Brace yourselves, this year’s BFI London Film Festival has become very exciting indeed. The full lineup for the festival has now been announced, with major filmmaking talent set to attend. The festival, taking place from 10th-21st October, sees highly anticipated new works from some of the most respected directors in the business, including Steve McQueen and Luca Guadagnino. The announcement also reveals that 38% of the films in this year’s LFF are directed by women, compared to 24% in 2017. Whilst still some way off an equal gender split, this is a relatively progressive number in a film industry that is still dominated by male filmmakers. The festival organisers prided themselves on showcasing female talent last year, and with several of this year’s big hitters fronted by women, that sentiment shows no sign of slowing down.
With both the features and shorts programmes containing over 100 films, it is hard to dive in to the real depths of this year’s programme. A good place to look for some more familiar names, however, is this year’s headline galas. They are headed up by Widows and Stan & Ollie, acting as the opening and closing night films respectively. Widows is an update of a 1980s TV series in which four women team up to pay off the debt left to them by their late husbands, all of whom were career criminals. Steve McQueen’s first film since Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave, Widows this time has the titular women played by Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo and Elizabeth Debicki. Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn co-wrote the script and Hans Zimmer wrote the score, so there’s more than a couple of reasons to look forward to this. Stan & Ollie meanwhile, takes a look at the late career period of beloved double-act Laurel & Hardy. Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly play the famous pair, with Filth director John S. Baird taking the reins behind the camera.
Among the well-known directorial voices at the festival are the Coen brothers, Yorgos Lanthimos and Luca Guadagnino. Prolific Greek director Lanthimos presents The Favourite, a historical comedy drama fronted by the formidable trio of Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz. There is more period fun from the Coens, so adored by the critical world, with their Western anthology The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. One of multiple films to be distributed in the UK by Netflix, the project started life as a TV series, before morphing into the film we have today. Luca Guadagnino, meanwhile tackles a remake, with his updated version of Dario Argento’s Suspiria. This version is led by a host of high-profile actresses, including Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton.
Awards season speculation usually starts around festival season, and there are a few galas that seem to fit the Oscar-worthy bill. Still Alice director Wash Westmoreland offers up Belle Époque drama Colette, starring Keira Knightley as a woman who challenges gender convention and her husband, played by the ever-fabulous Dominic West. Jason Reitman, the man behind Juno, directs Hugh Jackman in the true story of 1980s US politician Gary Hart, The Front Runner. Hart’s career was derailed by an expose of his infidelities; Reitman will hopefully probe the ethics of the situation to make for a fascinating film. Last year’s awards-season favourite Timothée Chalamet returns to the fray this year with a performance as drug addict Nic Sheff. The film Beautiful Boy is based on his and his father David’s (played here by Steve Carell) memoirs about their relationship throughout Nic’s struggle. Felix Van Groeningen directs.
The critical success of Marielle Heller’s Diary of a Teenage Girl will increase anticipation for her new film Can You Ever Forgive Me?. It stars Melissa McCarthy in the story of notable writer and forger Lee Israel. Other notable true stories being told in the Headline Galas are that of Scottish leader Robert the Bruce (as portrayed by Chris Pine in Outlaw King) and late war reporter Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike in A Private War). The Headline Galas are rounded out by Tom Harper’s Wild Rose, about a young country musician and her experience or motherhood, and a continent-hopping tale of love from This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman entitled Life Itself.
Like most major festivals, there is also an Official Competition at the LFF. The films in the running make up a relatively small portion of the programme. The competing works include new films from critical big-hitters Ben Wheatley, Peter Strickland, David Lowery and László Nemes.
Elsewhere in the competition is the Documentary Competition, the Short Film Award and a host of ‘Special Presentations’, including Peter Jackson’s return with WWI documentary They Shall Not Grow Old. There is also the First Feature Competition, which by its nature includes very few big-name filmmakers. It does, however, have the directorial debut from Paul Dano, the relationship drama Wildlife. Written with Dano’s partner and Ruby Sparks co-star Zoe Kazan and starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan, it is probably the highest profile film in this particular competition.
The rest of the lineup is split into strands: Laugh, Love, Cult, Dare, Debate, Create, Thrill, Journey, Family and Archive. Each one is headed up by a ‘Strand Gala’. The biggest reveals among these are the return of the man-made Moonlight Barry Jenkins with James Baldwin adaptation If Beale Street Could Talk as the Love Gala, and Terry Gilliam’s plagued, long-gestating project The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, which is this year’s Laugh Gala. Lee Chang-Dong’s Burning is the Thrill Gala this year, one of several films that have already screened at Cannes back in May. Two award winners from that festival also grace the London lineup; Ali Abassi’s unusual romance Border heads up the Dare strand, whilst Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum wades into uncomfortable waters as the Debate Gala. Ralph Fiennes (Create Gala) and Alfonso Cuarón (Journey Gala) will also see their new works screened to LFF audiences in October.
With all of this, it will be hard to keep up, but nevertheless the BFI London Film Festival 2018 will offer plenty of opportunities to revel in the madness and joy of the cinema.