Take a stroll around the west end and you may notice congregations of large crowds, surges of photographers, the odd red carpet and perhaps even Tom Hanks loitering outside one of the colossal Leicester Square cinemas. Fortunately, there’s an explanation for all this. The lights are dimmed, corn has been popped and the curtains are very much raised for the 57th BFI London Film Festival. Casting its net over the entire capital, this year’s festival also takes in areas as far flung as Brixton, Greenwich and Hackney, allowing the public to take in the best latest cinema while side-stepping the large scramble and jostling amongst the central London throng. And take it in you should, as there are comfortably enough ‘must see’ moments to fill your diary for the duration of the festival.
Taking up its familiar position at the back-end of summer, the LFF acts as a cinematic sponge, soaking up the best of the earlier, more prestigious festivals such as Cannes, Venice and Toronto, and squeezes out the talent to be brought to the wide British public before they go on general release. It’s an event designed with the public in mind. At its heart, there is a willingness to allow locals to experience films they may otherwise miss, spot the next big thing and rub shoulders with the A-list. In doing so, the organisers have ensured a more relaxed, jovial atmosphere runs through the 12-day long festival which is almost at-odds with its continental cousins.
The glamour of Cannes is enviable, yet nestled out of view is the fevered rush of industry folk buying and selling their films at the large-scale market side of the fortnight. Venice too gets inundated by endless amounts of industry insiders, each there to launch their film into the early Oscar race. The calmness and relaxed nature of LFF comes from the decision to take a step back from that industry approach, handing over the festival to a public encouraged to take a gamble on an unknown treasure or seek out that film that might just be the big award winner come early next year.
Of course this can only be achieved by a suitably impressive line-up and, thankfully, that’s precisely what we’ve got. The festival is bookended by two wildly contrasting Tom Hanks features. Captain Phillips sees director Paul Greengrass (United 93, the Bourne films) bring the real life story of an American cargo ship boarded by Somali pirates to the screen; while festival closer Saving Mr. Banks sees Hanks as Walt Disney starring opposite Emma Thompson as Mary Poppins author PL Travers, and charts the battle Disney faced to turn her book into the film we know today.
Elsewhere you’ll find the Cannes conquering Blue is the Warmest Colour, a moving coming-of-age tale encompassing the beginning, middle and end of a fiery relationship. There’s a host of big-hitters from renowned directors such as the Coen brothers’ take on 60’s folk music Inside Llewyn Davis, Steve McQueen’s shocking race drama 12 Years a Slave and Stephen Frears’ widely lauded Philomena, penned by Steve Coogan and starring Judi Dench as the woman on a search for her child taken from her at birth.
The latter two are among a number of home grown films to play at the festival in something of a renaissance of British cinema. Joining them is Ralph Fiennes’ The Invisible Woman charting the secret affair between Charles Dickens and a young actress, as well as Richard Ayoade’s Dostoevsky adaptation The Double, Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant and Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin, featuring Scarlett Johansson as an alien being.
Away from Brits and Hollywood there is plenty for fans of world cinema to sink their teeth into as well. Swede Lukas Moodyson returns with We Are the Best, a film about a trio of female teenagers who start a punk band, lifted from a graphic novel of the same name. Like Father, Like Son sees Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda explore family dynamics when two opposing families discover they have been inadvertently raising each other’s child, while Potiche director Francois Ozon brings a tale of teenage existence to London with Jeune et Jolie.
This is merely a smattering of the vast selection of films on offer, collected from the four corners of the earth and presented to you, the public, to discover, cherish and support. There’s every taste counted for and every genre present. The London Film Festival is designed with us in mind, so let’s embrace it and uncover a gem.
What’s the best film you’ve unexpectedly discovered at the cinema?