What to watch at the BFI London Film Festival 2020
Nothing has gone quite the way we expected this year, and the BFI London Film Festival is not likely to be an exception. With the majority of screenings taking place virtually and most interviews being hosted over Zoom, movie buffs and critics alike would do well to exercise both patience and discretion during what is set to be a smaller scale, more isolated affair. Naturally, there are inevitable downfalls to the altered format: socially distanced cinemas could struggle to conjure up the intended atmosphere, and visual masterpieces may lose some of their magic when streamed on the small screen. Nevertheless, we must be grateful for what we do have, which is a cathartic celebration of exciting, diverse filmmakers, both emerging and established.
If you only have time for a couple of films, look no further than Steve McQueen. The Academy Award-winning director is this year gracing us with two new features, both part of an upcoming five-movie series for the BBC charting London’s West Indian community through the decades. The first, Mangrove, will open the festival with a searing true story of a group of black activists in the 70s and their clash with the police during a protest march, which led to the first judicial acknowledgement of racism in the MET. The second, Lovers Rock, is set largely over one night at a house party, tracing a tale of simmering attraction over a soundtrack of 80s reggae.
Not to be confused with the former heavyweight filmmaker, Harry Macqueen is nonetheless still one to watch. Our next pick Supernova follows a slower and quieter narrative thread, trundling along in a campervan with a couple of 20 years (played by Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci to wide critical acclaim) as they navigate the rocky road of dementia. Meanwhile, Aleem Khan tackles long-standing relationships from a less conventional angle in After Love, as a Dover-dwelling widow (Joanna Scanlan) discovers the secret her husband has kept just out of view, across the channel in Calais.
In fact, there are a refreshing amount of films with stalwart female talent both in front of and behind the camera. Among them is Miranda July’s Kajillionaire, a quirky crime comedy about a family of grifters whose world is shaken up when they let a newcomer (Gina Rodriguez) join one of their heists. Academy Award-winning Actress Regina King also proves her mettle as a director with her feature debut One Night in Miami, based of Kemp Powers’ stage play of the same name, which imagines the conversation between four historical black icons when they meet at a boxing match in 1964. Likewise, Irish filmmaker Cathy Brady claims her first feature-length credit – springboarding off a series of successful shorts – with Wildfire, an intense drama about sisterly bonds pushed to the brink.
Whether you are seeking the psychological thrills of more spine-tingling titles – Natalie Erika James’ Relic and Josephine Decker’s Shirley spring to mind – or you crave something more family-friendly – such as the beautifully animated Wolfwalkers – this year’s lineup is guaranteed to provide some overdue escapism.
The 64th BFI London Film Festival takes place from 7th until 18th October 2020, for further information visit the festival’s website here.