London Film Fest Gets Ready to Roll

Submitted by Matthew Arnoldi on Wed, 10/11/2006 - 16:00

In cinemas all around the capital - from London's West End, Leicester Square, the NFT, through to the Brixton Ritzy, the East Finchley Phoenix, Croydon's David Lean Cinema and the Tricycle in Kilburn, cinema staff all across London are gearing up for a frenetic fortnight in which over 180 new feature films and 130 short movies will get shown to audiences.

If you'd been around last year, you might have wisely been one of the first to see Keane, the film by Lance Kerrigan, starring Damien Lewis in a thrilling performance playing a father looking for his lost daughter on the NY subway system. The film opened to critical acclaim just two weeks ago, but received its first showing 12 months before that at last year's London Film Festival.

A program that festival artistic director Sandra Hebron calls a "strong selection of original and distinctive films" will satisfy many desires and tastes: it could be the chance to see a blockbuster ahead of release, find that indie gem that will never get a release, or an opportunity to dive into something unorthodox and cutting-edge in the Experimenta section.

Biggest surprise, ever!

One of the Special Events this year, takes place on Friday 27 October, when a group of filmmakers led by Mike Figgis will present an audiovisual Portrait of London and this will be followed on the Sunday (29 Oct) with the world's largest ever surprise film screening as films will be shown simultaneously on no less than 50 of London's most famous cinema screens.

The festival is bookended by its openers and closers. Kevin Macdonald's The Last King of Scotland opens the festival on Oct 18th. Starring Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington and Gillian Anderson. It's a tragicomedy, beginning in droll fashion but later finding a serious side. It's based on a book by Giles Foden and tells of the bond that grew between Ugandan dictator Idi Amin (Whitaker) and a Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan (McAvoy). Just what drove Ugandan Amin to suggest he put together an army to fight for Scottish independence? This is a confident and assured first fiction feature from an award-winning documentary filmmaker behind Touching the void and the equally impressive One day in September.

Sixteen days later, the fest closes on November 2nd with the mouthwatering prospect of the first showing over here of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Babel, his third feature after tour de forces Amores Perros and 21 Grams. As in his previous films, the director skilfully interweaves several stories and makes good use of a cast to die for, namely Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Adriana Barraza and Said Tarchani. This film is sure to sell itself purely on the cast and the director's powers of inspiration and imagination.

Famous directors pepper the Gala section: actor-turned director Emilio Estevez has come up with a film about the assassination of Robert Kennedy, called Bobby starring Anthony Hopkins, Demi Moore and Sharon Stone, the film being also about the people who found themselves caught in a moment of time by this awful act.

Shifting to the present day, John Cameron Mitchell's film Shortbus is sure to be a hot ticket with its scenes of unsimulated sex. It depicts a cool erotic joint in New York where strangers can meet up and examine their relationships taking part in orgies, discussions, listen to music or indulge in camp conversations. It's certainly an enticing proposition if you're into that sort of thing and the film explores the relationships of a gay pair and a straight partnership against the backdrop of the sexy salon Shortbus.

A potentially calmer offering is to be found in Roger Michell's film Venus about two old actors' reflections on life and starring Leslie Phillips, Peter O'Toole and Vanessa Redgrave.

Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) needs little introduction and his latest film Breaking and Entering, is a lively contemporary criminal drama starring Jude Law, Juliette Binoche, Robin Wright Penn and Martin Freeman. On the strength of the cast and director it's likely to be one of the quicker sell-outs in the festival.

Tim Burton's Nightmare before Christmas returns on its '13th birthday' with a brand new print in 3D in the Family Gala, and Tim Burton is also the subject of one of the Screen talks. Others to face the gauntlet of in-depth interviews include Forest Whitaker (the aforementioned Last King of Scotland), Richard Linklater (whose latest film Fast Food Nation is screening), US indie producer Christine Vachon, and finally two who need little introduction, Tim Burton and Dustin Hoffman.

Film on the Square (Leicester Square that is) includes Adrien Brody in Hollywoodland depicting the mysterious death of George Reeves, an actor found dead in the Hollywood hills in the 50's and William Friedkin's Bug starring Ashley Judd and Harry Connick Jnr, a low-budget adaptation of Tracy Letts' acclaimed Broadway stage play.

European directors are given a strong showing here this year. There's Lucas Moodysson's latest Container, Claude Chabrol's comedy thriller A Comedy of Power starring Isabelle Hubbert, there are hits from Cannes such as Christopher Honore's Dans Paris and Nuri Bilge Ceylan's story of marital break-up in present-day Istanbul Climates, the Time Out's Critics choice and arguably an unlucky loser when the prizes were divvied out in Cannes. Marital break-up is also the subject of Italian director Nanni Moretti's latest film Il Caimano (The Caiman) and this film is sure to be a hit with fans of Moretti's previous film The Son's Room.

Lars von Trier supporters are sure to be making an automatic beeline to the box office to book tickets to see The Boss of it all a black comedy about the deviousness of an owner of an IT firm who sets up a fake identity for a chief executive. Another director who is no stranger to black comedy is Aki Kaurismaki and his new film Lights in the Dusk gets a showing here as the final instalment of his Loser trilogy.

Brit films are also fairly strong due to some eye-catching options. Perhaps the pick would be Andrea Arnold's Cannes-acclaimed Red Road a drama that unfolds around a woman working at night at a surveillance camera panel in Glasgow's city centre who shows an interest in an unkempt young man living in the rundown urban estates who has recently been released from prison. What's her motive in wanting to befriend him ?

Shane Meadows' Thatcherite drama This is England, is sure to be popular - it's an indictment of the time in which its set and it also gives renewed evidence of the growing maturity of one of Britain's most exciting, energising and adventurous of directors.

Documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield returns with Ghosts in which in a humane and yet searing fictionalised account based on the facts, he investigates why a group of chinese workers lost their lives picking cockles in Morecombe Bay in February 2004. It's a very moving film showing you at first hand the desperation of their plight and also examining how migrant workers are so mercilessly exploited as slave labour in this country merely because they are termed illegal immigrants and are forced to take what they can in terms of jobs.

Finally there's Penny Woolcock's Mischief Night which completes her Tina trilogy which began with Tina goes shopping and Tina takes a break - like films such as East is East, it examines two families in an unnamed Yorkshire town and looks at how a lack of integration can lead to problems. Don't be fooled into thinking this is completely hard-hitting though, there are moments of great humour as well in a refreshingly original film.

Asian cinema

From Asia, it would be easy to pick out Hana purely because its been directed by Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda (Afterlife and Nobody Knows). This is a full-blooded comedy which should go down well with audiences. Chinese director's Tian Zhuangzhuang's film The Go Master would be another sound choice - it looks great, is all about the eastern equivalent of chess - called 'Go' and its got many similarities with the director's earlier classic The Horse Thief. There's also The King and the Clown by Lee Jun-Ik, a 16th-century historical drama that has become easily the highest-grossing film in Korea.

Treasures from the Archives this year includes new prints of some David Lean Dickens classics, Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, a dazzling new print of one of the greatest comedies of all time, Stanley Kubrick's Dr Strangelove : Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb and also from more recent days, one of the best evocations of family life in the North East, Terence Davies's moving and wonderfully musical Distant Voices, Still Lives.

Food on film

Finally three films to tickle your taste buds, well in a manner of speaking anyway. Russian Kirill Mikhanovsky's Dreaming of Fish is actually not about food but is in fact a love story, although it is set within a world of fishermen in Brazil.

Austrian director Nikolaus Geyrhalter's film Our daily bread really is about food - using documentary footage, it shows the nasty secrets about how some of our processed foods are produced and it might well leave you prefering to go hungry afterwards by the sound of it.

Another film in the same vein is Black Gold, a documentary about the global coffee industry, exposing how big multinational giants like Nestle and Kraft rake in the profits whilst the price paid for coffee harvests in the developing world drops to the point that farmers in the world's poorest countries face poverty and desperation. A UK film directed by Marc and Nick Francis, it's the sort of project Michael Moore would be proud of (although it's not quite as comical).

Whatever you see, enjoy, but allow time afterwards since at many of the screenings, there are Q&A's with the stars and directors which can be quite illuminating, not least for hearing the questions which cover a whole range, from audiences.

Finally Variety's party deserves a special mention. On Monday 23 Oct at the Sanderson Hotel at 6.30 pm, Variety are holding a bash to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the festival, so if you want to get up close and personal as the celebs file in, perhaps get an autograph or a pic on your mobile phone with the Paps, that could well be a decent doorstepping opportunity to mix with the stars.

For ticket information on the London Film Festival telephone 020 7928 3232, book online, or call in at the NFT, Leicester Square ticket booth and festival venues for more information and to make bookings.

More coverage of the London Film Festival