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Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival gets underway


By Matthew Arnoldi - Posted on 12 October 2009

On Wednesday 14 October 2009, the London film festival gets underway with its target of showing some 190-odd features and 113 short films over the course of 15 days in the heart of the Capital.

The Opening film on 14 Oct, is Wes Anderson's "Fantastic Mr Fox" which is Anderson's first animated feature and stars the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Michael Gambon, Owen Wilson and Bill Murray. Based on the Roald Dahl classic, it tells the tale of Mr and Mrs Fox and shows how Mr Fox's temptation to retreat into former ways of being a chicken thief is going to endanger both himself and the rest of the animal community.

George Clooney also pops up in The Times Gala showng of "The men who stare at goats" (15 Oct/18 Oct) an oddly titled depiction of a US special forces group sent to carry out a weird mission in war-torn Iraq. The film is directed by Grant Heslov and also stars Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey and Ewan McGregor.

If that is not all, the ubiquitous Mr Clooney is also to be seen in Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air" (18 Oct/19 Oct), a wry look at the world of Corporate Company America through the eyes of Ryan Bingham, a management consultant (played by Clooney) who specializes in the role of assisting companies who are downsizing and not sure who to fire.

Company politics is also at the heart of Steven Soderbergh's latest film "The Informant" (23/24/26 Oct) in which Matt Damon stars as Marc Whitacre, a young man working his way up the Corporate ladder who is asked by the FBI to get into covert work reporting on the nefarious activities going on within his own company. The film also stars Melanie Lynskey and Scott Bakula.

The eve of a World War is a subject that unites director Steven Poliakoff whose film "Glorious 39" (27/28 Oct) starring Romola Garai, Bill Nighy and Julie Christie, follows an upper-class English family on the eve of the war as well as Michael Haneke's disturbing but considered thriller "The White Ribbon" (21/22 Oct), the Cannes Palme D'Or Winner, which depicts the strange goings-on of a protestant village in Northern Germany where the youngsters begin to show cruel character traits which are going to be utilised to greater effect many years later.

The closing film in the festival on 29 Oct is Sam Taylor-Wood's "Nowhere Boy" starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Aaron Johnson, Anne-Marie Duff and David Morrissey. Written by Matt Greenhalgh (Control) and based on the book by Julia Baird, it looks at the teenage years of John Lennon and gives insights into the character of one of music's most widely regarded songwriting geniuses.

The famous 60's festival Woodstock surrounds the film "Taking Woodstock (26/27/28 Oct) Ang Lee's latest, starring Liev Schrieber, Imelda Staunton and Henry Goodman which uses the Woodstock festival and many other landmark events in the late 60's to tell a warmhearted story about the hopes and dreams of a generation.

Leading musical rock documentary filmmaker Julien Temple focuses on the career of strikingly forthright rock band Dr Feelgood in "Oil City Confidential" (16/20 Oct), a film which warmingly tells how the likes of vocalist Lee Brilleaux, spiky guitarist Wilko Johnson and the others, lovingly put Canvey Island on the map and confirms Feelgood as one of the great British live acts of the 70's.

On a similar wavelength is Tom DiCillo's documentary "When you're strange : A Film about the Doors" (16/18 Oct) which shows some rare and unseen footage of Jim Morrison and the Doors as it charts their rise to fame. Its likely to be a hot ticket for many of their fans and DiCillo looks to provide a well-rounded view of the band and the era in which they excelled.

Also set in the sixties, is Lone Scherfig's film "An Education" (20/21/22 Oct) a romantic family drama starring Peter Sarsgaard, Emma Thompson and Alfred Molina and based on a screenplay from Nick Hornby. It depicts the story of a young London girl 16 year old Jenny who becomes dazzled by older man David (Sarsgaard) who own a flash car and takes her to glittery nightclubs. Their whirlwind romance gets the support of Jenny's father (played beautifully by Alfred Molina) but this glitzy love will come at a price and its a dilemma that a young girl will have to meet head on.

Other leading directors to have films in the festival include Jane Campion (Bright Star), the Coen Brothers (A Serious Man), Harmony Korine (Trash Humpers), Atom Egoyan (Chloe), Jean-Pierre Jeunet (MicMacs) and Gaspar Noe (Enter the void).

The festival shifts Leicester Square location this year from the Odeon West End where many of the festival's top films have previously shown, diagonally moving across to the Vue West End, formerly the Warner West End 9-screen complex, close to the Hippodrome and to Leicester Square tube. Other venues also showing fest films are the NFT's 1-3 screens, and to a lesser extent, the ICA, the Curzon Mayfair, the Cine Lumiere, the Ritzy at Brixton, the Rio Cinema , the Odeon Leicester Square, the Tricycle Cinema and the Greenwich Picturehouse. Details of all films being shown and timing and schedules can be found at the fest's website www.bfi.org.uk/lff or by telephone on 020 7929 3232.

Screen Talks this year are being given by Julianne Moore, Clive Owen, Jane Campion and Sam Taylor-Wood. These are in-depth interviews where members of the audience get the chance to ask questions of their favourite actors / directors.

Masterclasses are also being given by Gaspar Noe and Lee Daniels, Andre Techine and Jacques Audiard.

In the British film section, Lucy Bailey's "Mugabe and the White African" (21/23 Oct), a focus on the controversial land reforms sweeping Zimbabwe is likely to be a hot ticket for those curious to get a greater insight into the world of Mugabe and his destructive plans for the 're-distribution' of lands previously owned by white farmers.

Another hot ticket is likely to be "London River" (20/22/25 Oct) starring Brenda Blethyn, Roschidy Sem and Sotigui Kouyate. Its depicts London July 2005 in the wake of the London bomb attacks, and is tautly directed by Rachid Bouchareb whose previous film "Days of Glory" was widely well-regarded.

"Kicks" meanwhile is set in present-day Liverpool (22/24 Oct) is loosely adapted from Michael Winterbottom collaborator Laurence Coriat and directed by Lindy Heymann. Its a witty take on modern celebrity culture, as it charts the exploits of two young girls desperate to trawl Liverpool nightspots in the hope of hooking a wealthy footballer and becoming a WAG in the process.

There's a good deal more to be found in the European and World cinema sections, areas that will be looked at further in this look at the London Film Festival over coming days before the festival gets underway on Wednesday.

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