Our Top Picks from the 60th BFI London Film Festival

18 Oct 2016

3 mins
The Eagle Huntress
The Eagle Huntress

The 60th BFI London Film Festival has drawn to a close, and we were there to cover it every step of the way. You can watch our brilliant red carpet coverage and fascinating interviews for some of the Festival's best films here, while below, our team of expert film programmers reveal their favourite films from this year's LFF programme, and suggest which titles are likely to be engaging young audiences over the next twelve months.

Celebrating its 60th anniversary with a remarkably packed and diverse line-up of films, the 2016 BFI London Film Festival provided plenty of talking points, from opening night film A United Kingdom onwards. Our programming team joined some of the Into Film young reporters to seek out the best and most original films on show from around the world, tapping into contemporary talking points, introducing us to cultures of which we previously knew little, or simply providing brilliant escapist entertainment. Building up to their cinematic releases, many of the films promise to make a huge impact when it comes to the forthcoming awards season. Here are a sprinkling of our favourites.

Moira - Head of Content Programming

Queen of Katwe

Based on the true story of young girl Phiona Mutesi's inspirational journey out of a slum in Katwe, Uganda, Disney's Queen of Katwe is an emotionally uplifting tale of triumph over adversity. Man of the moment David Oyelowo stars as Phiona's teacher and mentor who goes beyond recognising her talent for chess to provide stability and a safe environment in which she is able to develop her dream of becoming a chess Grand Master. As Phiona battles for survival, her one constant is her mother Harriet, played magnificently by Lupita Nyongo whose strength, fierce spirit and commitment to all of her children is unwavering and empowering. Nothing prepares you for the credits of the film when the real life characters are paired with their acting counterparts - heartwarming stuff!

Mirzya

A vibrant explosion of colour, music, beautiful landscapes and people, Mirzya is Bollywood for the next generation. Based on an ancient Punjabi folktale, the story is told in parallel in two very different worlds, one urban and contemporary, the other fantastical. Echoing Shakespeare's tragic tale of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet, Munish and Suchitra fall in love at a young age but a desperate turn of events separates them for many years. When their paths cross again, Munish is a stable boy for the Prince Suchitra is about to marry. As they conspire to find a way to be together at any cost, fate and Suchitra's very unhappy father played wonderfully by Art Malik, intervene.

Kirsten - Film Programming Manager

The Eagle Huntress 

A wonderful documentary about 13-year-old girl Aisholpan, who is determined to become an eagle hunter - a practice traditionally only passed down from father to son. Shot in the mountainous environment of rural Mongolia, the film reveals Aisholpan and her family's day-to-day lifestyle amidst this beautifully wild landscape. Accompanied by her father, we follow Aisholpan's resolve to break the decades-long gender-bound tradition. From perilously hunting her own eagle and training with her father to tame the bird of prey, to seeking permission from the elders to allow her to compete in the annual eagle hunting festival, this is an inspiring film (narrated by Star Wars: The Force Awakens actress Daisy Ridley) about an empowered young woman and a universal father-daughter bond, as well as a celebration of traditional cultures.

My Life As A Courgette

A charming French animation (written by the director of Into Film favourites Girlhood and Tomboy) about a little boy called Courgette who is sent to live in a children's home following the death of his mother. Learning to fit in with the other children - all of whom carry scars of their own difficult pasts - the film is a gentle exploration of the thoughts and feelings a young person might have when going through such an experience. Full of humour, the challenging issues and behaviours of each of the children is dealt with sensitively and from the perspective of Courgette as he gets to know the people around him. The bright, colourful animation and affecting story make this a perceptive and uplifting film about friendship and child welfare.

Lion

Emotionally wrought, yet brilliantly life-affirming drama, based on the true story of a young Indian boy called Saroo who gets lost from his family, ending up thousands of miles from home and eventually adopted by a couple in Australia. Opening with the boy's alarming journey across India as he is swept away from his family and into the frantic, dangerous melee of Calcutta, the film then transitions to 25 years later with Saroo as a university student, desperate to retrace his steps and find the family he left behind. Through heart-breaking performances by Sunny Pawar, the actor playing young Saroo; Dev Patel as adult Saroo; and Nicole Kidman as his agonised Australian mother, the film provokes important questions around identity, cultural heritage and adoption.

Joe - Film Programmer

A standout of the festival for me was the high-standard of documentaries, in particular two titles which showcased the work of very different artists. Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny, is a laid-back, loving portrait of the Boyhood director's remarkable career in independent cinema, while We Are X chronicles the turbulent, often surreal fortunes of phenomenally successful Japanese metal band, X. Before The Flood, meanwhile, places actor Leonardo DiCaprio (who produced the film) front-and-centre of its impassioned plea for greater awareness and political action around the perilous state of the environment. The facts are alarming, but interviews with figures such as Barack Obama and Ban-Ki Moon ensure the film is disturbing, but not despairing. The film even presents the audience with a series of straightforward yet tangible actions to help stem the damage themselves. With Leo's star-wattage guaranteeing global attention, it might be the most significant environmental documentary since An Inconvenient Truth

As well as documentaries, several dramas also rivetingly explored pertinent issues in today's society. Snowden tells the story of the controversial former CIA employee whose revelations about surveillance perpetrated by governments shocked the world, making the issue of privacy relevant to all of our lives. Touching on topics both personal and intimate, including the unspoken future of geopolitics, it's a film guaranteed to provoke debate. Moonlight, meanwhile, is a heart-wrenching portrait of a young man in Miami, told during three stages of his life, as he navigates the trauma of horrendous bullying and the volatility of adolescent friendship. Emotionally devastating, the film is a vital statement on contemporary masculinity, race, poverty, and sexuality in an increasingly polarised and disparate country. It's a film that looks set for success at the Academy Awards and beyond.

British director Hope Dickson Leach marked herself out as a major talent to watch with The Levelling; a sensitive portrait of rural life, as a young woman returns home to the family farm following a domestic tragedy. Fellow debutant Darren Thornton also impressed with A Date For Mad Mary, another story about a young Irish woman returning to her hometown - in this case following a spell in prison - only to discover that things aren't the same as when she left.

For younger audiences, Rock Dog is about an aspiring canine rock musician heading off to the big city to explore his dreams and meet his heroes. Tremendous fun, with a cracking soundtrack and gentle message celebrating creativity and not passing off other people's work as your own.

Elinor - Film Programmer

Zip & Zap and the Captain's Island

This Spanish children's film is an imaginative follow-up to Zip & Zap and The Marble Gang. Focusing on the mischievous brothers Zip and Zap and their exasperated parents, the family are separated on a mysterious island after they become the guests of Miss Pam at her storybook-inspired Children's Home (which you must never refer to as an orphanage). Zip and Zap are at first relieved to be free of their parents nagging, particularly as they are supposed to be in disgrace for destroying a toy shop, but it soon becomes clear that there's something not quite right about Miss Pam's idyllic set-up. This fun adventure film has a heartfelt message about the importance of family, while acknowledging the sometimes strained dynamic between parents and their growing offspring.

Lady Macbeth

Rising young talent Florence Pugh (previously seen in The Falling) gives a captivating performance as Katherine, a young bride sold off to start a family with a distant husband and his overbearing father in the countryside near Newcastle in the 19th Century. Bored stiff by the restrictions of her new status, Katherine is relieved when the two men are called away on business. Free to rise when she pleases and roam in the fresh air, it's not long before Katherine gives in to other temptations. When circumstances threaten her newfound happiness, she goes to extreme lengths to protect herself in this darkly funny and disturbing tale of self-preservation and disruption of the gender status quo.

Layla M

This Dutch film centres on Layla, a feisty Dutch-born young woman of Moroccan descent, frustrated by the increased racism she experiences in her community. A devout Muslim, Layla encourages her younger brother to practice the faith more rigorously, and is disappointed by her parents apparent apathy. Attracted to a group with more fundamental beliefs, Layla feels at home with her new friends and finds the distance between herself and her family increasing, until she takes a drastic step that challenges her view of herself as a woman, and as a follower of Islam. At times a difficult watch, this is a thought-provoking film with a compelling and complex character at its core.

Michael - Film Programme Assistant

Your Name

Already a phenomenon in its native Japan, Your Name is now one of the top ten most successful films at the Japanese box office, and is still going strong. A sweet, funny and impressive animé, the film centres on a mysterious body-swap between two teenagers - a boy (Taki) and girl (Mitsuha) - with hilarious consequences. As the story develops, a more serious sci-fi inflected drama ensues, with multiple timelines introduced, but the humour and charm never subsides. Terrifically animated and with a flamboyant soundtrack encapsulating teenage angst, it's impossible not to be won over by this thoroughly delightful film.

Tower

A superb documentary which chronicles the first mass campus shooting in the US in 1966, when a lone gunman ascended a clock tower in Texas and began to shoot randomly at passers-by. Presented as a reconstruction via rotoscope animation - a technique popularised in the Richard Linklater films A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life - the film uses a combination of interviews with survivors, voice actor narration and archive clips to astonishing effect. It's an unsurprisingly emotional journey, often harrowing, but has messages of strength, courage and ultimately leaves you feeling uplifted when it comes to overcoming the most tremendous adversity.

Its Only the End of the World

The sixth film from French-Canadian prodigy Xavier Dolan, who burst onto the scene in 2009 with his superb debut I Killed My Mother at the age of just 20. Familial relations, particularly between mother and son, have often been at the forefront of Dolan's creations. In this French-language theatrical drama, that confrontation is fractured across an entire family, as we witness a tempestuous reconciliation; the return of the prodigal son, away for 12 years, and now diagnosed with a terminal illness. This is a claustrophobic, cleverly-constructed chamber piece with great performances across the board from the likes of Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel and Lea Seydoux.

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