Strong women have invaded the line-up for BFI’s London Film Festival – here are just a few to watch out for
It’s easy to see why Festival Director Clare Stewart has declared 2015 as “the year of strong women” at the BFI’s London Film Festival. Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette is opening the festival, Cate Blanchett is receiving a BFI Fellowship in between supporting screenings of her (frankly, stunning) films Carol and Truth, and many of the all-time great actresses are set to appear – Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, Diane Lane, Kate Winslet and Rooney Mara all have films scheduled. But there’s also plenty of exciting female directors slated to take off, many of which are currently flying under the mainstream radar. So, while you’re pre-booking tickets for the above, make sure to shove a couple of the below into your basket as well.
KARYN KUSAMA – THE INVITATION
Difficult to discuss without giving away too much of the reveal-heavy plot, The Invitation is a masterclass demonstration of how to build slow-burn suspense. It’s easily Jennifer’s Body director Karyn Kusama’s best film, and should be the first ticket you buy at this year’s fest. The set-up is simple; a couple go to a dinner-party held by friends they haven’t seen for years and everything is not quite as it seems. The Invitation quickly turns into one of the most tense nights out you’ll have at the cinema this year. And with a magnetic Tom Hardy-esque central performance from Logan Marshall-Green anchoring the narrative, it has performances to match the smart, surprise-filled, script. Essential.
LUCILE HADZIHALILOVIC – EVOLUTION
You’ll have seen Innocence, Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s astonishing debut feature, the stylish classic set in a girls’ school often cited as one of the greatest films ever made by a female director. Now, finally, Hadzihalilovic has followed up that masterpiece with an in competition Lovecraftian/Cronenbergian horror tale about a young boy who discovers something disturbing in the depths of an ocean surrounding an island with its own dark secrets. As with Innocence, the surface story is only half the experience, with Evolution encouraging you to dive deep into your own preconceptions and projections, ensuring the movie’s true meaning is open to interpretation. Is it an allegory of young men’s most primal fears? Or something else entirely?
EVA HUSSON – BANG GANG
Eva Husson’s first feature is a bold, confident debut with a killer high concept: a group of high school students decide to start their own private orgy club, with complex consequences. With its combination of a cast of complete newcomers, and it’s unflinching exploration of teenage sexuality, it’s been compared to Larry Clark’s Kids. But whereas that film was very much shot via the male gaze, Bang Gang’s female perspective is far more fascinating. Either way, expect mass debate when it lands in London.
BEATA GARDELER – FLOCKING
If Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt had been played out via social media, it might look a lot like Beata Gardeler’s almost impossibly tense Flocking. When teenage Jennifer accuses popular boy Alexander of rape in a small Swedish town, she finds herself ostracised by townsfolk who refuse to believe her accusations. With both her support networks and social networks slowly stripped from her, Jennifer finds herself adrift from family, friends and even the church in her small community. It might take place in Scandinavia, but this dissection of how internet witch-hunts can contribute to mob mentality is as relevant for anyone searching Twitter trends in London as it is in its native Sweden.
MICAH MAGEE – PETTING ZOO
Actress Micah Magee’s debut feature is so personal it’s practically a documentary – exploring her own experiences as a pregnant teenager, using her Texan childhood hang-out spots as key locations throughout the film. Following 17-year-old San Antonio resident Layla’s struggles when she falls pregnant in a family that doesn’t believe in abortion, Petting Zoo is a exploration of issues as relevant today as they where when Magee first faced them. Layla, already living in poverty, must face up to the reality of being a parent when she’s still a child herself. Funded by Kickstarter, inspired by Linklater, Petting Zoo is as indie, and as honest, as it gets.
HANNA POLAK – SOMETHING BETTER TO COME
This Danish-Polish documentary is already a critical hit, picking up prizes pretty much everywhere it’s played. Forget Boyhood, this is girlhood, following a young girl named Yula over a real-life period of 14 years – from 10 to 24 – as she ekes out an existence in a Moscow landfill, scavenging scraps from local garbage piles to survive, all the while retaining a shining optimism in the face of extreme adversity. Director Hanna Polak’s access is unbelievable, as is the level of trust she’s able to cultivate; Yula, her friends, and her family are open about everything – even the process of being filmed. With Putin’s rise to power operating as a distant backdrop, this often shocking glimpse at the social inequality spreading across Russia is a subtle indictment of his rule.
MAYA NEWELL – GAYBY BABY
Maya Newell was inspired to make this documentary about kids growing up with gay parents by her own experience as a child with two mums. But her happy past wasn’t the only driving force - baffled by five years of politicians in her native Australia debating same-sex marriage, with right-wingers banging their fists on tables, and with equally confrontative arguments coming from left-wingers, Newell decided to bring a fresh perspective to the debate. “I’m twenty-six, and I’ve grown up with two moms, but no one’s asked me what my experience of growing up was. I really felt that there was a voice missing in that discussion, so I set out to find some incredible kids that would share their opinions, and really let people into our families. Not tell them what to think, but really show them these kids, and let them make up their own minds about our families.”
NINJA THYBERG – CATWALK
If you want to discover hidden treasure at this year’s LFF, it’s well worth browsing the short film section of the programme. We’re already super into shorts such as Groove Is In The Heart and Rate Me, which both explore girlhood with memorable female leads, but you’re here to hear about directors, which means you’ll need to also add Swedish short Catwalk to your list. Directed by Ninja Thyberg, Catwalk follows Ella, who, at nine years old, has just discovered her passion for fashion / style. The only trouble is, her parents aren’t particularly keen to let her put together a brand-new wardrobe. Thyberg is a really exciting talent, and with five shorts on her IMDb CV in the past three years, it’s only a matter of time before she moves on to features.
ROSA HANNAH ZIEGLER – A GIRL’S DAY
Rosa Hannah Ziegler writes, edits and directs this short following teenage German girl Yasmin, as she struggles to discover her identity while maintaining a relationship with her heroin-addicted mother. An intimate and insightful film, exploring the vulnerability of a young woman struggling to find herself in overwhelming circumstances. Sounds bleak, right? Yup, but also hauntingly uplifting.
SYLVIA CHANG – MURMUR OF THE HEARTS
If you need something a bit more chill, get a ticket for iconic Taiwanese actress and filmmaker Sylvia Chang’s latest visual feast, which will let you get lost in its mix of dream-logic, magic-realist memoryscapes and elegiac drama. When Yu-mei was a young girl, she was snatched away from her brother Yu-nan by their mother. Now grown-up, the estranged siblings are reunited, and must piece together their past. But forget the plot, the otherworldly cinematography will transport you from your seat in London, into another world.
The London Film Festival runs from 7 - 18 October