This October, we had the great pleasure of covering the 64th BFI London Film Festival and celebrating the best of film, with this year’s festival providing some much-needed respite from this very strange year. This particular LFF was exceptional, not only because of its strong and diverse program but also because it was accessible to audiences around the UK with online screenings and events for all tastes, as well as special screenings at UK cinemas. The festival was spread across twelve days, with a vibrant line-up that included several films that are already generating lots of awards buzz.
I was fortunate to experience this year’s festival both virtually at home and in-person at cinema screenings across London. I began my festival experience with an online screening at home in my pajamas, which felt odd at first but was extremely cozy. Throughout the festival, I was able to watch and enjoy a wide variety of screenings in the comfort of my home. I hope online screenings and virtual events will continue to be part of the film festival experience in the future. I also had the opportunity to see several exclusive previews on the big screen at three different cinemas and it was wonderful to feel that little bit of normal in a festival atmosphere. My final screening was at the Genesis Cinema in East London and it felt so special to end my LFF2020 journey at the cinema.
These are five of my highlights from this year’s festival:
This spellbinding animation tells the story of magical wolves and an unlikely friendship between two girls, during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. It’s the third instalment of the Irish folklore trilogy by Cartoon Saloon; the Irish animation studio behind The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. This film is a touching tale full of heart and humanity, and every frame is a feast for the eyes. It’s the first animated feature for Apple TV Plus and is already considered one of the best films of 2020 and a hot contender for next year’s awards season.
Mogul Mowgli follows Zed, a British-Pakistani rapper who reluctantly returns to England to visit his family during a break from touring, he is then struck down by a life-changing illness and forced to confront his family issues. This film is a spiritual drama about family, culture and the struggles of dual identity. Riz Ahmed brings everything to his role as Zed and this film is clearly a deeply personal project for Ahmed, who produced and co-wrote the screenplay with director Bassam Tariq. It’s a gripping directorial debut by Tariq that is emotional but also has some darkly funny moments.
Soul is the first Pixar film featuring a Black lead character, as well as a predominately Black voice cast and a diverse creative team. The story follows Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), a middle-aged Black music teacher who dreams of becoming a professional jazz musician. Just when Joe’s jazz dreams are about to come true, he suffers a serious accident that sends him to the Great Beyond, where he soon discovers what it truly means to have soul. Much like Pixar’s previous film Inside Out, this film goes a little deeper than your average family adventure, as it deals with deep existential questions. Soul is a great feel-good film that is beautifully animated and full of diversity, music and life lessons.
Herself is the story of Sandra, a young mum struggling to find a permanent home for her two young daughters after leaving her abusive husband. Let down by the social housing system, Sandra sets out to build her own house with the support of a new community of friends and in the process rebuilds herself. This Dublin-set drama is the latest film from director Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!) and Clare Dunne, who co-wrote the script and plays Sandra, gives an incredibly powerful performance. This story of female resilience feels timely and will stir up a wide range of emotions.
Frances McDormand is as captivating as the stunning cinematography and moving musical score in director Chloé Zhao’s buzzworthy new film Nomadland. McDormand stars as Fern, a woman in her sixties who packs up her van and sets off on the road after losing everything in the Great Recession. She embarks on a physical and emotional journey through the American West, meeting real-life nomads along the way. It’s a gentle, slow-paced film that is gripping and deeply emotional from start to finish.
Written by Amie Lim