55th BFI London Film Festival

Even the briefest of glances through the overwhelming programme is enough to confirm and perpetuate the excitement that surrounds those two weeks in October when all lights and red carpets lead to London – it’s the BFI London Film Festival. Sponsored by American Express and supported by the Mayor of London for the first time as a funding contributor, 2011’s BFI London Film Festival is proving all the naysayers who said the UK film industry is dying wrong in a big way. With a programme including 132 UK premieres, 13 world premieres and 45 debut feature films, all eyes will be on London – only this time for good reasons.

Following on from Venice Film Festival, the LFF shines the light on the best emerging and established filmic talent showcasing international and home grown talent alike with over 300 screenings of documentaries, world cinema, shorts, animation and experimental film taking place throughout London between October 12 to 27 .

Providing a beautiful bookend to the opening and closing screenings of this year’s festival is English sweetheart Rachel Weisz who stars in Fernando Meirelles’ 360, alongside Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jude Law, and Terence Davies’ anticipated The Deep Blue Sea – not to be confused with Samuel L Jackson’s genetically modified shark tale. Doubling up again is George Clooney who similarly features in two gala performances, as director (and star) of Ides of March, a political thriller featuring man of the moment Ryan Gosling, Evan Rachel Wood and Philip Seymour Hoffman and The Descendants by Alexander Payne.

Reaffirming our faith in the book-to-screen debate, this year’s programme boasts an impressive – and intriguing- selection of adaptations including Lynne Ramsay’s long awaited We Need To Talk About Kevin from Lionel Shriver’s novel, starring Tilda Swinton, John C Reilly and Ezra Miller. Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna instils a taste of India in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles with Freida Pinto while Ralph Fiennes shares himself before and behind the camera, directing and taking the lead in Shakespeare’s epic tragedy Coriolanus with Gerard Butler and Vanessa Redgrave.

But for me, the Film on the Square strand boasts some of the highlights of this year’s Festival. Jonas Mekas’ Sleepless Nights Stories, breaks avant-garde filmmaking into the mainstream with this feature-length diary film following this octogenarian as he eats, drinks, sings and dances his way around the world while Andrea Arnold boldly retells Wuthering Heights with Kaya ‘Effie from Skins’ Scodelario in what looks to be a terrifyingly accurate adaptation of Emily Bronte’s gothic classic. With the gothic on the mind, Sean Penn gets his Robert Smith on as a retired rock star embarking on a road trip across the USA in This Must Be The Place while brooding man of the moment, Michael Fassbender stars as a man with a nasty compulsion for sex in Steve McQueen’s gritty Shame.

Reminding us that sometimes even the darkest of subject matter can provide light relief, Richard Linklater reunites with Jack Black (School of Rock) and Matthew McConaughey (Dazed and Confused) in Bernie, a darkly comic, strange but true tale of a Texan funeral director. Bromance stalwart Seth Rogen joins Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 50/50, another true story inspired by the experiences of writer Will Reisner, tackling a different C-word than we might expect from Rogen & co. – cancer.

Highlights from the New British Cinema strand include D.R Wood’s Wreckers, an eerie tale of buried skeletons and desolate English countryside starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Jobson’s response to the Iraq war and the nation’s apathy in The Somnambulists, while London becomes the focus in Dexter Fletcher’s drama Wild Bill and Paul Kelly’s portrait of a cult hero, Lawrence of Belgravia, taking us back to 1980s indie.

For those of you looking for the less commercial, the LLF’s Experimentia strand features innovative and cutting edge selection of films which will amaze and inspire filmmakers and filmgoers alike such as Two Years at Sea, the new work from Jarman Prize nominee and Rotterdan Tiger Award winner Ben Rivers, using two 16mm cameras to follow a recluse to the very borders of society.

While it may be tempting to see potential car crash cinema at its finest in Madonna’s latest directorial attempt, romantic drama, W.E, creating my programme for this year’s BFI London Film Festival is proving a difficult enough task. Saying it better than my overwhelmed and over-stimulated self ever could, Amanda Nevill, Chief Executive of the BFI, describes the festival as a reminder of ‘just how full the world is of extraordinary creativity, vision and talent for telling stories on film. These stories have the power to move us, excite us and inspire us in equal measure’. And it is exactly these factors that make film so important to our lives and what makes the BFI London Film Festival an ever increasing essential part of the UK’s cultural calendar.

Stay tuned to The London Word for Culture Vulture’s coverage throughout this year’s BFI London Film Festival and @tlwculture where we’ll be tweeting throughout the festival.

The BFI London Film Festival takes place from October 12 to 27.

For full programme details, information and venues visit the BFI website.

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