Highlights from the 61st BFI London Film Festival

17 Oct 2017 in Film Features

10 mins
Lean on Pete
Lean on Pete

The 61st BFI London Film Festival recently took place across the capital, showcasing the best new films from around the world, and our expert film curation team were on hand to take it all in. With a particular eye on films that will be suitable for film clubs and young audiences, the team have picked out their highlights and explained a little bit about them. Continue reading below to get a heads-up on the best new films coming out over the next twelve months...

Moira - Senior Film Curation Manager

The Breadwinner (11+)

The latest animation from Irish studio Cartoon Saloon (Song of the SeaThe Secret of Kells) is another stunningly beautiful film, this time set in Afghanistan at the height of the civil war. Sharia law is in effect and women and girls are not allowed to appear in public unless accompanied by a man. But when young Parvana's father is captured and thrown into jail by the Taliban, she is forced to take drastic action to feed her family. Dressing as a boy, Parvana is able to earn enough money for rice, but all she longs for is to see her father again. As the family struggles to survive, Parvana shares Persian folk tales with her siblings to keep their spirits up, demonstrating that stories remain in our hearts even after all else is gone. Enlightening and heart wrenching The Breadwinner is another magical tale of triumph over adversity.

The Prince of Nothingwood ( 14+)

Journalist Sonia Kronlund was reporting on the war in Afghanistan when she met Salim Shaheen, the country's most prolific filmmaker. A former general, Salim chooses to make cinema to combat civil war, turning his former soldiers into film extras as we join him in Kabul as he embarks on his 111th film. Salim is loved and revered by his people, who believe they have much to learn from him and from the stories that he tells. A charming and persuasive man, Salim even convinces fathers to let their daughters perform - and this in a society where women are restricted in what they can wear and where they can go, let alone act in films. The country is so gripped by his work that - despite the Taliban's outlawing of cinema - there's an extraordinary moment as we witness Taliban soldiers themselves downloading and watching Salim's films on their mobile phones. The power of film to unite and conquer in its own way is never more evident than in this wonderfully uplifting documentary.

Lu Over the Wall (11+)

Kai Ashimoto is a shy middle school student who finds it difficult to connect with his peers. But Kai loves music, running his own youtube channel under a pseudonym, and when his fellow classmates discover his hidden talent, they persuade him to join their band. In this Japanese Anime film, nothing is as it seems: Kai's hometown is also shared with 'merfolk' who are regarded with much suspicion by the village elders who've banished them, believing they carry a curse. Fantastically, the merfolk also adore music, and when Kai's band starts to play, little Lu the mermaid cant resist revealing herself to the group. All sorts of magical adventures ensue, but most important is the friendship that develops between boy and mermaid, as Lu helps Kai come out of his shell and find the confidence to fulfil his ambitions.

Other highlights: The Rider, The Ballad of Shirley Collins, ManifestoBattle of the Sexes, Ghost Stories, Ava

Kirsten - Film Curation Manager

Lean on Pete (14+)

Hotly anticipated by the Into Film Curation Team, this American-set drama by British director Andrew Haigh doesn't disappoint. Adapted from a novel by Willy Vlautin, it tells the tale of 16-year-old Charlie and a racehorse called 'Lean on Pete'. Newly moved to a town in Oregon and left to his own devices by his roguish dad, Charlie finds work in a local stable. Learning the ropes under the care of a world-weary horse trainer called Del, Charlie spends the summer touring the local racetracks and caring for his favourite horse. But as Lean on Pete's winning streak begins to fail, Charlie realises the animal's fate is in his hands. Prompted by a shocking event at home, Charlie runs away with Lean on Pete and the two embark on an odyssey across the American desert. Cinematic in its telling, both in observing Charlie's story and depicting the vast rough and tumble of rural America, this is a tender and poignant portrait of a young man forced to take the reins of his own life.

Becoming Who I Was (7+)

A fascinating and affectionate documentary observing the coming-of-age of a child monk called Padma Angdu, brought up in the mountainous region of Northern India. Identified as a 'Ripoche' - the reincarnate of a celebrated Buddhist master - little Angdu is sacred within his village and yet still attends school and plays in the snow with his friends, just like any other child. Cared for by his ageing guardian Urgyan, who has given up his job as a doctor to take care of the Ripoche, the two share a unique bond as they live, play, study and pray together. However, when Angdu is expelled from his monastery, he and Urgyan are forced to make a long and arduous journey on foot across the border to Tibet to find the village where Angdu lived in his previous life. This is a lovingly observed document of childhood and spirituality from an extraordinary cultural perspective that can be enjoyed by younger ages.

A Fantastic Woman (16+)

An original and compelling Chilean drama about a transgender woman called Marina grieving over the sudden death of her boyfriend and having to cope with his family, who refuse to accept their relationship. With an outstanding lead performance by Daniela Vega - whose Marina is strong and defiant in the face of the family's humiliating behaviour - and Almodovar-esque fantasy moments that visually encapsulate Marina's spirited nature, this is a refreshing, vibrant and emotionally intelligent representation of transsexuality on screen.

Other highlights: The Florida Project, Dark River, Good Time, G-Funk, Beast, The Shape of Water, Wallay

Joe - Film Curator

The Rider (14+)

The Rider is about a young Sioux cowboy and gifted horse trainer who, after suffering a near fatal head injury whilst riding rodeo, struggles to adjust to the enforced changes in his lifestyle and identity. Built around the semi-autobiographical experiences of a remarkable cast of non-actors, director Chloé Zhao creates a poignant, achingly sad film about modern masculinity, suppressed emotions, and living with disabilities, interspersed with a beautiful portrait of cowboy culture and the American landscape. Compassionately blending documentary with fiction, the film paints a moving portrait of a complex family unit, and features some of the most sensitive, authentic interaction between humans and horses ever captured on screen.

Journey's End (11+)

Featuring an impressive roster of British character actors, this re-telling of the classic play - set in the trenches shortly before the Spring Offensive and the end of World War One - does an excellent job of giving fresh life to familiar material. With little happening in the way of action for much of the film, the focus is instead on the soldiers' claustrophobic lifestyles and the psychological impact this would have had on their interactions with one another. The complex relationship between Asa Butterfield's fresh-faced, naïve Raleigh and Sam Claflin's battle-scarred Captain Stanhope is particularly strongly conveyed, and made all the more powerful given Stanhope's ongoing battles with alcoholism. Its account of 'Englishness' may seem archaic now, but the themes of class, sacrifice, nobility, and loyalty remain extraordinarily powerful, and are bound to engage new audiences in a period of history that should never be forgotten.

Makala (14+)

This documentary follows a Congolese man attempting to provide for his young family and build them a home in his rural community. Poverty stricken, it is not uncommon for them to have grilled rat for dinner. To try and make ends meet, the farmer produces charcoal to sell in Kinshasa, the capital city. Doing so is unbelievably backbreaking work, which is shown in extensive detail, and culminates in a quite extraordinary 50km journey the man embarks on to get to the city, pushing the charcoal on his bike the entire way. Often unbearably tense, the film is also wonderfully cinematic and utterly engrossing. Throughout, the audience wants to reach out and help the man, but the film never sentimentalises or patronises its subject. Poetic, and gorgeously shot, the film culminates in a wonderfully rousing musical finale that takes place in a makeshift church, and functions as a vivid portrait of a culture many of us know little about.

Other highlights: The Shape of Water, Lady Bird, Jane, I Am Not A Witch, Apostasy, Foxtrot

Michael - Film Curation Assistant

Ingrid Goes West (16+)

The social media generation are satirically skewered in this comedy-drama which sees a burgeoning friendship between Instagram celebrity Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) and her would-be stalker Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza). The title derives from Ingrid's radical decision to pack up and move to Los Angeles after discovering her latest obsession, with inevitable consequences that veer dramatically from the hilarious to the tragic. Much like the personas we seek to embody and portray on these platforms, in addition to its surface appeal, Ingrid Goes West has things to say which linger deeper beneath it.

The Florida Project (14+)

Sean Baker's follow-up to his 2015 acclaimed hit Tangerine shares many aspects with its predecessor, both stylistically and thematically, and yet still manages to be very much its own entity. We've seen a number of cinema releases explore the underbelly of American society in recent months, from Logan Lucky to Patti Cake$, and The Florida Project continues this trend with incredible wit, empathy and filmmaking verve. Six-year-old Moonee is irrepressible, charging around a garish rundown Orlando motel that sits just out of sight of Disney World, and encouraged to provoke, play and chase naughtiness at every turn by her mother, who is barely an adult herself. Willem Dafoe's performance as the motel manager is tender and, much like the film itself, quietly heartbreaking.

The Final Year (11+)

The last twelve months of the Obama administration are placed under the microscope in this film which resembles a real-life version of The West Wing, given the characters who populate it. President Barack Obama features within an ensemble group of protagonists which include Secretary of State John Kerry, key White House staffer Ben Rhodes and US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power. It arrives as a welcome companion piece to An Inconvenient Sequel, and although The Final Year focuses more on foreign policy as opposed to environmental issues, both films have liberal ideals at the forefront. And with Donald Trump's then-looming presidency lurking in the shadows of the film, the uncertain future facing the world in the short and long-term is inescapable.

Other highlights: Wonderstruck, Journeyman, Lady Bird, The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales, Brigsby Bear

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