BFI 55th London Film Festival Round-Up

30 Oct

As the film festival calendar goes, the London Film Festival often gets something of a bum deal. With bigger brothers Cannes and Venice stealing all the world premieres and media attention, it seems by the time October comes around everyone has reached the end of their proverbial film reel. But 133,000 filmgoers can’t be wrong. Bringing in the largest audience to date, the BFI 55th London Film Festival presented departing artistic director Sandra Hebron – and audiences – with a well deserved parting gift to celebrate the end of her nine-year tenure and bringing another stellar programme of films to the capital.

Being more East End than West End, I cannot remember when I last spent so much time running around Leicester Square, to the extent that I am now considering a career change in to professional steeplechase having perfected some pretty impressive moves pole vaulting man holes and a particular aptitude for slalom-avoiding tourists. My early morning sprints over the river to BFI Southbank and late night walks through a deserted Trafalgar Square also acted as a reminder of what a frankly wonderful city we live in – something this year’s festival surely proved.

Over the Festival’s 16 days, London welcomed a score of film’s elite from around the world including avant-garde stalwart Jonas Mekas for Sleepless Nights Stories, the Dardenne brothers for the touching The Kid With A Bike, Yorgos Lanthimos for the disturbingly comic Alps, and one-to-watch newcomer Sean Durkin with his Sundance standout, Martha Marcy May Marlene. The corner for British pride was held up by Andrea Arnold debuting her stunning adaptation of Wuthering Heights, Andrew Haigh revealing the softer side to a one-night stand in Weekend and the hard-hitting debut from Tinge Krishnan, Junkhearts.

Keeping us educated, this year’s diverse documentary strand ranged from Nick Brandestini’s merry band of eccentrics in Darwin, Tristan Patterson’s homage to skate film greats following the life of Josh ‘Skreech’ Sandoval in Dragonslayer and Göran Hugo Olsson’s The Black Power Mixtape 1967 – 1975, documenting the history changing years in the civil rights movement.

While we might have to let Cannes take the overpriced cake when it comes to award ceremonies, LFF holds strong presenting 4 awards including Best Film, Best British Newcomer, Best Documentary and the Sutherland Award, presented to the most original and imaginative feature debut. This year’s Best Film went to Lynne Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, while young actress Candese Reid was awarded Best British Newcomer for her performance in Junkhearts.

Argentinian Pablo Giorgelli won the Sutherland Award for his already Camera d’Or winning Las Acacias, with the Grierson Award for Best Documentary presented to Werner Herzog’s Into The Abyss, a powerful examination of Death Row inmates. This year’s BFI Fellowship, the BFI’s highest accolade for outstanding contributions to film culture, was given to Canadian director David Croenenberg whose film, The Dangerous Method premiered at this year’s festival and Ralph Fiennes, whose prestige as one of Britain’s most respected actors has now evidently transferred behind the camera following his directorial debut in Coriolanus.

While the fact my dress was still at the dry-cleaners was obviously the reason I was unable to attend the ceremony itself, we thought we’d add a few awards missing from the trophy cabinets to finish our coverage of the BFI 55th London Film Festival.

Best Film You Won’t Get To See for Months: For anyone who’s been following our coverage, it will come as no surprise which film I will be boasting about for the next few months – Steve McQueen’s Shame. I’ll spare you more verbose swooning and instead urge you to clear your calendar for January when the film is released.

Best Film You’ll Probably Not Get To See: Sadly not all films at these festivals will receive a general release. But cross your fingers, or find yourself a suitable independent cinema, and hope you get to see Nobody Else But You. While no Fargo , this stylish murder-mystery-cum-comedy is one that will most likely get overlooked by the slew of Monroe-inspired films released in 2012.

Best London Film: Not so much a celebration of London at its finest but Carol Morley’s Dreams of A Life is a stark reminder of how an individual easily becomes lost in this 8million strong city and that it costs nothing to knock on a friend’s door once in a while.

Best Friend Film: This award does not refer to a film to watch with your best friend; I mean a film you would be best friends with if it was physically possible. Miranda July’s The Future is achingly indie in the very best way, from story to soundtrack to its wonderfully eccentric star and director.  

Bargain Bin Award: Gus Van Sant’s Restless, the living (or not) reminder of the fine line between indie kook and indie puke. Pastiche or plagiarism, this story of a terminally ill girl meets Kamikaze ghost-seeing broody boy steals the best bits of Harold and Maude but forgets to invest any time in its characters to make sure we care about her eventual demise.

The BFI 55th London Film Festival (in partnership with American Express) took place from 12 – 27 October 2011.

(As featured on


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