Over the past 2 weeks I was able to experience an enormous amount of content at the 67th BFI London Film Festival. From striking features and documentaries by film legends to intimate and honest short films, this festival was filled to the brim with fantastic stories. These stories were made especially more mesmerising with ground-breaking virtual and augmented reality film instillations at the OXO Tower (which should still be running till the 22nd October). Below are 5 films and pieces of content I’d recommend you consume should you get the chance:
Colored (Noire) – Lead Artists. Pierre-Alain Giraud, Stéphane Foenkinos, Tania de Montaigne | Novaya, Flash Forward Ent | Augmented Reality
Claudette Colvin’s story told through a gripping experience at the forefront of immersive filmmaking.
I’ve never experienced anything quite like this film. You are encouraged to explore and move around as you learn the tragic tale of 15-year-old Claudette Colvin, an American girl who refused to give up her seat on a bus in 1955. Claudette’s actions preceded those of Rosa Parks, but her story failed to gain national traction for a variety of factors that the filmmakers walk you through.
What I found truly incredible were the amount perspectives I could choose to inhabit throughout this film. Wearing the AR headset and headphones they provide, I could walk around and choose to see this story unfold in a variety of ways. I sat as Claudette on the bus, I stood in the shoes of the lady who wanted Claudette to give up her seat, I stood as the bus driver and the judge, I sat with Claudette in her cell and watched her as a member of the jury, I walked with protesters and church members, the options were endless. If you so want, you could choose to view the entire piece as a passive observer, but the point is that you have that choice and that will affect how you experience Claudette’s story. This made my viewing very personal and is an experience I doubt I’ll forget.
The Book of Clarence – Dir. Jeymes Samuel | Legendary Entertainment | Feature
A remix of the Gospels, I still prefer the original.
The Book of Clarence follows LaKeith Stanfield’s ‘Clarence’ try to make his way through Jerusalem while navigating love, enemies, an up-and-coming messiah called Jesus Christ, slavery and the law. A work of incredible scale, The Book of Clarence heavily comments on the plight of dark-skinned people in the western world.
Jeymes Samuel’s ambition cannot be questioned. The world he creates are vibrant and interesting, with interesting characters and fantastical situations. I really wanted to love this film but there was too much happening for me to have any sort of emotional attachment to the characters. A lot of this film felt like an extended music video, where meaning is derived from looks and things are told rather than shown.
It’s not bad by any means as there are many good qualities, such as the performances from most of the cast. Standouts include Lakeith Stanfield, Michael Ward, Teyanna Taylor and Benedict Cumberbatch (who has some of the funniest moments I’ve ever seen). There were a lot of moments that made me laugh and had me engaged but it wasn’t sustained. I think it’s worth a watch because there’s nothing like it but I think I would have enjoyed it more had I gone in with lower expectations.
Maestro – Dir. Bradley Cooper | Netflix | Feature
Emotionally gripping, visually stunning, a true standout.
Bradley Cooper’s sophomore film is a biopic detailing the hectic life of composer giant Leonard Bernstein. Spanning many decades, featuring many tenets of musicals and classical compositions, and not shying away from any area in his life, Maestro is a brave film made with the cooperation of Leonard Bernstein and Felicia Montealegre’s three children.
Carey Mulligan’s performance struck me particularly, with her portrayal of Felicia being beautiful and charming, as well as fierce and harsh. Carey steals nearly every scene she’s in and her chemistry with Bradley Cooper is electric; both of these performances gripped me from the opening note.
Bradley Cooper has shown himself to be as talented a director as he is an actor. I didn’t feel lost at all in this film, in fact, the myriad of emotions I felt for Leonard and Felicia guided me through the moments where the technical aspects of Leonard’s conducting were at the forefront. This film made me laugh, this film made me cry, I cannot recommend Maestro highly enough.
The Kitchen – Dir. Kibwe Tavares & Daniel Kaluuya | Netflix | Feature
A look at the undying spirit of the heart of London.
The much-anticipated directorial debut from Daniel Kaluuya alongside Robot & Scarecrow (2017) director Kibwe Tavares is a tale about fatherhood and gentrification. The Kitchen is a futuristic, multicultural, vibrant, musical estate that faces closure at the hands of a militant police force. Kane Robinson’s ‘Izi’ aims to escape to greener pastures until he meets Jedaiah Bannerman’s ‘Benji’ who creates an avenue for a new world.
While the community shown and the performances from Kane and Jedaiah standout, the two themes in this film aren’t developed enough to say either were explored fully. I wanted to see more of The Kitchen and why things are the way they are, as well as see Izi and Jedaiah’s relationship hit more highs and lows. That being said, the audience gasped, groaned and felt what these characters were going through. The film does its job in making you feel, I just wanted to feel more strongly in one way or another.
The Kitchen features some of the richest music I’ve heard and shows a fresh look at the dynamic mix of the British, European, West African and Caribbean cultures that exists in London. This film did well in creating a world I wish was delved deeper into, but it’s still one I would like to revisit.
Dancing on the Edge of a Volcano – Dir. Cyril Aris | Salaud Morisset | Documentary
How do you make a film through a national disaster, a global pandemic, flooding, wildfires and protests? With a community of champions and an unbreakable will
The 4th of August 2020 is a day the lives of many Lebanese people changed forever as a massive explosion occurred in Beirut, originating from its port. This documentary follows Mounia Akl and her production team as they try to continue making their debut feature film through this unbelievable adversity.
Mounia’s award-winning film, Costa Brava, went through numerous challenges, any one of which could have stopped production entirely. To name a few: The pandemic, banks and borders closing, cast and crew injury as a result of the explosion, sets and homes flooding. Through all this adversity, it was inspiring to see how the team rallied around each other and made such an important piece of art.
This film offers and honest take on how Lebanon was failed by its government and how the people felt and resisted. It was inspiring to see that the communities that were built lasted through the darkest days in the country’s history.
Other projects I’d recommend:
Black Dog – Dir. George Jaque | Independent Entertainment | Feature
Essex Girls – Dir. Yero Timi-Biu | Short
Wildmen of the Greater Toronto Area – Dir. Solmund MacPherson | Short
Killers of the Flower Moon – Dir. Martin Scorsese | Apple TV+ | Feature
Flow – Lead Artist. Adriaan Lokman | Virtual Reality
Hopefully these few recommendations have stirred your excitement and given you some projects to look out for in the last few months of 2023 and early 2024. I’d encourage you to see and talk about as many of these films as you can, as all these filmmakers have created some truly inspiring art.