The 60th BFI London Film Festival, in partnership with American Express, kicks off tomorrow, Wednesday October 5, and will run through Sunday October 16, 2016.
The BFI London Film Festival is Britain’s leading film event and one of the world’s best and most established film festivals. In its 60th year the program sees Headline Galas presented at the Odeon Leicester Square on each evening of the 12 day festival. Festival visitors will be able to enjoy a brand new cinema experience with Competition and Strand Galas presented at the new Embankment Garden Cinema, in the Victoria Embankment Gardens. With 780 cinema-style seats, Dolby 7.1 surround sound and 4k digital projection, this temporary venue brings the festival to even more people and connects screenings in the West End with the BFI’s home cinema at BFI Southbank.
This year’s festival includes an agenda-setting Symposium event that heralds the BFI’s BLACK STAR project, the UK’s biggest ever season of film and television dedicated to celebrating the range, versatility and power of black actors, coming in late October. Films within the Festival program will amplify the season, while the Symposium will ask searching questions about the continued under-representation of black actors on screen, probing why opportunities for black actors in the US and the UK remain limited, and aiming to drive forward a progressive agenda by spotlighting and exploring key issues for the film industry.
The Festival will screen a total of 193 fiction and 52 documentary features, including 18 World Premieres, 8 International Premieres, 39 European Premieres. There will also be screenings of 144 short films, including documentary, live action and animated works. A line-up of directors, cast and crew are expected to take part in career interviews, Screen Talks, Q&As and Industry Talks during the 60th event.
Of special note, given this blog’s stated interests, below are the African and African diaspora feature films that are scheduled to screen at the upcoming festival – the majority of them you will be familiar with, given that we’ve previously covered them on this website.
In alphabetical order, starting with numbers; trailers and clips wherever available:
— “76,” Directed by Izu Ojukwu
A terse political drama from Nigeria deals with the ramifications for a group linked to the assassination in 1976 of General Murtala Mohammed.
A departure from the recent productions coming out of Nigeria and inspired by true events, 76 uncovers the plot that led to the assassination in 1976 of the then popular Nigerian military ruler General Murtala Mohammed. Six years after the Nigerian civil war, Dewa (Ramsey Nouah) a young officer from the middle belt becomes embroiled in a romantic relationship with Suzy (Rita Dominic) a young woman from the south east. Their relationship is threatened by the overwhelming strain of their ethnic difference. Now heavily pregnant, Suzy’s world falls apart when news of her husband’s involvement in a botched coup attempt hit the headlines. Stunningly shot on 35mm and given extra texture by the use of footage from the BBC Archives, 76 atmospherically recreates the era. Complete with a score of African music, along with some American soul classics, 76 reminds us of the moment when this great west African country lost its innocence.
— “Daughters of the Dust,” directed by Julie Dash
Julie Dash’s groundbreaking Daughters of the Dust remains urgent and poetic and continues to resonate, most recently inspiring Beyoncé’s Lemonade.
Julie Dash’s majestic first feature is a poignant portrait of three generations of Gullah women (descendants of West African slaves) at the turn of the 20th century as their family struggle with the decision to migrate from their sea island home off the coast of South Carolina to the mainland. Daughters portrayed a new type of blackness and black identity – one located in a pastoral island setting still informed by myth and ancestral traditions. Dash’s perspective is determinedly feminist as she fuses together image, sound, authentic dialect and traditions of African oral storytelling to portray the power, beauty, and resilience of black women. Her vision and aesthetic sensibilities perfectly capture a forgotten moment of the African American experience and charts new ground in the representation of black women on screen. One of the key inspirations for the film work that accompanied Beyoncé’s Lemonade, this is a timely re-release for Dash’s powerful film.
— “Divines,” directed by Houda Benyamina
The gangster genre is given a shrewd feminist makeover in this arresting debut about a young girl embarking on a life of crime.
With staggering self-assurance and disarming creativity, director Houda Benyamina bursts onto our screens with the frenetic story of Dounia, a teenage girl living in a crime-fuelled suburb on the outskirts of Paris. Along with her best friend Maimouna, the budding entrepreneur vies for the attention of local dealer Rebecca, whilst simultaneously embarking on a fraught emotional relationship with a handsome male dancer who has caught her eye. But as Dounia’s work and personal lives rapidly escalate, her control begins to slip and she soon finds herself dangerously out of her depth. A neat feminist twist on the typically male-centric terrain of the gangster thriller, this imaginatively directed and sharply-performed drama signals the arrival of some major new talents. In its depiction of female friendships and power dynamics, the film makes for an interesting companion piece to Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood, while as a vibrant explosion of youthful energy and imagination, it stands defiantly on its own.
— “Fonko,” directed by Lamin Daniel Jadama, Lars Lovén, Göran Hugo Olsson
A pulsating journey through the electronic urban musical underground of Africa that looks at how the new sounds are defining a generation, from the team behind Black Power Mixtape.
From the award-winning makers of The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (LFF2013) and Concerning Violence comes this story of musical, social and cultural revolution. Africa is home to some of the most rapidly-changing countries in the world and Fonko is a pulsating musical journey through this exuberant, culturally-diverse continent. From Dakar, Accra and Lagos to Luanda and Johannesburg, through original interviews with artists, videos and live performance footage, we witness a rapidly evolving melting pot of styles. The music lights up communities, invigorating creative industries and creating new economies. Booming bass lines and infectious rhythms are here in abundance, but the film has much more to offer, with its exploration of music as the driver and indicator of social change. Woven through this journey is a narrative comprised of statements by the godfather of modern African popular music, Fela Kuti. Illustrated by archive film, Kuti’s words form a provocative historical backdrop of race politics and struggle.
— “Hissein Habre, A Chadian Tragedy,” directed by Mahamet-Saleh Haroun
Mahamet-Saleh Haroun (Darrat) returns to the theme of the personal and societal responsibility with this searing documentary about ex-Chadian President Hissein Habré.
Mahamet-Saleh Haroun’s powerful documentary is a chilling portrait of Hissein Habré, the former president of Chad. Between 1982-1990, Habré presided over a tyrannical regime that tortured and killed thousands of people in this small central African country. He then fled with a fortune stolen from public coffers. After more than 20 years of campaigning, he is finally about to stand trial in a court built specifically for his case, in his exiled country of Senegal. Haroun meets the victims of the regime, survivors of Habré’s brutal campaign of harassment and imprisonment, many of whom still bear the physical and psychological scars of their treatment. Their testimonies are both moving and profoundly unsettling. Balancing intelligence with compassion, this remarkable documentary offers hope to people who have suffered under the yolk of oppression that one day they will see justice served on those responsible for destroying so many lives.
— “I Called Him Morgan,” directed by Kasper Collin
Part true-crime tale, part love story, this vivid portrait of legendary hard bop trumpeter Lee Morgan is an all-out musical treat.
Helen Morgan shot her common-law husband, the renowned trumpeter Lee Morgan, in a New York jazz club one snowy night in February 1972. He died that night, aged only 33. Before his career was cut short, Lee’s prodigious talent saw him playing alongside greats including Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane, and his recording of The Sidewinder became one of Blue Note’s biggest hits. Helen served time for the crime and following her release retreated into obscurity. Over 20 years later, a chance encounter led her to give a remarkable interview. Helen’s revealing audio ‘testimony’ acts as a refrain throughout director Kasper Collin’s meticulous and deeply resonant film, which draws together a wealth of archive photographs and footage, notable talking heads and delicious jazz recordings. Celebratory yet deeply poignant, Collin’s involving documentary paints a vivid portrait of a legendary artist, an incredible woman and the extraordinary music that brought them together. Part thriller, part love story and an all-out musical treat.
— “Jewel’s Catch One,” directed by C. Fitz
A rousing doc about LA’s first black LGBT disco, defiantly opened in 1973 and beloved by music royalty from Sylvester to Madonna.
In 1973, Jewel Thais-Williams invested her last $500 in a ground floor bar in an unfashionable corner of Los Angeles. The idea that an openly gay black woman could be a business owner was near unthinkable at the time. Yet within two years, Jewel owned the whole building, converting the first floor into ‘Catch One’ nightclub, a sanctuary for LA’s black LGBT community which earned it the moniker ‘the Studio 54 of the West Coast’. The story of this club, which thrived for an extraordinarily long 42 years, is presented with verve and passion. Archive footage is interspersed by interviews with celebrity frequenters Sharon Stone, Madonna, Thelma Houston, Sandra Bernhard and Bonnie Pointer. But the true heart of the film lies in the portrait that emerges of Jewel – a community leader and activist who continues to dedicate her life to helping others.
— “Moonlight,” directed by Barry Jenkins
The second feature from writer-director Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy) follows its young protagonist from childhood to adulthood as he navigates both the dangers of drugs and violence in his depressed Florida neighbourhood, and his complex love for his best friend.
This is an impeccably crafted study of African-American masculinity from a vital creative voice in contemporary cinema. Though his story is set in Miami, Jenkins shuns the familiar neon-lit aesthetic that the likes of Michael Mann have associated with the Florida hot spot. Instead, he shows a different kind of life, miles away from South Beach, in an area hit by a crack epidemic. It’s here that we meet young Chiron. Bullied at school and beaten down by a harsh home life, Chiron risks becoming a statistic: another black man dominated and ultimately destroyed by the system. Despite his small stature and taciturn nature, Chiron is a survivor, and, as he grows, it becomes clear that his real battle isn’t even on the streets. It’s an internal one: reckoning with his complex love for his best friend. Moonlight takes Chiron from childhood to his teens to adulthood, but it absolutely defies coming-of-age conventions. Instead of offering a clear progression of time, Jenkins plunges us into an atmospheric subjectivity, an impressionistic vision of Chiron’s psyche in which sensuality, pain, and unhealed wounds take centre stage with staggering power.
— “A Moving Image,” directed by Shola Amoo
The gentrification of London’s Brixton is examined in this probing and stylistically ambitious debut feature.
If Spike Lee made a film about community relations in Brixton, it might have started at the Brixton Riots in 1981 and ended with the destruction of the Brixton branch of estate agent Foxtons – the ultimate signifier of ‘bougie’ invasion – at the Reclaim Brixton march in April 2015. Like Lee’s Do the Right Thing, Shola Amoo’s feature debut takes a stylistically unconventional approach to a highly divisive subject, unfolding over an unusually hot summer. Nina (Tanya Fear), an artist returning to the area, is moved to investigate changes in the area and finds herself questioning if she is in fact part of the ‘bourgie elite’ destroying it. Amoo’s gently probing mash-up of fiction, documentary and performance art is less concerned with righteous anger than with asking what ‘community’ means at a time of rapid change. Speaking to real residents affected by gentrification Amoo gives us an impressively nuanced treatment on a hot-button topic of our times.
— “The Revolution Won’t Be Televised,” directed by Rama Thiaw
Rama Thiaw’s film taps into an example of grassroots political action in Senegal, where a group of disenfranchised activists decide to campaign against that country’s elite.
A courageous and engaging documentary detailing a once popular, democratically-elected Senegalese president as he unsuccessfully attempts to extend his autocratic rule across the West African country. It wasn’t always this way. In his many years in opposition, Abdoulaye Wade had campaigned to establish political pluralism, but once elected he became worse than his predecessors. The Revolution Won’t Be Televised begins in January 2012 as young people bravely launch a resistance movement against Wade. Founded by a group of school friends that include popular rappers Thiat and Kilifeu, the movement grows into a formidable force. Filmmaker Rama Thiaw joined the campaign to document the emerging youth protest. Accompanied by powerful and rousing rap music, Thiaw succeeds in conveying the rage articulated by the rappers as they take their messages across the neighbouring state of Burkina Faso, where another incubate is eventually forced to flee the country.
— “Stockholm My Love,” directed by Mark Cousins
Neneh Cherry, director Mark Cousins (I am Belfast) and cinematographer Christopher Doyle create an inventive docu-style fiction and a love song to the Swedish city.
Mark Cousins and Neneh Cherry team up for this superb ‘is it a doc, or is it fiction’ film. Cherry’s Alva is a character whose life mirrors some broad facts of her own (an artist with an African father and Swedish mother). She’s trapped under the steely grey skies of Stockholm, struggling with debilitating depression, the result (we soon learn) of a traumatic incident a year earlier. Due to give a lecture on the city’s architecture, she bunks off and takes us through the city, exploring buildings, bridges, a cinema, with each place revealing more about her life and state of mind. Taking in the immigrant experience, her relationship with her father, Stockholm’s recent history, we slowly work towards the tragedy, which is devastatingly revealed. Cousins, Cherry and cinematographer Christopher Doyle (In the Mood for Love and Cousin’s own I Am Belfast) create a visceral, music and poetry-filled exploration of grief, but one that also examines the glorious moments when Alva emerges from that state.
— “Those Who Jump,” directed by Moritz Siebert, Estephan Wagner. Co-Directed by Abou Bakar Sidibé
“I exist because I film” – the compelling first-hand account of an African migrant enduring great hardship to reach Europe and make a better life.
Malian refugee Abou Bakar Sidibé is camped out with fellow migrants on the top of Mount Gurugu, which overlooks Melilla, the tiny Spanish enclave on northern Africa’s Mediterranean coast. Given a camera by the film’s directors Moritz Siebert and Estephan Wagner, Sidibé documents the daily life of the refugees – the long periods of tedium punctuated by frequent fruitless attempts to jump the fences that separate the land border between Morocco and Spain. But much more is revealed by his filming, not only the hardships but the camaraderie between the migrants – their hopes, aspirations and humour. Contrasting with Sidibé’s intimate footage are the abstract, anonymous thermal images of surveillance cameras tracking the jumpers on their night-time quests to reach the El Dorado of their dreams. Depicting the plight of African refugees from a bold new perspective, Those Who Jump is a testament to their courage and an indictment of the world’s neglect.
— “The Wedding Ring,” directed by Ramatou Keita
A female-directed and rare film from Niger, about a privileged young woman who comes back to her village after studying in Paris to discover the truth of the relationships between women and men in her society.
This rare film from Niger, a simple love story, is beautifully narrated in the Sahel tradition, with an added dash of cynicism regarding the politics of race. Striking Nigerien actress Magaajyia Silberfeld plays young Tiyaa, a member of a prestigious aristocratic family. She has come back home to the sultanate of Damagaram from her studies in Paris. Whilst there, she met an equally privileged young man whose family comes from a village not far from her own. Life is pleasant and peaceful following Tiyaa’s return, but time passes and the handsome suitor is slow in visiting. Meanwhile, Tiyaa has the opportunity to discover in her surroundings other women whose stories of love, marriage, desertion and divorce reveal the truth of the relationships between women and men in Sahelian society. The Wedding Ring is a stark but surprisingly tender and beautifully-made film from a country that rarely features in the news yet constantly questions and has actively resisted change from the outside world.
— “White Colour Black,” directed by Joseph a. Adesunloye
A young mixed heritage man confronts the psychological complexities of his identity in this essential, truly cinematic discovery for anyone interested in Black British cinema.
‘Where are you from? No, but where are you really from?’ This question will be familiar to any person of colour, a member of the global diaspora. It’s a question at the heart of Joseph a. Adesunloye’s striking debut, which follows Leke (Dudley O’Shaughnessy), a mixed heritage man living in London. A successful photographer, Leke’s privileged lifestyle allows him to navigate his Black British identity largely on his own hedonistic terms. But when a message from Senegal calls him ‘home’, Leke must confront the psychological intricacies of his heritage and forge a new sense of self. Moving from brooding London’s cityscapes to an almost trancelike stillness as Leke travels through to his Senegalese village in Popenguine, Adesunloye skilfully evokes the internal dichotomy Leke faces. Featuring excellent performances from O’Shaughnessy, Yrsa Daley-Ward and Wale Ojo, White Colour Black is an essential, truly cinematic discovery.
— “WÙLU,” directed by Daouda Coulibaly
What happens when a life of crime offers more opportunity than living an honest life? It’s a challenge Malian bus driver Ladji faces in this superb drama.
Malian director Daouda Coulibaly’s superb feature debut has been lauded for Ibrahim Koma’s stunning performance. He plays Ladji, a 20-year-old who works hard as an apprentice bus driver in Bamako in order to get his older sister Aminata (Inna Modja) out of prostitution. When he doesn’t get the promotion he expected, Ladji decides to contact Driss, a local drug dealer, who owes him a favour. Accompanied by his two best friends, Ladji embarks on a risky journey, transporting kilos of cocaine from Conakry to Bamako. Along the way he comes into contact with corrupt politicians and affiliates of al-Qaida. From there, he soon works his way to the top of the drug trafficking hierarchy, which provides him with unimaginable access to money and any vice he desires. Directing a screenplay that skilfully dabbles in the African oral storytelling tradition, Coulibaly’s potent and enigmatic film exudes style and brio, right up to its surprising end.
Taking place over 12 days, the Festival’s screenings are at venues across the capital, from the West End cinemas – Vue West End and the iconic Odeon Leicester Square; central London venues – BFI Southbank, BFI IMAX, Picturehouse Central, the ICA, Curzon Mayfair, Curzon Soho, Haymarket, Prince Charles Cinema and Ciné Lumière; and local cinemas – the Ritzy in Brixton, Hackney Picturehouse and Curzon Chelsea.
The 60th BFI London Film Festival, in partnership with American Express, kicks off tomorrow, Wednesday October 5, and will run through Sunday October 16, 2016.