As Londoners, it’s easy to forget that one of the biggest film festivals in the world happens in our own back yard every year. The 63rd BFI London Film Festival is here again, taking place over the two weeks between 2 – 13 October 2019 across 12 venues in the capital.
The festival is a must for film fanatics, who will be able to explore and choose from more than 300 films, documentaries and shorts showing, some premiering, during the festival along with the prestigious award ceremony celebrating the most innovative films and filmmakers, numerous red carpet opportunities where you can see the stars of the films as well as free screenings and debates.
We’ve curated two lists, films featuring British or US Black talent and films from sub-Saharan Africa for you to enjoy.
Films by or featuring British or US Black talent
Cynthia Erivo (Widows) gives a show-stopping and star-making turn as the American revolutionary anti-slavery heroine Harriet Tubman in Kasi Lemmons’ Harriet. Born into slavery, Harriet Tubman nonetheless escaped the South of the US and travelled alone over 100 miles on foot to the first free state, Philadelphia. But finding it impossible to enjoy her freedom while others were enslaved, she returned as a fugitive over 13 times to dangerous Confederate states, helping more than 70 people escape in the years before the Civil War. An impressive ensemble including Janelle Monáe, Joe Alwyn and Clarke Peters.
Lupita Nyong’o shines in a delirious zom-com that guarantees you’ll never listen to Taylor Swift in the same way again.
A vibrant and hugely engaging portrait of female friendship and growing up in London from director Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane, Suffragette). Olushola Joy Omotoso, ‘Rocks’ to her mates, is a London teenager with ordinary teenage cares; hanging with her crew and helping to look after her little brother keeps her grounded. But on returning from an ordinary day at secondary school, she discovers her mother isn’t home. There’s just a little cash and an apology note. The drama was developed through extensive workshops with Gavron and the female cast, all of whom were discovered through casting sessions at schools.
Budding writer Ayanna’s life is transformed over the course of one hot Harlem summer, when a handsome and mysterious stranger walks in.
Aki Omoshaybi’s earnest debut explores the love between two people who work hard to keep their romance on track while struggling to manage personal hardship.
Alfre Woodard delivers another superb performance as a weary prison warden presiding over her twelfth execution in this Sundance-winning death row drama.
Phillip Yousman, the first African-American director to win the Founders Prize at Tribeca Film Festival 2019 for the contemporary Southern gothic Burning Cane, his directorial debut, heralding the 19-year old director as a serious new talent. Yousman wrote, shot, directed and edited the film at age 17.
MILES DAVIS: BIRTH OF THE COOL
All that jazz (and so much more): Twentieth century’s trumpet-playing prince of darkness receives the candid documentary his controversial genius deserves.
RECORDER: THE MARION STOKES PROJECT
The taped crusader: VHS nerds, media scholars and archive enthusiasts will appreciate this documentary about the African-American activist who recorded 30 years of TV news.
SAY AMEN, SOMEBODY
Exuberant, joyous and deeply moving, this acclaimed documentary celebrates American gospel music, spotlighting giants of the business Willie Mae Ford Smith and Thomas A. Dorsey
Michael B Jordan and Jamie Foxx excel in this powerful and impassioned death row drama based on real events. Fresh from Harvard Law School, fledgling attorney Bryan Stevenson (Creed star, Jordan) defies the wishes of his parents, who are concerned about the notoriously racist South, when he ventures to Alabama to open a law practice to support death row inmates routinely denied proper legal counsel. Meeting with a variety of prisoners, Stevenson soon encounters Walter “Johnny D” McMillan (Foxx), a black man accused of the brutal murder of a white teenage girl, an allegation he vehemently denies, with numerous factors clearly supporting innocence.
THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO
A gorgeous, inventive meditation on art, architecture, black culture and gentrification in California’s Bay Area.
Films from Sub-Saharan Africa
Directorial debut from acclaimed actress Mati Diop, this is a hypnotic portrait of a girl’s awakening in Senegal.
THE MAN WHO CUTS TATTOOS
Across two crucial periods in Nigerian history, two young women must ponder the painful sacrifices they are forced to make for love.
WALKING WITH SHADOWS
In coming to terms with his sexuality, Adrian is forced to choose between a compromised existence and the life that he would like to lead. A depiction of queer Nigeria presented with care and incisive observation.
Civil war looms in Abidjan (The Ivory Coast) and relations begin to fray within a family in this tense and atmospheric thriller.
THE LOST OKOROSHI
A man who wakes up to discover he has undergone a transformation takes a revelatory journey to see if ancestral tradition has a place in modern Nigerian life.
Portuguese maestro Pedro Costa returns with another poetic portrait of Lisbon’s Cape Verdean community, focusing on one woman’s sorrows and survivor spirit.
MY FRIEND FELA
An outstanding documentary that unravels with skill and precision the life of Fela Kuti, an extraordinary man whose myth and music has endured long after his death.
TALKING ABOUT TREES
This beautifully shot feature debut, winner of the of the Berlinale Best Documentary Award, is a cinephile’s dream. Set in Sudan in a state of political and cultural instability, the documentary follows Ibrahim Shadad, Manar Al Ahilo, Suleiman Mohammed Ibrahim and Altayeb Mahdi, four veteran members of the Sudanese Film Club.
A welcome restoration of a classic social realist African masterpiece that champions the ideals of Third Cinema aesthetics.
Head on over to the BFI London Film Festival website for more information about the full line-up, where to see them and when.