Every year come October I look forward to attending my favourite celebration of cinema from around the world, namely the BFI London Film Festival. Anyone who knows me knows that I’ll be out of action from 12-27 October 2011, hopping from cinemas to screening rooms across the capital with the aim of catching as many movies as possible.
This year’s festival will showcase 204 feature films and 110 shorts over 16 days. That’s a helluva lot of popcorn to get through. I’ve been going since a decade but the platform has been running for many more. Now in its fifty fifth year it’s a testament to the talent and dedication of its long standing and sadly out-going Artistic Director, Sandra Hebron, that the affair has transformed from a small British festival into one of the premier film events on the international circuit.
As always there are big film premieres, galas and red carpet appearances by big stars like George Clooney, Anthony Hopkins, Madonna and Michael Fassbender amongst many others. But I tend to get more excited by the Asian contingency. In the past I’ve bumped into Aamir Khan, Sharmila Tagore, Om Puri, Shabana Azmi, Rituparno Ghosh and numerous other luminaries. This year it’s not so much the handful of small but significant South Asian features that have piqued my interest. I’m more excited about the British independent films with an Asian connection that are on offer.
Top of the list is Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna with Slumdog star Frieda Pinto and British Muslim MC-turned-actor Riz Ahmed. An adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1891 novel, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, the film is relocated to modern day Rajasthan and Mumbai and promises to surprise. I caught a sneak preview at a screening at BAFTA last week in the presence of the prolific filmmaker and can vouch for its stunning visual landscape and haunting soundtrack. The performances aren’t bad either! Pinto’s turn as a pure Indian woman whose life takes an unexpected turn when she meets the son of a wealthy NRI will have people talking. As the Film on the Square Gala, Trishna will be sure to get attention.
Also on my list of must sees is Sket, the directorial debut of London-based filmmaker Nirpal Bhogal. Having convinced Ray Winstone to star in his short film Cold Kiss, the plucky Punjabi Eastender tackles the gritty subject of girl gangs operating in London’s urban decay. Expect disturbing language and violence in this low budget drama that is part of the New British Cinema section.
Next to that comes Junk Hearts, a sophisticated social drama about the unlikely bond that forms between a violent ex-soldier (Eddie Marsen), a black teenager sleeping rough (Candese Reid) and a high-powered businesswoman Christine (Romola Garai). Having made the BAFTA-winning short Shadowscan, Junkhearts’ director Tinge Krishnan is a name to look out for.
The World Cinema segment includes five Indian movies and one from Sri Lanka: Salim Ahamed’s Abu, Son of Adam (Adaminte Makan Abu), Gurvinder Singh’s Alms of the Blind Horse (Anhey Ghorghey Da Daan), Kaushik Mukherjee’s Asshole (Gandu), Suman Ghosh’s The Nobel Thief (Nobel Chor), Rituparno Ghosh’s Nouka Dubi (Boat Wreck) and Sanjeewa Pushpakumara’s Flying Fish (Igillena Maluwo). Films like these rarely get a cinematic or DVD outing in the UK so it’s well worth a trip to London town to catch a glimpse and hear from the filmmakers at a Q&A.
Not to be forgotten is a small gem of contribution in the Short Cuts & Animation - London Calling section. Mawaan Rizwan’s Jimmy Will Play, is a nine minute short film about a single mother in East London who finds a novel way to raise money to but her football-fanatic son some pricey boots.
If any of these don’t tickle your fancy then fear not. With over 300 films and documentaries from 55 countries forming part of the vast array, maybe a Greek tragedy, Iranian comedy or South Korean romance will pull you in. Make mine a saucy Swedish thriller. That should go well with the popcorn.
The 55th BFI London Film Festival will run from 12-27 October 2011.
For further information go to: bfi.org.uk/lff