Opening tomorrow, Thursday, October 9, and running through next Sunday, October 20, the BFI London Film Festival, the UK’s largest public cinema event, will present nearly 400 films from 57 countries, appropriately enough for its 57th edition. In the neighborhood of fifty documentary features are included in this impressive figure, showcased in the Documentary Competition as well as in the festival’s various thematic sections. The following offers some of the highlights:
A dozen titles face off in the fest’s nonfiction competition, largely made up of docs that have made their premieres at other notable events during the year, from Sundance to Cannes, Tribeca to Telluride. Among the less familiar titles are: Kitty Green’s UKRAINE IS NOT A BROTHEL, an investigation into a controversial women’s movement; Vitaly Mansky’s PIPELINE (pictured), a look at life along the Trans-Siberian gas pipeline; and Mark Cousins’ HERE BE DRAGONS, an essay film exploring Albania and its cinema.
London organizes its non-competitive selections into thematic groupings expressed in one-word titles. Love includes Wiktor Ericsson’s THE SARNOS: A LIFE IN DIRTY MOVIES (pictured), about a 1970s softcore auteur and his wife; Gracie Otto’s THE LAST IMPRESARIO, a portrait of an unheralded London theatre and film producer; and Roberto Minervini’s STOP THE POUNDING HEART, a minimalistic hybrid proto-romance between a painfully devout young woman and a bull-riding neighbor. The Debate section includes Peter Brooks’ 1968 TELL ME LIES, another hybrid, exploring America’s involvement in Vietnam; and Kaveh Bakhtiari’s STOP-OVER, offering a glimpse of the lives of undocumented Iranians in a safe house in Athens.
Dare offers Palo Korec’s EXHIBITS OR STORIES FROM THE CASTLE (pictured), a look at a Slovakian castle turned senior citizen’s home; while Thrill presents a couple of Formula 1 docs: Paul Crowder’s 1 and Frank Simon’s 1971 WEEKEND OF A CHAMPION.
Music fans can sample nonfiction in Sonic, including Dori Berinstein’s MARVIN HAMLISCH: WHAT HE DID FOR LOVE (pictured), on the late master composer; and Paul Kelly’s HOW WE USED TO LIVE, a city essay scored by Saint Etienne. Genre fans can enjoy selections in Cult, including Frank Pavich’s JODOROWSKY’S DUNE, detailing the auteur’s fascinating sci-fi adaptation that never was.
Journey promises to transport viewers in docs like Gianfranco Rosi’s venice winner SACRO GRA, about life on the fringes of Rome’s major road; Xiaolu Guo’s LATE AT NIGHT: VOICES OF ORDINARY MADNESS (pictured), an exploration of London’s East End; and Chloe Ruthven’s THE DO GOODERS, looking at Western aid workers in Palestine. The fest’s Archive Gala, Captain John Noel’s 1924 THE EPIC OF EVEREST, also promises to take viewers on a singular journey.
Finally, Experimenta is London’s experimental sidebar, which features, among other hard to classify projects, Andrea Luka Zimmerman’s TASKAFA, STORIES OF THE STREET (pictured), on life in Istanbul as viewed through its street dogs; Shaina Anand and Ashok Sukumaran’s FROM GULF TO GULF TO GULF, a compilation of sailors’ cellphone recordings; and Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi’s PAYS BARBARE, exposing Fascist era Italy’s brutality in colonial Ethiopia.