London Film Festival 2020 Preview: Your easy-to-follow guide to this year’s BFI 64th festival, running from October 7th-18th, by Helen M Jerome
Most years I write with equal parts excitement and frustration about the delights on offer at the upcoming London Film Festival. Heady excitement at the extraordinary movies on show, and frustration that you might have to wait many months, perhaps even a year, to actually see them on general release or on streaming platforms. When I look back at just a handful of my favourites from LFF 2019, I notice that Jayro Bustamante’s La Llorona is only just being streamed on Shudder, Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire got a couple of weeks in cinemas and is now on MUBI, as is Russian masterpiece Beanpole, and Sarah Gavron’s brilliant Rocks had its release pushed back from April to now – September. And it was even harder to predict when – or even if – you’d ever see some of the superb stuff on the fringes.
This year is quite a different story though, thanks to COVID19, which means the screenings and the voting are more democratic and accessible, even though the schedule itself is stripped right down and mainly online. Anyone in the UK will find it easy to watch pretty much all of the scheduled festival films – with free cinema screenings of the opening movie, Mangrove, and the strand of 21 XR and Immersive films also free online worldwide and at BFI Southbank right through the festival, plus shorts free to view online.
So you can literally use this guide as a checklist as we all watch along at the same time. What’s more there’s no Official Jury for the Festival Awards – so viewers online can have their say on Best Fiction Feature, Best Documentary Feature, Best Short Film, and Best XR / Immersive Art.
Having loved everything that Steve McQueen has done previously (and I’ll miss the euphoria of the shared experience of the standing ovation he received for Twelve Years A Slave) I have very high hopes for the opening film, Mangrove, a European premiere, and part of his upcoming TV series, Small Axe, especially as it stars the wonderful Letitia Wright of Black Panther fame. Similarly the closer, Ammonite, features festival favourite Saoirse Ronan alongside Kate Winslet, and is directed by God’s Own Country’s Francis Lee. Both are only showing in cinemas. Cannot wait.
The films are again arbitrarily themed by Love, Laugh, Debate, Cult, etc, but once you look past these labels you’ll find strong female talent, with Chloé Zhao’s Venice prize-winning follow-up to The Rider, Nomadland, starring Frances McDormand (top pic) – and only in cinemas, Phyllida Lloyd’s stark off-grid drama Herself with Harriet Walter, and Elizabeth Moss in Josephine Decker’s Shirley, Cathy Brady’s feature debut Wildfire, and Jennifer Sheridan’s own debut, horror flick Rose: A Love Story (which I’ll have to watch through my fingers), plus Miranda July’s inevitably quirky story of a family of grifters, Kajillionaire.
Talking of families and grifters, Shoplifters director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest venture is a TV series, A Day-Off of Kasumi Arimura, and we get a sneak preview of the opening episode. Bohdan Sláma’s Shadow Country feels genuinely unmissable. Really like the look of Christian Petzold’s Undine, Michel Franco’s dissection of Mexican class in New Order, Małgorzata Szumowska and Michał Englert’s post-Chernobyl satire Never Gonna Snow Again, Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round with eternal Nordic favourite Mads Mikkelsen, and Abel Ferrara’s Siberia with Willem Dafoe. And I’m certainly checking out The Disciple, which won the Venice best screenplay award for Chaitanya Tamhane.
Having missed David Byrne’s stage musical American Utopia when it was playing on Broadway, I’m stoked about seeing Spike Lee’s filmed version. Plus Ben Sharrock’s Limbo, Aleem Khan’s After Love, starring the remarkable Joanna Scanlan, Bassam Tariq’s Mogul Mowgli, starring Riz Ahmed as a conflicted rapper, and perceptive autism documentary The Reason I Jump. And there’s a crowd-pleasing couple in the shape of Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci in Supernova, and the family can flock to Pixar’s Soul, again, only in cinemas, and Tomm Moore’s mystical Irish animation Wolfwalkers.
Neatly giving a festival feel, while the offerings are a mix of online and theatrical previews, 58 films are streamed as virtual premieres, and each will be presented with an introduction or a post-screening Q&A from the filmmakers and programmers. And Screen Talks will be available for free worldwide. Some features also get in-person previews at BFI Southbank and other UK cinemas – including Barbican, Curzon Mayfair, ICA, Prince Charles Cinema, Ciné Lumière in London, HOME Manchester, Nottingham’s Broadway, Sheffield’s Showroom, Bristol Watershed, Chapter Cardiff, Glasgow Film Theatre, and Belfast’s Queen’s.
If you’re watching online – via BFI Player – your chosen premiere has a fixed start time, and most of these mean you must start watching within 30 minutes of that time, though a few have much longer, 72-hour windows to start. The moment you do, you have three hours in which to finish viewing. And it’s all laid out in more detail at the BFI Website.
In addition, the awards ceremony takes place on the 18th October.