega LOLZ through romcom to dry and understated – humour in all its forms.
Queen of Glory: In Nana Mensah’s self-assured and charming comedy, a Ghanaian-American woman’s life is thrown into disarray when she inherits her mother’s Christian bookshop.
Sat 9 | Sun 10
Director-Screenwriter: Nana Mensah. Cast: Nana Mensah, Meeko Gattuso, Oberon K A Adjepong.
DARE: In-your-face and arresting – stories that take you out of your comfort zone.
La Mif: A raw, in-your-face drama that offers a glimpse of life within a residential care home for at-risk teenage girls.
Sun 10 | Mon 11
Director-Producer-Screenwriter: Fred Baillif. Cast: Claudia Grob, Amélie Tonsi, Anaïs Uldry, Amandine Golay, Kassia Da Costa, Joyce Ndayisenga, Charlie Areddy, Sara Tulu.
THRILL: Nerve-shredders that will get your adrenalin pumping and keep you on the edge of your seat.
Boiling Point: An emotionally scarred London chef struggles to keep it together in this formally extraordinary and beautifully acted single-take thriller.
Mon 11 | Tue 12 | Sun 17
Director: Philip Barantini. Producers: Bart Ruspoli, Hester Ruoff. Screenwriters: Philip Barantini, James Cummings. Cast: Stephen Graham, Vinette Robinson, Jason Flemyng.
CULT: From the mind-altering and unclassifiable to fantasy, sci-fi and horror.
Juju Stories: Three Nigerian filmmakers come together for a thrilling portmanteau film that presents an alternative Lagos through the modern interpretation of folk tales.
Fri 15 | Sat 16
Directors-Screenwriters: Abba T Makama, C J ‘Fiery’ Obasi, Michael Omonua. Producer: Oge Obasi. Cast: Paul Utomi, Don Ekwuazi, Nengi Adoki
Countries: Nigeria, France
JOURNEY: Whether it’s the voyage or the destination, these films transport you and shift your perspective.
Citizen Ashe: The ultimate origin story, Arthur Ashe was not only a pioneer within the world of tennis but a revolutionary social activist for many global causes.
Sun 10 | Mon 11
Directors: Rex Miller, Sam Pollard. Producers: Beth Hubbard, Anna Godas, Rex Miller, Steven Cantor, Jamie Schutz, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe
Country: UK, USA
Freda: Gessica Généus’s debut follows a strong-willed young woman struggling to decide whether to leave the violence of Haiti for the chance of a better life.
Wed 6 | Thu 7
Director: Gessica Généus. Producer: Jean-Marie Gigon. Cast: Néhémie Bastien, Jean Jean, Fabiola Rémy
Passing: In Rebecca Hall’s exquisite directorial debut, two childhood friends are reunited as adults in 1920s New York, with one of them now passing as white.
Sun 10 | Tue 12
Director-Screenwriter: Rebecca Hall. Producers: Nina Yang Bongiovi, Forest Whitaker, Margot Hand, Rebecca Hall. Cast: Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland.
CREATE: Celebrating artistic expression and electricity of the creative process.
8 Bar – The Evolution of Grime: This intriguing and expansive documentary looks at the complex history and impact of Grime, tracking its enormous influence and resonance on modern UK music and culture.
Sat 16 | Sun 17
Director: Ewen Spencer. Producers: Aleksandra Bilic, Jamie Clark, David Upshal
We (Nous): An inquisitive and deeply revealing journey on the tracks of the RER B, a suburban train crossing Paris from North to South.
Sat 9 | Sun 10
Director: Alice Diop. Producers: Sophie Salbot. Cast: Ismael Soumaïla Sissoko, Bamba Sibi, N’Deye Sighane Diop
EXPERIMENTA: Films by artists that revolutionise and reshape our vision of cinema.
Lago Gatún: Kevin Jerome Everson’s latest feature-length film, shot in black-and-white 16mm, is a minimalist odyssey that traverses the Panama Canal, between the Earth’s two great oceans, where its American engineers imposed US segregation laws on the canal’s Jamaican migrant workforce.
Director: Kevin Jerome Everson. Producers: Madeleine Molyneaux, Kevin Jerome Everson.
The I and S of Lives: In Black Lives Matter Plaza, Washington DC, the camera follows a lone skater’s graceful moves. His clothes match the colours of the mural he skates on.
Director: Kevin Jerome Everson. Producers: Kevin Jerome Everson, Madeleine Molyneaux
Memorials of Meaning (Short Film Collection)
Mudança: 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.
Sun 17 (Also watch this short for free on the BFI Player)
Director-Producer-Screenwriter: Welket Bungué
Country: Portugal, Guinea Bissau, Germany
FAMILY: Films for the young… and young at heart.
Animated Shorts for Younger Audiences (Short Film Collection)
The Wonderful Story of Aisha, Ali and Flipflopi the Multicoloured Dhow Boat: Aisha and Ali must decide what to do about abandoned plastic, in this film from Kenya that deals with a global problem.
Director: Kwame Nyong’o. Producers: Wanzilu Maingi, Dipesh Pabari. Screenwriter: John Sibi-Okumu
TREASURES: Revived and restored from the world’s archives.
Sambizanga: A riveting neorealist testimony to Angola’s anti-colonialist struggle, not screened there until after independence, this is an unforgettable revolutionary film. Set in the weeks leading up to the guerrilla war for independence, Sambizanga focuses on the plight of a young couple.
Tue 12 | The 14
Director: Sarah Maldoror. Screenwriters: Mario de Andrade, Sarah Maldoror. Cast: Elisa Andrade, Domingos de Oliveira, Jean M’Vondo.
Four short films in From the Caribbean to West Africa: Edric Connor’s Travelogues
EXPANDED: Step into a new dimension of storytelling with Immersive Art and Extended reality.
See Immersive Art and XR Competition section
SHORTS: Small but perfectly formed.
6-17 Oct: Watch for free on BFI Player