From the NFT Southbank to the Hackney Picturehouse; London cinema venues were buzzing with a diverse programme of films from around the globe. Between 8-19 October 2014 the 58th BFI London Film Festival proudly presented a staggering 248 feature films and 148 shorts, as well as special events, masterclasses and educational initiatives, designed to promote and nurture the future industry talent.
I was fortunate enough to see the first Gala screening of Jon Stewart's directorial debut of Rosewater as part of the 'Debate Strand'. Gael García Bernal stars as Iranian born, London-based journalist Maziar Bahari who was imprisoned for 118 days in 2009 and subjected to torture as a suspected spy against Iran's President Ahmadinejad and his campaign. Shocking, and laced with unexpected laughs from its intended sardonic wit, both Bernal and his interrogator "Mr. Rosewater" (The Bridge's Kim Bodnia) give scintillatingly emotional performances from opposing perspectives.
The festival commenced with the British thriller The Imitation Game as the dramatic 'Opening Night Gala', starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong and Charles Dance. The shocking biographical account of Alan Turing's life depicts his humble beginnings at boarding school through to his pivotal role as the ingenious mathematician and cryptanalyst who deciphered the Nazi Enigma Code during WWII, only to be subsequently prosecuted for his homosexuality. Other 'Headline Gala' films included Foxcatcher; the tempestuous relationship between Olympic wrestling champion brothers Dave (Mark Ruffalo) and Mark Shultz (Channing Tatum) with their megalomaniacal benefactor Mr du Pont (Steve Carell) as prosthetically unrecognisable real-life characters. Whiplash terrorised Miles Teller as he is taught to perfect his drumming skills to the brink of insanity by a sadistic J.K. Simmons and Reese Witherspoon embarking on a Wild and life-affirming trek from Cheryl Strayed's memoirs. To go out with a bang and not a mere fizzle, the 'Closing Night Gala' delivered a ferocious Second World War action drama with Brad Pitt commandeering a Sherman tank together with his band of brothers: Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Pēna and Jon Bernthal.
A myriad of themed 'Strands' (in addition to 'Debate') span across the eleven day celebration of film: 'Love', 'Dare', 'Laugh', 'Thrill', 'Cult', 'Journey', 'Sonic', 'Family' and 'Experimental'. Each category offers a collection of films with a related motif, eg. 'Dare': "in-your-face, up-front and arresting films that take you out of your comfort zone" and 'Cult': "from the mind-altering and unclassifiable to fantasy, Sci-Fi and horror." Established directors such as Jean-Luc Godard, John Boorman and Michael Winterbottom's also featured their latest work here. The 'Strand Galas' were complimented by Alan Rickman's period drama A Little Chaos with Kate Winslet as one of Louis XIV's landscape gardeners and Björk: Biophilia Live; the vibrant concert composition of the unique artist's eighth studio album.
The 'Official Competition' crowned Andrey Zvyagintsev's Leviathan as the winner for the Best Film at this year's BFI festival, which was also won for Best Screenplay and selected for the prestigious Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It beat the Iranian vampire western A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night and The Falling; the bittersweet life of a hormonal English schoolgirl in 1969 starring Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones) and Maxine Peake (Shameless). The innovative style of portraying a deaf teenager's struggle at a boarding school shot entirely in sign-language, Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy's The Tribe challenged visual and aural conventions and won in the 'First Feature Competition' over Jack O' Connell's fight to stay alive as a squaddie in the volatile Belfast streets in '71. The award for Best Documentary went to Silver Water, Syria Self-Portrait for its relevant projection of a war-torn Syria and its devastating impact on those who are living through the harrowing experience.
The special events included a focus on Dreamworks Animation Studios which also celebrated an anniversary in October: a respectable twenty years of capturing our imaginations. Dreamworks Animation: Taking Flight and Beyond honours producer Bonnie Arnold and director Dean DeBlois who brought us the mythical fantasy How to Train Your Dragon (2010). The BAFTA Masterclass: Technical Animation with Lincoln Wallen the studios' Chief Technology Officer provides an insight into his illustrious career. 'Screen Talks' from distinctive industry figures Bennett Miller, director of Foxcatcher, Capote (2005) and Moneyball (2011), and Abderrahmane Sissako (Timbuktu) discuss their craft.
In terms of education; free film screenings with Q&A discussions, professional guidance on projects, talks, and workshops, as well as the 'Film School Programme' dedicated to students in Higher Education are all available either free-of-charge or at a cheap rate.
All in all: the BFI LFF is the place to immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring exhibition of the best of British filmmakers and witness the wonders of World Cinema.