Festival Fanfare

The autumn film festival season is upon us in what is destined to be a very bizarre period for movies. Next week, the Venice Film Festival will be the first major attempt at a physical gathering for film in the Covid era – albeit with a reduced line-up, virtually no American stars gracing the red carpet and socially-distanced screenings (complete with mandatory face-mask wearing).

Closer to home the London Film Festival has just announced its opening and closing films. The curtain-raiser is Mangrove, the new film by Steve McQueen (Shame, Widows) – one of five films from the Small Axe anthology that will broadcast on BBC One this autumn. Dealing with the Mangrove 9, the group of Black activists who clashed with London police during a protest march in 1970, it will play for free to audiences both at the BFI Southbank and at cinemas across the UK.

It’s an impressive move by the festival’s artistic director Tricia Tuttle, bringing the festival not just to those who live in or near London but to anyone across the country. Accordingly, Tuttle has created a ‘hybrid’ festival, not unlike what is being organised over in Canada for September’s much slimmed-down Toronto International Film Festival. In total, there will be twelve physical premieres that follow the same format as Mangrove, with socially-distanced screenings at the BFI Southbank, London cinemas and other UK screens.

Largely the LFF will be ‘virtual’ this year, with another fifty films delivered to viewers in their own homes. Alongside this, there will be free talks and events with filmmakers and actors, free short films and a new Virtual Exhibition of XR and Immersive Art. Many of the films will include subtitles and Audio Description for audiences with access requirements. Press and industry screenings will be also entirely online.

While the majority of the LFF’s programme to be announced on September 8, the festival will close with Ammonite, Francis Lee’s follow-up to his much-acclaimed God’s Own Country, starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan in a passionate love story set in the 1840s. Like Mangrove, Lee’s film was due to play in Cannes this year – the first major festival to fall victim to the pandemic. Thankfully, the LFF – and other movie marathons this autumn – are fighting back.

The BFI London Film Festival runs between October 7 and October 18.

James Mottram

Credits: Stills from Mangrove.