NFTS Film Studies MA Students Pick Their 'LFF 2020' Highlights

The 64th BFI London Film Festival opens this week (from 7 – 18 October) with 12 days of over 50 virtual premieres available to all across the UK, inviting viewers to experience the world’s best new films wherever they are. Adapting to the extraordinary challenges of 2020, the BFI have promised the most widely accessible nationwide event in its history, offering audiences the opportunity to see the best new cinema from around the globe including fiction, documentary, animation and restored classics from the archives in addition to XR and immersive content via its brand new strand, LFF Expanded (featuring NFTS graduate film, Eldfell.)

Students on the NFTS Film Studies, Programming and Curation MA have applied their curatorial skills to pick their must see content at this year’s event. Selecting, programming and reviewing films lies at the heart of their studies, with many of the students aspiring to work as curators and programmers at festivals once they graduate. While the BFI London Film Festival looks very different this year, here are our students most highly anticipated and recommended films, featuring a host of bold and distinctive filmmaking voices. The festival is maintaining the thematic strands it has used in previous editions, touching on everything from ‘Dare’ to ‘Family’, ‘Kids will be Kids’ to ‘Secrets & Lies'.

Feature Film Strand - Journey

"Whether it’s the journey or the destination, these films transport you and shift your perspective."
Another Round (Druk) | Selected by Geoff Badger

"A Cannes 2020 Label title, Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round finally premiered at Toronto last month and is now screening at a number of international festivals including London prior to its UK release.

The premise is high concept and subversive: four middle-aged schoolteachers subscribe to a Norwegian philosopher’s theory that the human body is naturally 0.05% deficient in alcohol; to redress this imbalance they will embark on a group experiment to maintain a mild state of inebriation - all the time.

The film reunites co-writer/director, Vinterberg with actor, Mads Mikkelsen for the first time since 2012’s outstanding The Hunt, and although Another Round is receiving mixed responses from critics, there is near universal praise for the storytelling and performances. Although it’s probably a foregone conclusion that the men’s experiment will start off well and then increasingly go south, I’m in for this alcohol-fuelled journey and the cinematic exploration of male friendships and changing life expectations."
Nomadland | Selected by Elle Haywood

"Championed by critics at the 2020 Venice Film Festival, Chloé Zao’s third feature is a lyrical and poetic love letter to journeying on the open road across the United States. Nomadland captures the moment when Fern (Francis McDormand) finds her life falling into a state of transition, after a failing economy sees her hometown and employment disintegrate before her. Zhao follows Fern as she embodies the ‘nomad’ lifestyle, finding seasonal work along the road and encountering others taking the same alternative route of life. Long, peaceful landscape shots are married to the wanderlust aura of Ludovico Einaudi’s score that balances the feeling of freedom and letting go of the past. The cast also includes real life nomads, Linda May, Bob and Swankie; who add a genuine warmth to this uncertain path that Fern finds herself on, and eventually become her comrades as she faces the future from the van window."
The Reason I Jump | Selected by Elle Haywood

"Rothwell takes the audiences’ hand and invites them into immersive first-hand accounts of how it feels to live with autism/ASD across the world. The Reason I Jump is based on the biography of Japanese writer Naoki Higashida, who is non-verbal and autistic, and the film goes into the lives of of five parents whose adult children who have autism. Having garnered warm praise from its screening at the Sundance Film Festival, the director addresses social stigmatisations of neurodiversity, and successful attempts to change perceptions of how we perceive human connection. Their experiences span from India and Sierre Leone, where superstitions of those on the spectrum still exists, to the UK and US, where special needs schools are more progressive. Tactile, sensory and visually gripping; this film is a conversation changer, and essential viewing at the festival."

Feature Film Strand - Treasures

"Revived and restored from the world’s archives."
Chess of the Wind (1976) | Selected by Nick Kouhi
Still from Chess of the Wind showing girl in water
Still from Chess of the Wind

"At nearly forty-five years old, Chess of the Wind (Shatranj-e Baad) feels as bracingly new as anything premiering at LFF this year. Screened publicly only once before being subsequently banned in its home country, Mohammad Reza Aslani’s quietly tense parable, of a wealthy family wresting for control over the holdings of a recently deceased matriarch during the Qajar Dynasty, is as visually sumptuous as it is austerely claustrophobic. DoP Houshang Baharlou’s lush close-ups of jewels, hands, and faces evoke Luchino Visconti at his most ornately austere. Yet without giving too much away, the film seamlessly transitions from the subtle yet epic sweep of The Leopard to the gothic horror of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique. Long thought lost, Aslani’s feature directorial debut was saved from oblivion when its negatives were discovered by sheer happenstance in a flea market. Its rediscovery and restoration by Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project is a true cause for celebration and, ultimately, a seminal addition to Iranian cinema’s rich catalogue."

Feature Film Strand - Create

"Films that channel the electricity of the creative process, celebrating artistic expression in all its forms."
David Byrne's American Utopia | Selected by Isobel Harrop

"For my birthday under lockdown, I watched Talking Heads iconic 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense for the first time. It was the perfect way to celebrate this year, satiating my appetite for concerts and theatre, and lead singer David Byrne’s energy was infectious and exhilarating even from the comfort of my own living room. Perfectly timed, Byrne is back with a new concert film, David Byrne’s American Utopia.

Filmed on Broadway, American Utopia is a stage adaptation of Bryne’s solo album of the same name, that was in turn documented and adapted for film by the legendary Spike Lee. It was screened last month at the Toronto International Film Festival to rave reviews. As well as being a musical delight, the show raises topics of politics, race, and the American Dream, gaining extra poignantancy in this very important and unusual election year in the USA. Luckily, the film will not only be screening in person at the BFI and at selected screens around the UK, but will also be streaming for free on BFI Player, so you too can have the full experience from your sofa."

Feature Film Strand - Love

"Sweet, passionate, tough – love is a complex and many splendored thing."
Undine | Selected by Elle Haywood & Emily Wright

"The German director Christian Petzold works in threes – his "Ghost" trilogy, his "Love in the Time of Oppressive Systems" trilogy, and now with his latest film Undine, a new trilogy centering around German fairytales and myths. Undine is both a contemporary re-imagining of the myth of the water sprite and a love story that doubles as a myth about Berlin. It re-unites Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski after their electrifying performances (and chemistry) in Petzold’s 2018 masterpiece Transit. This time around, Beer plays Undine, an urban historian and, as her name suggests, the reincarnated nymph of the title who leaves the water to find love and thus obtain a soul; and Rogowski, an industrial diver that falls for her. Awash with romance and sensuality, Undine sees Petzold veer again into the realm of the supernatural but introduces an element into his filmography that is less common: humour (an exploding aquarium baptises their love). It is a marked departure from the "period" pieces that preceded it, but Undine, nevertheless, promises all the stylistic and narrative elegance and restraint that makes Petzold’s films so memorable." - Emily Wright

"From its acclaimed world premiere at the 2020 Berlinale, Petzold’s latest feature is an enticing tale based on an underwater nymph in German mythology. Undine tells of the encounter between industrial diver (Franz Rogowski) and urbanist historian (Paula Beer), who weave in and out of each other’s world, with the growing feeling that something more sinister is afoot. Their romance attempts to find footing in an unstable world, and is underpinned by Petzold’s exploration of architecture and the history of Germany overtime, and the adaptation to human behaviour in moments of uncertainty. Building upon their chemistry after co-starting in Transit, the director’s previous film, the performances from Beer and Rogowski are spellbinding and fully intent in drawing in audiences into its watery depths." - Elle Haywood
Days (Rizi) | Selected by Xiao Gu

"Featured in the Love strand of this year's LFF, Days (Rizi) marks the return of slow cinema master Tsai Ming-Liang’s with what might be the most tenderly exquisite experience in the cinema this year. Tsai continues experimenting with the boundary between fiction and documentary after his last feature work Stray Dogs. Under the pain of illness and treatment, Kang (Lee Kang-Sheng) finds himself living the life of a drifter when he suddenly meets Non (Anong Houngheuangsy) in a foreign land. Both men find consolation in each other before parting ways and carrying on with their days. With a gently rhythmic yet deliberate pacing, Days tells a simple story with rigorous focus about the slowness of ordinary life marked by a sensual encounter, as well as the indescribable loss borne from separation, all conveyed without a word of dialogue. In Days, the body has become the conductor of sensitive and mysterious electricity. Watching (or ‘gazing at’) this 127-minute poetic depiction of life in these times of isolation shapes this minimalist masterwork into an intimate and moving experience."
Supernova | Selected by Elle Haywood

"Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth take on the roles of Tusker and Sam, partners of 20 years, who head into their golden years with optimism and hope. Their careers as a musician and novelist grind to a hault, as Tusker is diagnosed with early onset dementia, and the couple must readjust their future plans and make the most of the time they have left. Harry Macqueen’s sophomore film is intimate, and handles the subject of grief and impending loss with care. The dynamic between the characters is refreshing in its depiction of a gay relationship, and focuses on the complex emotions of reaching middle age and reminiscing on the past. The British road movie is a well-travelled path, and still Macqueen has achieved a perfect tempo where it manages quiet reflection, with the frothing emotions of losing someone you have loved for a lifetime. It is honest about putting illness upon the big screen, doesn’t shy away from painful moments and is totally, deeply affecting."

Feature Film Strand - Cult

From the mind-altering and unclassifiable to fantasy, sci-fi and horror.
Possessor | Selected by Geoff Badger

"This year’s pared down festival has inevitably left genre fans feeling a little empty-handed, but there’s still a reason to celebrate with Brandon Cronenberg’s extreme body-horror nightmare, Possessor headlining the cult programme. Described at its Sundance premiere as a “splendid mindfuck” the film is preceded by reviews that will more than whet the appetite of dedicated gorehounds and an LFF18 certificate that confirms it delivers the goods. The plot is more sci-fi techno thriller than horror: a shadowy corporation headed by Jenifer Jason-Leigh (an on-the-nose reference to Cronenberg senior’s eXistenZ) uses technology to implant assassins’ thoughts into the minds of its victims with the purpose of eliciting murder-suicides. When one such agent (Andrea Riseborough) becomes unstable, and the victim (Christopher Abbott) realises what’s happening, all hell understandably breaks loose. Stylishly photographed in neon reds and blues by Karim Hussain, this all promises to be head-splitting, eyeball-popping fun. For those of us who enjoy cinema dialled up to eleven this will surely be the guilty pleasure of the festival."

Short Films - My Time to Shine

Whether or not the world is a kind and accepting place, these films present grand visions of strength and self-discovery. And on life’s rocky road, there is something to be said for being certain about the person you are.
Shagbands | Selected by Isobel Harrop

"When I met director Luna Carmoon on a short filmmaking scheme in 2017 which we were both taking part in, I immediately knew I was meeting someone special who would go on to do great things. Luna’s debut short Nosebleed premiered at London Film Festival 2018, and she has since gone on to take part in the Sundance Ignite Fellowship. She follows up these successes with her second short, Shagbands, in which she depicts the South London of her youth in the year 2006. Populated by iconography of that year - Pasta King school lunches, Motorola Rzr’s, scene kids with raccoon tail hair extentions, and the titular “shagband” rubber bracelets - it’s a coming-of-age film which, much like Nosebleed, explores some of the darker and stranger corners of adolescent experiences through a unique and distinctive lens. The film showcases rising stars Frankie Box (Perfect 10) and Ruby Stokes (Rocks), as well as a cast of young first time actors including Laila Kaita McCalla and Demi Butcher, Shagbands has got to be one to watch for new British talent. Shagbands will be free to view on BFI Player from the 7th to the 18th of October.

LFF Expanded - Interactive Works

Step into a new dimension of storytelling with XR and Immersive art.
Eldfell | Selected by Nick Kouhi

On January 23rd, 1973, the volcanic cone of Eldfell, just off the coast of the Icelandic island of Heimaey, erupted, causing the denizens to permanently evacuate the island. Fellow NFTS Science and Natural History student Alyssa Mello, along with a crew of recent NFTS graduates, has created an immersive VR experience, incorporating archival footage of the natural disaster alongside interviews with those who witnessed first-hand the eruption. But the film avoids sensationalising a tragedy for cheap, exploitative thrills; rather, by emphasizing the six-month recovery efforts led by a community forced to grapple with the unthinkable, Eldfell transforms a historical moment into a moving rumination on solidarity in the face of tremendous adversity. As both a stirring testament to collective action as well as a stunning showcase for newly emergent talent in the industry from the NFTS, Eldfell is a poignant reminder of the connections we make during the darkest of times, one that couldn’t come at a more relevant time.

Experimenta - Speculative Futures

This programme considers the futures we might gift, extrapolate or create from our present tensions, through the eyes of those bequeathed. An odyssey of desires from queer to Afrofuturism to the posthuman: all have a stake in this planet and demand a request for a better tomorrow.
The End of Suffering (A Proposal) | Selected by Emily Wright

Greece Sofia’s sadness and ennui have reached a tipping point in Jacqueline Lentzou’s new short film The End of Suffering (A Proposal), which premiered at Locarno this year. In the midst of another panic attack, the universe reaches out to Sofia (Sofia Kokkali) and gently berates her for trying to understand everything about the world. An intergalactic dialogue ensues that perfectly encapsulates the madness of our present moment. Coming in under LFF’s Experimenta strand "Speculative Futures", Lentzou’s new film builds upon her already outstanding filmography of shorts. Texturally the film is densely cumulative, incorporating a CGI-created cosmos, 16mm observational scenes of life on Mars, all tinged slightly red (‘‘that impression of Mars is true,’’ confides the universe), and a final arthouse sequence that juxtaposes close-ups of flowers with the different parts of a woman’s body. The End of Suffering (A Proposal) functions as a sort of diptych with Lentzou’s previous short, Hector Malot: The Last Day Of The Year, which took home the Leica Cine Discovery Award at Cannes Critics’ Week in 2018, and cemented Lentzou as a talent to watch.

To find out more: full programme here

Places are still available on the NFTS Film Studies, Programming & Curation MA

  • Prepares you to build a successful career in film exhibition, programming, criticism or archival work.
  • Delivered by film professionals in exhibition and distribution, festivals, archives and film criticism, alongside academics and film makers.
  • Run in partnership with the BFI

Find out more and apply today!