63rd BFI London Film Festival Review
By Dr Ricky Ghosh Dastidar
The 63rd BFI London Film Festival took place recently, featuring a total of 233 screenings. This comprised 28 World Premieres, 12 International Premieres and 32 European Premieres. Many of the world’s most recognisable film-stars including Adam Driver, Keira Knightley, Michael B. Jordan, Shia LaBeouf, Tim Roth, Timothée Chalamet and Willem Dafoe all made personal appearances during the 12-day festival .
The festival began with a star-studded gala presentation of The Personal History of David Copperfield. Directed and co-scripted by Armando Ianucci, this new film adapts one of Charles Dickens’ most beloved characters to create a modern, fresh and comic Victorian-set epic. The film stars Dev Patel and also features Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton, Peter Capaldi and Ben Whishaw.
The festival closed with the hotly-anticipated International Premiere of The Irishman, which saw legendary director Martin Scorsese reunite with his equally legendary cast members; Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Harvey Keitel. This is the 9th collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro and revisits a genre that they helped define; the gangster thriller. The Irishman explores the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa; the infamous head of the Teamsters union whose connections with organised crime were wide-ranging. The role of Hoffa is played flawlessly by Al Pacino, who first starred together with Robert De Niro in the classic gangster thriller; The Godfather: Part II. The ambitious film, running at a staggering length of 309 minutes also boasts fine supporting performances from Joe Pesci, Ray Romano and Stephen Graham.
Martin Scorsese attending The Irishman premiere with Al Pacino to his right and Robert De Niro to his left
As has become tradition at the London Film Festival, there was a surprise film screening on the Sunday evening. This year, audience members were treated to Josh and Benny Safdie’s Uncut Gems, in which Adam Sandler plays a New York jewellery dealer trying to pay back his debts after acquiring a rare gem stone. The fast-paced thriller was a sheer joy to watch and boasts a career-defining performance by Adam Sandler as the central character.
Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems
The London Film Festival offers prizes in various categories including Best Film, Best Documentary and Best First Feature. The BFI London Film Festival Director Tricia Tuttle said after the awards ceremony; ‘our awards highlight the most distinctive, urgent and accomplished filmmaking from around the globe. It has been an incredible festival - with audiences moved, provoked and dazzled by these films, many of which engage with pressing social and political themes in very inventive ways’.
This year’s Official Competition (Best Film award) winner was Monos. Directed by Alejandro Landes, Monos is a hallucinogenic, intoxicating thriller about child soldiers that has inspired feverish buzz and earned comparisons to Apocalypse Now and Lord of the Flies. Wash Westmoreland, the Official Competition President said; ‘Monos is a stunning cinematic achievement; marrying dynamic visuals, faultless performances and groundbreaking storytelling. It’s a masterpiece!’
Mati Diop won the prize for Best First Feature (Sutherland Award) with his film Atlantics. A hypnotic, genre-shifting portrait of a girl’s awakening, Atlantics tells the story of Ada, who faces an impending marriage to another man, when her lover Souleiman grows tired of labouring without pay on the gleaming towers of Dakar and sets out across the sea with friends. As the women gather in the bar where the men used to drink, it seems that something else more mysterious has returned to them.
Rubika Shah was this year’s winner in the Best Documentary category (Grierson Award) for her film, White Riot. A vital documentary blending fresh interviews with archive footage, White Riot profiles punky reggae protest movement Rock Against Racism. Chronicling the movement’s grassroots beginnings in 1976 through to 1978’s huge antifascist carnival in East London’s Victoria Park, the film features interviews and previously unseen footage of bands such as The Clash, whose rock-star credentials and gale-force conviction took Rock Against Racism’s message to the masses.
Yance Ford, the Documentary Competition President commented; ‘In the spirit of the Grierson Award criteria, White Riot is both a provocation and a tremendous opportunity. In this moment around the world, the film implies that perhaps the lessons of the past were never learned. Without nostalgia for 1979, the power of White Riot is that it points directly at 2019. Rubika Shah has used the power of film to remind us of where we have been and asks how long it will take us to change course’.
The film I was most impressed by this year was Australian Dream. This thought-provoking and topical documentary about the Australian Rules Football star Adam Goodes raises some very serious questions about racism in sport; a problem which is becoming more talked-about than ever before.
No prior knowledge of the sport is required to appreciate the film, which received standing ovations after each if its screenings. Here is a brief synopsis of the extraordinary film; in 2013, Adams Goodes was at the top of his game in the world of Australian Rules Football. However, an unexpected incident led to his sudden downfall and loss of love for the sport he admired and excelled at for most of his life. The incident occurred when a 13 year old girl called him an ‘ape’ in the middle of a game, in full view of a crowded stadium. Goodes, who was raised by his single aboriginal mother heard this and subsequently had the girl ejected from the stadium. Drawing upon Goodes’ personal story, Australia’s dark colonial past and its treatment of the Aboriginal population, Australian Dream is a powerful examination of race, identity and belonging that resonates far beyond the football pitch and stays with you long after the final credits have rolled.
The Australian Dream
Over the course of the Festival, there were 178,789 admissions for the London screenings and events – an overall increase of 6% from last year’s public attendance. Extending its offering to audiences outside of London, the festival also hosted satellite screenings at over 100 venues across the UK & Ireland. In addition, the festival attracted praise for its diversity; with a total of 78 countries represented across the screening programme.
Director Martin Scorsese attends The Irishman premiere with Robert De Niro to his right and Al Pacino to his left.