Preview: London Film Festival 2020

This year’s London Film Festival – the 64th edition – will obviously be remembered as a movie celebration arriving in the time of Covid-19. Rather than cancel the festival, artistic director Tricia Tuttle and her team have ported much of it online, via the BFI Player, as well as hosting some socially-distanced screenings. While there are a reduced number of films in the programme, that doesn’t mean the quality has dipped, as Steve McQueen’s blistering opener Mangrove showed.

Part of his ‘Small Axe’ anthology of five films for the BBC – they’ll be showing later in the year on telly and another of the quintet, Lovers Rock, plays next week at the LFF – Mangrove is a pulsating account of the Mangrove Nine, a group of black activists tried for protesting against persistent police harassment in West London in the 1970s. Shaun Parkes (of Human Traffic fame) is terrific as Frank Crichlow, owner of the Mangrove restaurant, a frequent target by the local constabulary.

A number of free-to-access digital events are also taking place, including a Screen Talk with Riz Ahmed, whose latest film Mogul Mowgli – in which he plays a rapper struck down with a debilitating illness – also plays in the festival. Perhaps the most exciting event, for music fans, is Talking Heads’ David Byrne, who will join the festival to discuss Spike Lee’s filmed-version of his Broadway stage show American Utopia. Michel Franco, whose ‘Mexican disaster movie’ New Order just won Venice’s Grand Jury Prize, will also be on hand to discuss his career next week.

As for other films to look out for, Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round comes highly recommended. With the Danish director reuniting with Mads Mikkelsen, with whom he made The Hunt, this tale of a group of teachers who decide to ‘stay drunk’ during working hours is a wonderfully life-affirming movie. Josephine Decker’s Shirley, starring Elisabeth Moss as horror writer Shirley Jackson, is another must-see; a unique biopic that shows just what can be achieved when the unconventional route is taken.

Another intriguing aspect of this year’s festival is LFF Expanded, a new dedicated strand of XR (Extended Reality) and Immersive Art. Using cinema as a jumping off point, LFF Expanded will be an expansive space for programming, featuring Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality.

Among the filmmakers present in this futuristic space will be Asif Kapadia, the Oscar-winning director of Amy and Senna, who arrives with his new work Laika, adapted from the 2007 graphic novel about the eponymous dog who became the Earth’s first voyager into space. With tickets still left for screenings, both physical and online, there’s still time to take your own journey into the cinematic unknown.

The 64th BFI London Film Festival runs until 18 October. For more details, click here.

Credits: Stills from Mangrove.