The London Film Festival is getting under way, under the watchful eye of a new BFI Director of Festivals, with Kristy Matheson having taken over from Tricia Tuttle, just six months ago.
For her first time in charge, she’s largely kept the festival’s format intact, but much as Tuttle’s time in charge was hampered by Covid, Matheson is having to deal with the consequences of Hollywood’s talent strikes.
While the finishing touches were being made to her first selection before strikes by writers and actors in Hollywood brought production to a standstill, one of the highlights of any festival is the famous faces on the red carpet; the front page photos of stars in their finery on the streets of London are the best possible adverts for the festival itself and the films it screens but the arguably self-defeating terms of the ongoing Screen Actors Guild walkout means they’re not allowed to promote the films they gave so much of their time to before the strike began. It will lead to less publicity for the festival and could lead to less success for their films, shrinking their next pay cheque.
But Matheson highlights the fact that the international focus of the festival means that there’ll still be plenty of talent on display, at least to promote the foreign language films. An unexpected consequence of the SAG walkout could be that world cinema receives a global boost at a time that Hollywood is already under pressure.
There will be plenty of big name directors among the gala presentations over the next twelve days, from Martin Scorsese’s 3 and a half hour real-life crime drama, Killers of the Flower Moon, to David Fincher’s graphic novel adaptation The Killer, with Bradley Cooper directing himself as Leonard Bernstein in Maestro and Alexander Payne reuniting with his Sideways star Paul Giamatti for The Holdovers.
Other highlights include the Venice Golden Lion winning Poor Things, Sir Antony Hopkins playing the British Schindler, Sir Nicholas Winton in One Life, Daniel Kaluuya’s directorial debut The Kitchen, a the world premiere of the new Chicken Run film, Dawn of the Nugget.
But when What’s Worth Seeing asked Matheson what’s worth seeing at her maiden London Film Festival, with nearly 170 to choose from, she opted to recommend these five smaller features that perhaps sum-up what a post-Covid, strike-damaged festival should be about:
GOING TO MARS: THE NIKKI GIOVANNI PROJECT (US), directed by Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, features the eponymous African American poet, looking back on her legacy and reflecting on her mortality.
“It’s a great documentary about the poet, Nikki Giovanni. It’s a wonderful film that mixes contemporary interview and archive and is just a really incredible portrait of an artist but also gives you a great insight into what motivates their work and their poetry and their wider thinking about the world. It’s extraordinary.”
LOST IN THE NIGHT (Mexico), by Amat Escalante, is described as a rich tapestry of unsettling stories, stemming from the mysterious disappearance of the protagonist’s mother.
“This is a really great thriller. It’s about a young man whose mother is murdered and then he gets a tip-off that maybe he can start to investigate this himself. It’s a very thrilling whodunnit but also a thrilling examination of contemporary Mexican society.”
CROMA KID (Dominican Republic), by Pablo Chea, is described as a “handcrafted gem” of a science fiction film about a family who make a magic TV show in their basement.
“It’s a story about a young person whose parents are magicians and a magic trick goes a certain way and they are hurtled into another dimension, so this young hero has to go into the multiverse and retrieve his parents.”
THE BEAST (France/Canada), by Bertrand Bonello, is described by the BFI as a synapse-sparking exploration of fate and identity, that uses a Henry James novel as a springboard for a leap into the science-fiction unknown.
“It stars Léa Seydoux and George MacKay. It’s a really interesting film. It’s essentially time-travelling film. It’s a love story. It’s formally daring and I think for people who love Betrand Bonello, you won’t be disappointed and for those audiences who have’t met him yet, this is a great way to start .”
THE BOOK OF CLARENCE (USA), by Jeymes Samuel, delivers what the BFI describes as the most original take on the story of Christ since Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
“This wild ride of a film is set in biblical times and stars the great LaKeith Stanfield as the main character, Clarence. It’s a very political film and it’s a very fun film, but it’s got a big, emotional heart, so I think that’s really a big screen experience for people.”