Review: Thirteen Of The Best Films We Caught At The 2016 BFI London Film Festival

on Tuesday, January 03, 2017
Words: Saam Das

The BFI London Film Festival had its typically excellent smattering of arthouse efforts and more mainstream-leaning offerings, and we've highlighted some of our favourites below. Kelly Reichardt's 'Certain Women' came away with the Official Competition prize, and is currently scheduled for a March 2017 release in UK cinemas, and at least one of the other prize-winning films features in our round-up:

'All This Panic'

Director Jenny Gage and her cinematographer husband Tom Betterton successfully immerse themselves (and the viewer) into the lives of various New York-based teenage girls in this spirited, coming-of-age documentary. Punctuated by moments of significant concern and emotion, this is nonetheless an uplifting look at the adolescent journey.

'Before The Flood'

The unusual combination of Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio and Fisher Stevens ('Short Circuit' actor turned producer and director) delivers an urgent and impassioned plea to act on climate change. A strong companion piece to 2006 Best Documentary Oscar winner 'An Inconvenient Truth', it also unexpectedly offers behind-the-scenes glimpses at the production of 'The Revenant'.

'Ethel & Ernest'

Raymond Briggs' loving ode to his parents makes its way from autobiographical illustrations to the big screen. As author of 'The Snowman', Briggs is no stranger to crafting wonderfully sentimental stories and writer-director Roger Mainwood channels the Briggs family tales is a suitably excellent fashion. Watch on BBC iPlayer for a limited time.

'Jewel's Catch One'

Particularly pertinent in the light of Fabric's proposed (but overturned) closure in 2016, 'Jewel's Catch One' showcases the tale of a prosperous LA night club and its incredible owner, Jewel Thais-Williams. Overcoming prejudice from those who took objection to the colour of her skin as well as her sexuality, C Fitz's documentary features glowing references from the likes of Sharon Stone and Madonna but it is the love of her community that is most affecting. If you'll excuse the pun, an unexpected gem.

'Kills On Wheels'

A rare but welcome sight for a feature to showcase no less than three lead characters with disabilities, but to focus on that aspect would be doing disservice to this unusual Hungarian action flick. Part-buddy comedy, part-thriller, writer-director Attila Till's blends fantasy and reality as the lead trio find themselves (literally) drawn into the criminal underworld.

'Lo And Behold, Reveries Of The Connected World'

Visionary filmmaker Werner Herzog's latest feature documentary is also one of his finest, as he details the birth of the internet and our current digital age. As is now customary, his charming narration both informs and delights, while his disarming demeanour brings pleasingly natural responses from his array of sources, particularly Tesla/Space X founder Elon Musk.


Chilean auteur Pablo Larrain is steadily becoming a regular at the BFI London Film Festival, following 2015's 'The Club' and 2012's Oscar-nominated 'No'. As with the latter film, Larrain selects Gael Garcia Bernal as a lead - this time as the foil to titular character, Pablo Neruda. A biopic of sorts, Luis Gnecco's compelling portrayal of the poet-politician shines alongside Bernal's befuddled detective.


Alex Taylor's stylish teen drama doesn't exactly hit the tropes that you'd see in your average episode of 'Hollyoaks', with BDSM and alien abduction playing prominent roles in this larger-than-life British indie. The likes of Alexa Davies, Tallulah Haddon, and Lucian Charles Collier sparkle in this striking piece of suburban strife, with musician Annabel Allum's incredible acoustic cameo acting as an understated counterpart to the East India Youth-led soundtrack.

'Starless Dreams'

A worthy winner of the Grierson Documentary award in the LFF's Documentary Competition, Mehrdad Oskouei delves into one of Iran's female juvenile detention centres and its collection of detainees. The documentarian highlights the context and backgrounds that have seen these young women turn to criminal activity, providing a valuably human insight to their actions.


Fifty years on from America's first mass campus shooting, Keith Maitland closely examines the day's events as they unfolded via this unique, partly-rotoscoped film. It is the human element that Maitland especially succeeds in highlighting, and is an emotional reminder that truly a hero can be anyone. More recently, the film has been deservedly (and perhaps unexpectedly) shortlisted for Oscar consideration in the Best Documentary Feature category.


Australian writer-director Benedict Andrews adapts Scottish writer David Harrower's 'Blackbird' play for his debut feature. The increasingly dependable Rooney Mara and the ever impressive Ben Mendelsohn (most recently seen as Director Krennic in 'Rogue One') star in this gripping and emotionally draining work. The less you know before viewing, the better.

'We Are X'

One of the music-related films we covered before the festival began, and it did not disappoint. Director Stephen Kijak has been responsible for documentaries on the likes of Scott Walker, The Rolling Stones, and Backstreet Boys, turning his keen eye and ear onto Japan's genre bending rockers X Japan. Attending the film's premiere also meant for the bizarre but jovial moment of a fan presenting the band's incredibly gracious Yoshiki with a box of PG Tips - a reference lost on me, but nonetheless my most amusing moment of LFF 2016.


Fittingly, number thirteen of this list, Ava DuVernay follows her excellent portrait of Martin Luther King in 2015's 'Selma' with this incisive documentary on the institutional racism that has faced black Americans since the introduction of the 13th Amendment, intended to abolish slavery. DuVernay highlights a clause in the Amendment that has been seized upon those who seek to divide, and benefit from such divisions. Both fascinating and depressing, the film is readily available on Netflix and is a must-see.

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