Films by and about people of colour make a mark at the 61st edition of the capital’s celebration of cinema
“Any form of art is a form of power; it has impact, it can affect change – it can not only move us, it makes us move.”
As the BFI London Film Festival 2018 begins, these wise words of actor, director, writer and civil rights activist, Ossie Davis, come as a reminder of the impact that film can have; and they ring even truer in the UK’s current political climate.
During the fifties, a group of film critics came together and spurred by the success of other film festivals across European cities they developed the London Film Festival (LFF). Along with the city of its birth, which seems to grow endlessly, the festival has become far bigger than perhaps any of them had ever imagined, bringing to the capital the best of British and global talent for 61 years; 2017 promises to be no different.
Love, laughter, drama, debate; whatever your preference this year’s line-up has it all. Above all, there are a huge number of films made by and featuring talent from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds.
One hotly anticipated screening comes to us from across the pond. Set in the 1940s Deep South, Mudbound, stars Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Mary J. Blige, Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell. It’s directed by the brilliant Dee Rees and was the talk of the Sundance festival.
Beautifully made with stunning cinematography, the film focuses on two families living in post-war America during a time of segregation, battling with themselves, each other and the system around them.
Perhaps now, more than ever, this is a film to see, if only to reflect upon how little has changed and how the burden of history continues to be passed down through generations. This is a film that spells out the genealogy of the American far right.
There is also no shortage of British talent lighting up the screen. I am not a Witch is the debut feature from Zambian-Welsh director Rungano Nyoni.
Set in a Zambian village, the story centres around Shula, a young girl accused of practising witchcraft and sent to a witch camp.
Nyoni spent time researching the subject matter by visiting similar camps in Ghana, and delivers a satirical critique on the absurd misogyny of a practice that has its parallels in societies around the world. The film manages to strike the perfect balance between comedy and tragedy and 8-year-old Maggie Mulubwa’s performance is almost reason enough to give this one a watch.
Documentary-style feature Wallay charts the journey of 13-year-old troublesome teen Ady, who is sent to Burkina Faso by his Burkinabé father after continuing to cause trouble at their home in France.
It’s not an unfamiliar tale for those living in diaspora. Parents seeing a stranger growing up in their home hope that a brief dip in the sea of the motherland will deliver a child with values re-aligned.
What follows is a story of discovery as Ady learns to straddle two worlds and two identities. The soundtrack and performance by newcomer Matkan Nathan Diarra make this a nourishing experience for the mind and the soul.
Birds are Singing in Kigali, too, is the story of a journey. Polish ornithologist Anna travels to Rwanda just as hell was unleashed in the form of the 1994 genocide. Escaping back to Poland she returns with Claudine, the daughter of a murdered colleague. Years later both women travel to Kigali where Claudine, determined to discover her history and heritage, searches for the graves of her family members. We observe the dynamics between Anna and Claudine (actors Jowita Budnik and Eliane Umuhire deserve every award going!) as both women wrestle with shared but different traumas.
Director Joanna Koz-Krauze has spoken about drawing parallels between the horrors experienced during the Holocaust in Poland and the Rwandan genocide, this heart-shattering film serves as a reminder of the dire consequences of our failure to learn from history.
While there is an array of feature films to be watched, there is also no shortage of documentaries, Roller Dreams, is one that stands out amongst them.
Picture it; Venice Beach, California in the 70s and 80s, a place where a group of skaters, meet, dance and perform – the video footage of this is mind-blowing.
But within years, there is no trace of them; police racism, gentrification and the continued marginalisation of black youth all playing a part. Roller-blading is white-washed and transformed.
If music is more your thing, then the debut documentary by 22-year-old director Karam Gill G Funk is unmissable. Chronicling the early days of the hip-hop subgenre of the same name, the film highlights the rise of trio Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, and Warren G. While on the outside the music took the world by storm creating a powerful legacy, behind the scenes there was drama, conflict and the breaking of many a friendship.
Interviews with those in the know deliver an insight into some of the world’s most celebrated hip-hop icons.
This year’s LFF boasts an expansive programme that dredges up stories that are tiny but huge in their impact, as well as offering multiple mirrors to the well-known.
In his 2015 article, Otamere Guobadia writes: “Our bodies and our realities become mirrored in characters that we might empathise with. Representation matters. Nuanced and genuine representations humanise us.”
As people of colour it is important for us to be able to watch our stories told on screen, through this stereotypes are challenged, it reminds the world that we exist and above all can influence the way we view ourselves and the spaces we occupy.
In London, a city of nearly 9 million souls from every corner of the globe, the power of sharing stories that touch the heritage of those around us is invaluable. The joy of sitting in a cinema and taking stories from India, Iran, Palestine, Senegal, South Korea and many more with an audience that is just as diverse as the programme. The capacity this offers us for interactions with people who we encounter.
We must continue to emphasise how necessary it is for us to see actors, directors, cinematographers, producers of colour. But this extends to how their work is contextualised in its screening. Through its curation the LFF creates an atmosphere of globalism – people of colour aren’t the exception to the rule.
This year’s LFF is a chance for filmmakers to, on a global stage, tell stories which otherwise may go unheard, and an is an opportunity for us film lovers to get lost in the words and lives of others, which may, as Ossie Davis said ‘not only move us, but make us move.’
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