'Imagination will take you everywhere'
The Circus That Came To Town
Every year when the nights draw in and the leaves turn orange, the BFI London Film Festival rolls into town like an eagerly anticipated circus. So on the 8th October, glamour descended on Leicester Square for the opening premiere of The Imitation Game, which set off the 12 day extravaganza of cinema. Nothing brightens the melancholy autumnal mood quite like the buzz of seeing Benedict Cumberbatch waltz down the red carpet and onto the screen– along with some expertly crafted films. This year, the 58th festival was no exception; engaging, entertaining, moving and challenging creations – all 248 of them – bombarded the viewer left, right and centre. Proof that Boris Johnson knows what he’s talking about when he says London is “one of the world’s top centres for film” – in other words, who needs Hollywood? Our city is renowned for producing some of the most cutting-edge, diverse, award-winning new talent in film production, script-writing, acting and CGI special effects. Think of this year’s Oscars – the golden pinnacle of international film – in which Brits dominated the top accolades; or jump back in history to 1888 where the first ever film footage was recorded in – you guessed it – London.
But the true beauty of the BFI London Film Festival is the breadth and variety of the films on offer; historical war dramas and gripping documentaries, dynamic animations and sleek thrillers, from all four corners of the globe. In the words of the Festival Director, Clare Stewart, the programme “brings you films from established filmmakers whose new work we have eagerly anticipated, and first-timers who thrill us, making dazzling arrivals with films that seems to have come from nowhere (and also everywhere!).”
Foreign films certainly shone brightly in the sparkling array. One destined to make headlines was Rosewater, John Stewart’s directorial debut documenting the true struggle of captured Iranian journalist, Maziar Bahari. He spends 118 days in prison for reporting on the unrest surrounding Iran’s 2009 elections; a battle in which freedom of speech goes head to head with political corruption – a pertinent theme which resonates with events around the world today. Other intriguing foreign films include Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language; storytelling at its most vivid with a star performance from Roxy the dog; as well as Wild Life, another real-life tale documenting a feuding French family who shun modern ideals and live off the land – a refreshing change in our materialistic digital age.
And then of course there are the Brit flicks. Two such triumphs in particular leap from the screen and into the forefront of the mind. Both of which are depictions of legendary people who have left a considerable mark in the world of arts. Director, Mike Leigh, portrays the celebrated master of painting: J.M.W Turner, in the film, Mr Turner. Timothy Spall morphed into the artist (and won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival as a result), who is renowned for his hallucinogenic, ethereal landscapes and his unique approach to light. But Spall gives him a beastly quality – he disregarded his fellow artists and was stubbornly against traditional art conventions: a rebel who used his paintbrush to lead the way. Another film with a strong central character is Testament of Youth, a World War 1 memoir of the writer, Vera Brittain, a woman who used her determination and talent to push her boundaries, as well as defy the restrictions that women faced in society at that time. Alicia Vikander takes on the title role, with a delectable trio of young British actors portraying the heroic soldiers she held so dear. The spirits of who live on through her words, and consequently lives on through the film; a beautiful and timely ode to a generation lost at war.
Alas the circus left long ago. Brad Pitt bid us farewell on the 19th October, with his film, Fury, closing the celebration. The red carpet has been rolled up and the stars taken away like tamed wild animals on leashes – ready to be wheeled out before another audience of expectant eyes. But for those of us who were lucky enough to experience the magic that is the festival, our minds have been opened by the power of filmmaking. Let’s hope next year brings another bumper crop.
To get more information of all the films shown at the BFI London Film Festival, visit the website: bfi.org.uk/lff