The 64th BFI London Film Festival (LFF) runs from October 7th-18th, and like many other festivals, Covid-19 restrictions mean that it’s taking a different form this year. Given current circumstances the 2020 programme offers a reduced number of feature films, just 58, plus collections of short films and experimenta, but with an expanded reach across the UK. There’s also an exciting new strand, Expanded, showing XR and immersive art.
In addition to in-cinema screenings in London and other major cities, films will be available to audiences across the whole of the UK as virtual premieres. Every screening will be presented with an intro or Q&A from filmmakers and programmers. There are also many more ways that audiences can engage with the festival for free. These advances in making film more accessible to more people can only be a Good Thing.
There will no Official Jury, and instead the public will have the chance to vote for the Virtual LFF Audience Awards in four categories: Best Fiction Feature, Best Documentary Feature, Best Short Film, and Best XR. It really feels like the BFI has tackled the challenges presented by Covid-19 and seized the opportunity to completely reappraise the way that the festival is delivered and I’m curious to see how it works out.
Here’s my selection of LGBTQ+ highlights from this year’s programme, starting with features:
Ammonite, Closing Film
It’s a bit odd to start at the end, but readers of Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures will enjoy Francis Lee’s biopic, a fictionalised account of the life of the 19th-century palaeontologist, Mary Anning (Kate Winslet). Saoirse Ronan plays the gentlewoman who falls in love with her while staying in Lyme Regis. Tricia Tuttle, Director of BFI Festivals, says: “Ammonite is a love story – one of great intimacy and candour – with Winslet and Ronan excelling in movingly unguarded performances.”
LFF screenings (including virtual introduction from Lee and key cast): Belfast, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, London, Manchester, Nottingham, and Sheffield, 17th and 18th October. Dates and times vary by location: see list for details
Evan Rachel Wood, Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger play a family of unusually creative grifters trying to scam the system in director Miranda July’s deadpan, offbeat comedy / crime / love story. All that changes when a charming stranger (Gina Rodriguez) arrives.
Available on BFI Player: 7th October
I Am Samuel
Peter Murimi’s courageous feature debut offers an intimate portrait of a young gay Kenyan couple as they navigate their way in a country where being gay is criminalised. Film curator Keith Shiri describes the film as “a nuanced drama” and “a moving portrait”.
Available on BFI Player: 10th-13th October
Based on personal experience, writer/director/star Matthew Fifer and co-director Kieran Mulcare have crafted a richly textured drama that follows the story of a young man living in New York who embarks on a new relationship and is forced to face the traumas of his past. LFF Programmer Michael Blyth describes Fifer and Sheldon D. Brown’s performances as, “an effortless on-screen connection that brings real heart to their timely and, ultimately, hopeful tale”. Read Eric Langberg’s Outfest review.
Available on BFI Player: 12th October
Harry Macqueen’s (Hinterland) Supernova takes us on a valedictory tour by camper van with long-time couple Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci), after Tusker is diagnosed with early onset dementia. Michael Blyth says: “Harry Macqueen’s…introspective road movie is a deeply affecting and quietly provocative exploration of love in the face of tragedy.”
LFF screenings: Belfast, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, London, Manchester, Nottingham, and Sheffield, 11th, 12th, 14th, 16th and 18th October. Dates and times vary by location: see list for details
Available on BFI Player: 11th October
Taiwanese director, Tsai Ming-Liang, tells the story of an encounter between Kang (Lee Kang-Sheng), a middle-aged, middle-class man, and Non (Anong Houngheuangsy), a younger, poor male masseur. Tsai has a minimalist and experimental approach to filmmaking and, in Days, that intensity is heightened by an absence of dialogue. English speakers shouldn’t be alarmed, then, by the warning that there are no subtitles.
LFF screenings: London, 8th and 9th October. Dates and times vary by location: see list for details
Available on BFI Player: 8th-11th October
Josephine Decker’s psychodrama sees writer Shirley Jackson (Elizabeth Moss) get the inspiration she needs for her novel about the disappearance of a local girl when two young newlyweds come to stay. UK film critic Damon Wise says: “Josephine Decker … blur[s] the boundaries of biopic and fiction in exploring the cruel forces that can feed creativity.”
LFF screenings: Belfast, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, London, Manchester, Nottingham, and Sheffield, 9th, 10th, 11th, 13th October. Dates and times vary by location: see list for details
Available on BFI Player: 9th-12th October
On to Shorts, Expanded and Experimenta; these are all available for free on BFI Player and can be watched any time from 7th-18th October:
- Buck: Lynn is caught in a heady mix of depression and self-determination. After a debauched night of setting boundaries and crossing others, he realises his path is his own to define. Read James Kleinmann’s Sundance review and his exclusive interview with Buck filmmakers Elegance Bratton & Jovan James.
- Dungarees: a story of young love, as a transgender teen and a cis-gender teen spend their time together on a regular night, doing regular things, and grapple with their insecurities.
- Panthers: Joana and Nina are 13 year-old girls on the brink of womanhood, provocatively confronting their female gender, queerness and social norms.
- Shuttlecock: Carl is king of the badminton court, but today he’s very distracted. This comedy playfully combines homoerotic vibes and toxic masculinity.
Get to know five members of the UK’s Ballroom scene as they explore their gender and sexuality through dance in this VR documentary directed by Harry Silverlock and Monty FitzGerald. No special tech needed to watch.
- Down There The Seafolk Live: this charmingly-titled short experimental film by Stan Greengrass explores the effects of HRT for trans singers who use their voices to perform.
- Passage: in Ann Oren’s short film, queer artist and performer Simon(e) Jaikiriuma Paetau plays a Foley artist who creates sounds for a film starring a dressage horse.