Last year acv experienced LFF mainly as a digital affair only but this year was quite the contrast…
By Sailesh Ram
FEW could deny London Film Festival (LFF) has helped to prove the power of cinema as audiences and stars returned to the capital in a big way, even if the pandemic persists rather more in the background.
Indeed, an email sent on Wednesday evening, (October 20) warned some LFF delegates that positive cases have been reported and advised those who attended over the weekend to get tested. A few reported being positive but it doesn’t appear to have become a majour outbreak.
Away from audience numbers (no figures have been released) and these covid concerns, the awards announced on Sunday afternoon also appeared to reflect the need for joy and spirit in cinema and the care we must all take with the environment around us.
Our short interview with super critic Kaleem Aftab during LFF (October 6-17) also provided an important perspective on the festival in an international context.
Aftab was more than on the button when he chose ‘Hit the Road’ an Iranian road movie as his quirky call-out when posed the question as we were half-way through the 12-day festival on the Monday (October 11).
The film won the BFI London Film Festival’s Best Film Award as the 65th edition wrapped up, bringing the curtain down on 12 days of more than 150 screenings, world premieres, red carpets, interviews – and a few breakout films such as ‘Hit the Road’.
Made by Panah Panahi, the son of famous Iranian director Jafar Panahi, ‘Hit the Road’ tells the story of a family on a road trip, with a father who is nursing a broken leg and two sons with very contrasting emotions – one is the driver, who has to concentrate while the other, is a much younger, restless and energetic passenger. Their mother has to keep the peace. ACV has not seen the film.
Malgorzata Szumowska, LFF official competition president, said: “The Best Film award recognises inspiring and distinctive filmmaking that captures the essence of cinema.
“The essence of life! At all times in cinema history, but perhaps during a pandemic especially, we are looking for ways to connect to life. Our choice is for a film that made us laugh and cry and feel alive.”
What Aftab also picks up on is the way that London and the film festival has been embraced by the public – attendances look to have been strong, and possibly on par with pre-pandemic levels.
Aftab – who is a veteran of many international film festivals and writes for a wide range of national and international publications (hence the super moniker), and last spoke to us in Cannes in 2019 – called London, “the fest of the fests”.
It did seem to benefit from getting films that initially screened at Cannes and other festivals in the summer.
For us, the festival was significant, as it marked a return to in person interviews and actually watching films on a big screen and in a theatre with others.
The collective experience is important – two films that evinced strong applause at press screenings were Riz Ahmed’s ‘Encounter’ and Will Smith in ‘King Richard’ and to a lesser degree, British director Edgar Wright’s ‘Last Night in Soho’. The film is out on general release in the UK next week – October 29.
The overall festival experience – even if it was a little strange and unnerving to begin with – was quietly joyous.
We are, after all, still in a pandemic and must continue to exercise vigilance and care.
But it was good to be back talking to talent directly and not through a screen.
Our first interview was at the LFF teas and was in the usual dining room area in a corner of The May Fair Hotel in central London. It wasn’t too different to how it used to be – before the pandemic, and though staff were masked, generally the atmosphere was convivial and relaxed.
You can see that interview with writer-director Prasun Chatterjee, the writer-director of ‘Two Friends’ (‘Dostojee’) below.
It will be an interesting film to follow, as it had its world premiere at LFF and has a relevance and power which it could not have foreseen. There have been clashes between Muslims and Hindus in Bangladesh itself this month.
Also making an impression was Rahul Jain’s very timely and unforgettable documentary, ‘Invisible Demons’ – we covered its world premiere in Cannes (see link below) and UK acv got chance to view it at LFF. (See the link also for the print review).
Jain himself in a post-screening Q&A on Saturday (October 16), said: “We are the problem and we keep f*kg things up.”
His film chronicles the environmental degradation of Delhi and has some very striking and salutary images – the melting ice block and the sari-ed women doing prayers and ablutions in murky polluted waters.
We will return to Jain and the subject of his film next year when it comes out on release in the UK. It should be mandatory viewing for everyone at the United Nations’ environmental global summit, COP26 the week after next on Sunday, October 31.
A bit closer to home and our first Red Carpet for a while was the unusual Bradford romance story – ‘Ali & Ava’.
You can see our Red Carpet outing and short interviews with the talented creatives behind this film – Adeel Akhtar, Claire Rushbrook and writer-director Clio Barnard.
It’s a powerful and thought-provoking film and not afraid to tackle subjects, others might have avoided.
Switching countries but not subjects is Roshan Sethi’s and Karan Soni’s ‘7 Days’ – a romcom with insight and laughter, as two Indian Americans looking for The One end up in lockdown for 7 days after a very furtive first date picnic. (See the link for our video interview with co-writers Sethi and Soni below.)
Also here from India was ‘Pedro’ – about a village drunk who inadvertently kills a cow and incurs the wrath of locals.
Suman Bhuchar, associate editor of www.asianculturevulture.com, said the overall experience of being back in the cinema was uplifting.
“I enjoyed the film festival, getting a chance to be with real live audiences. It felt like before the pandemic. It was good to listen to Q&As with filmmakers where they were able to be present.
“It’s was a great opportunity also to see world class documentaries such as ‘Mothers of the Revolution’, ‘Invisible Demons’ and ‘Mr Bachmann and His Class’. Welcome back LFF!”
Other LFF 2021 winners
Playground – Laura Wandel, First Feature Competition (Sutherland Award)
Becoming Cousteau – Liz Garbus, Documentary Competition (Grierson Award)
Only Expansion – Duncan Speakman, Immersive Art and XR Competition
Costa Brava, Lebanon – Mounia Akl, Audience Award
Love, Dad – Diana Cam Van Nguyen, Short Film Competition (Short Film Award)
Director Aleem Khan was part of the Best Film Competition jury and actor Nabhaan Rizwan part of The First Feature Competition jury.
More on the awards: https://www.bfi.org.uk/london-film-festival/news/competition-winners-2021
*Jafar Panahi is banned from filmmaking in Iran and unable to travel outside the country.
Our videos and links
Kaleem Aftab on his LFF 65
Ali & Ava (Adeel Akhtar, Claire Rushbrook and Clio Barnard)
7 Days (Roshan Sethi and Karan Soni)
Two Friends (Prasun Chatterjee)
*We have more reviews from LFF 65 and will be publishing them in due course – follow us on Twitter.
First Reviews: http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/london-film-festival-2021-opening-gala-film-review-the-harder-they-fall-stylish-western-with-brilliant-black-characters-re-writes-history-as-it-must/