London Film Festival 2021: Round-Up

17 Oct 2021 BY Steven Ryder in Film Features

5 mins

The United Kingdom's foremost film festival returned this year with added impetus after last year's format saw it significantly reduced in capacity and screenings due to the global pandemic. The 2021 edition of the BFI London Film Festival, consisting of over 150 feature films and a significant number of shorts, delivered a jam-packed programme full of intrigue, thrills and, most importantly for Into Film and educators around the country, films that showcase the diversity and breadth that cinema has to offer. 

Our film curators have delved into the 150+ feature films on offer to pluck out the most valuable and striking work at this year's festival and highlight what makes them stand out in terms of both their educational and entertainment value. From prestige dramas to revolutionary documentaries to Iranian comedies, we hope that our festival highlights will give you an idea of the great films that are due to be released over the coming months. 

Joe - Curation Manager

King Richard (14+)

Will Smith is in full on movie-star (and perhaps Oscar-winning) mode for this fabulously entertaining biopic of Richard Williams, father of tennis megastars Venus & Serena Williams.

The Williams family are living in the Los Angeles suburb of Compton in the early 1990s, a stone's throw from the site of the Rodney King riots. Opportunities are scarce, the threat of violence is constant, and discrimination ubiquitous, but Richard knows that he is raising extraordinarily talented daughters and is convinced they are on a path to global dominance - as long as everybody follows his plan.

Smith is characteristically charming in the lead role, but does not shy away from the controlling, sometimes cruel side of Richard. However what truly makes this film sing are the supporting performances, particularly from the rest of the Williams family unit, and the wonderful chemistry between the sisters. Crowd-pleasing and hugely inspirational, the film also discusses issues of race, class, and gender, leaving the audience in awe at the supreme talent of Venus & Serena, but also wondering why it is that they were forced to be exceptional just to be given the same chances as everybody else.

If you like the sound of this… you may also like Hidden Figures on Into Film+, which tells the true story of three African American women rising through the ranks at NASA at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. 

The Tragedy of Macbeth (16+)

Acting royalty Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand team up to play literature's most infamous couple in Joel Coen's adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy.

Shot on a studio sound stage, the sparse sets and monochrome imagery recall the films of the 1940s and 50s, ensuring that students of the Gothic and expressionism will get as much out of this as those studying the play itself. Using the original language but cutting the text down significantly, this is an exhilarating, haunting film, that feels at once cinematically epic and theatrically intense.

Washington and McDormand are as terrific as would be expected, adding vulnerability to the sinister duo. They are complemented by a fantastic supporting cast, most notably Kathryn Hunter delivering an unforgettable take on the Witches.

Bloodthirsty, intense, but accessible, this is a magnificent adaptation, perfectly suited to A Level classrooms for English Literature, Theatre Studies and Film Studies.

If you like the sound of this… you may also like The Tempest on Into Film+. Director Julie Taymor delivers an equally bold, extravagant, and provocative adaptation of Shakespeare's mystical final play.

Michael - Curation Coordinator

Belle (14+)

Anime filmmaker Mamoru Hosoda has made a number of fascinating films, and is probably best known for The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. His latest release, as hinted at by the title, takes the Beauty and the Beast story and updates it for the modern, digital age. A shy high-school student named Suzu becomes an overnight singing sensation after joining an app called ‘U' which hosts billions of users in a virtual world of anonymised avatars. However she quickly becomes aware of a creature who runs amok within the world, lashing out and fighting others, but Suzu AKA Belle believes there's more to his story and seeks to track him down. Full of beautiful visuals which are accompanied by a spirited soundtrack, Belle is a inventive, dazzling animation with themes around family and social media.

If you like the sound of this… you may also like Ready Player One on Into Film+. Adapted from the popular young adult novel by Steven Spielberg, the creator of a virtual reality world offers a mammoth prize to the winner of his near-impossible contest.

The Neutral Ground (14+)

This satirical yet heartfelt documentary investigates the role of statues in modern-day America, specifically those of Confederate figures who publicly aired racist views and supported slavery. The history of these monuments is investigated by teacher-turned-comedian CJ Hunt, who co-writes, directs, and narrates this story, as he seeks to confront a nation's troubled past. Expanding on his own YouTube video short, the project focuses on the passing of a 2015 council motion in New Orleans which submitted that a number of the city's statues should be taken down and the subsequent struggles to do so. Exploring US history from the days of slavery through the Civil War and into the modern-day of the Obama and Trump administrations, The Neutral Ground is an accessible, funny, and timely introduction to the subject which nonetheless poses serious, powerful questions around Citizenship and Politics.

If you like the sound of this… you may also like White Riot on Into Film+. Released in 2020, this British documentary focuses on the Rock Against Racism movement which developed in the late 1970s in opposition to the increased popularity of the far-right National Front party.

Maria - Curation Officer

Belfast (14+)

Directed by Kenneth Branagh and based on his childhood in Belfast during the Troubles, this time of great turmoil and violent conflict between Protestants and Catholics is seen through the eyes of Buddy. The youngest in his family, he loves to play outside in his close-knit neighbourhood and is experiencing his first crush in school. His innocence is soon disrupted by relentless attacks from Protestant unionists aiming to terrorise Catholic families in his neighbourhood whilst, at home, his parents are also facing their own relationship struggles. This warm and intimate story depicts growing up with a lot of humour and heart through  striking black and white cinematography. It is an important depiction of a pivotal moment in British history, discussing issues such as religion, migration and community.

If you like the sound of this… you may also like War Horse on Into Film+, a period drama set during the First World War, navigating the tragedy and victory through the story of a tenacious horse and his owner.

Mothers of the Revolution (11+)

This educational documentary follows the 19 years of the Greenham protests against nuclear proliferation, thought to be one of the longest protests in history. Started by Welsh women who, concerned about the impact of nuclear weapons being installed at a RAF base in Berkshire, set up a camp and organised numerous actions to raise awareness. This lead to a large movement that spread across the world and this documentary features some of the key activists involved, bringing this pivotal moment in history to life. Mothers of the Revolution brilliantly highlights the importance of activism and standing up for what you believe in, as well as drawing awareness to the ways activism impacts personal lives.

If you like the sound of this… you may also like Pride on Into Film+, an uplifting comedy about an unlikely moment in recent British history when, in 1984, gay rights activists offered to support the striking miners. 

Steven - Curation Officer 

Hit the Road (14+)

Films from Iran have a history of appealing to audiences in Western countries by providing a window into the political and social issues that have left many Iranians dissatisfied with the status of their once flourishing and liberal country. Hit the Road, directed by Panah Panahi, does this through the incredibly entertaining lens of a family on a mysterious road trip in the beautiful Iranian countryside, the story slowly unfolding in an increasingly engaging and comedic manner. As the mother, father and their two sons bicker and take turns looking after their adorable little puppy, we slowly begin to realise that the casual outward nature of their journey might be masking something a lot more tragic. Featuring a disarming and hilarious performance from 6-year-old Rayan Sarlak, 

Hit the Road won the top prize at the London Film Festival this year and could be a breezy and intelligent entry point for young audiences to learn more about Iranian culture, its people and its politics. 

If you like the sound of this…you may also like Persepolis on Into Film+, a gorgeously animated adaptation of a graphic novel about a rebellious young girl's experience of revolutionary Iran in the late seventies.

Flee (14+)

The animated documentary is not something we see too often in cinema but when the format is used so beautifully as in Flee, it makes you wish there were more. Encompassing decades in the life of an Afghan refugee Amin Nawabi (not his real name in order to protect his identity), the film begins with Amin on the verge of marrying his husband in Denmark but soon blossoms inward. It recounts the struggles that Amin faced to escape his country in the face of persecution and possible death, highlighting his sexuality and the sacrifices made by his immediate family, all whilst going into depth about the process refugees endure to secure personal safety.

Produced by movie stars Riz Ahmed and Nikolaj Coster Waldau, who felt impassioned to see this story brought to a wider audience, Flee's stunning animation reconstructs Amin's narration and breathes a different kind of life into a story that informs and educates its audience about the personal stories behind the refugee crisis. 

If you like the sound of this…you may also like Zarafa, a globe-trotting animation about a young Sudanese boy's escape from slave traders and his incredible and perilous journey to Paris with an orphaned giraffe in tow.


Steven Ryder, Curation Officer

Steven has an MA in Film Studies, Programming and Curation from the National Film and Television School. He has previously worked for various exhibitors around England and currently freelances as a film critic/podcaster.

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