This year, the BFI London Film Festival turns 60 and we celebrate by building a 780-seat temporary cinema in the beautiful Victoria Embankment Gardens on the Thames. This will be the home of our Official Competition and Strand Gala screenings and the heritage site geographically connects London's movie-going heartland of Leicester Square with our year-round cultural home at BFI Southbank.
We are book-ending the 60th edition with European premieres of two brilliant new British films, both from directors on the ascent, demonstrating the breadth and depth of British creativity. Our Opening Night gala will be A United Kingdom, a powerful testament to the defiant and enduring love story of Seretse Khama, King of what is now Botswana, who married an English office worker, Ruth Williams in 1948, an interracial relationship of significant impact on world affairs. It is directed with passion and elegance by Amma Asante (Belle) and the cast and crew will be in attendance including the two leads, David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike. Our Closing Night gala Free Fire, is a ballsy actioner directed by Ben Wheatley whose film High-Rise was our Festival Gala last year. Executive produced by Martin Scorsese, the film is bravura bullet opera dripping with irony and features terrific performances from its ensemble cast, including Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy and Armie Hammer.
Along with Opening and Closing Night, our Headline Galas take place nightly at the 1,680 seat picture palace Odeon Leicester Square. This year's line-up includes European premieres of The Birth of a Nation, Manchester By the Sea, Queen of Katwe and Their Finest, while we bring Arrival, La La Land, A Monster Calls, Nocturnal Animals and Snowden to UK audiences for the first time. In addition to some of the world's most important and distinctive filmmakers with films in this section, we are looking forward to hosting stars such as Amy Adams, Casey Affleck, Gemma Arterton, Nicole Kidman, Liam Neeson, Lupita Nyong'o, David Oyelowo, Dev Patel, Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Williams in support of these films.
Whilst the glamour the red carpets bring is important, diversity and discovery are high on our programming agenda. Immediately following the Festival, the BFI will launch the UK's biggest ever season of film and television dedicated to celebrating the range, versatility and power of black actors - Black Star.
We want to amplify the ambitions and the purpose of the Black Star programme at the Festival. Not only to celebrate black acting achievements, but to ask the searching questions that underpin this season. Questions about opportunity and aspiration, about the power to decide. Questions that have become increasingly urgent over the course of this year, intensified by the Black Lives Matter movement and by world events, including those closer to home. So we are thrilled that the highly acclaimed British actor and producer, David Oyelowo (A United Kingdom - LFF Opening Night; Queen of Katwe - LFF Virgin Atlantic Gala) will be the headline speaker at our Black Star Symposium and other participants will include Amma Asante (A United Kingdom), actor, screenwriter, producer and director Noel Clarke, the legendary Julie Dash (the UCLA restoration of Daughters of the Dust screens in LFF Journey) and writer and director Barry Jenkins (Moonlight - LFF Official Competition).
From a discovery perspective, the Festival is presenting more than 60 debut filmmakers in the overall programme, and the programme team and myself are very committed to bringing new filmmakers to UK audiences. Our First Feature Competition for the Sutherland Award is a great place to discover the best new filmmakers from the year in film and we are excited that this year sees two Sutherland alumni return to the Festival - Andrea Arnold with American Honey which screens as our Festival Special Presentation (she won in 2006 for Red Road) and Kenneth Lonergan with Manchester By the Sea which screens as Headline Gala (he won in 2000 for You Can Count on Me). This year, we have introduced the IWC Filmmaker Bursary Award in Association with the BFI - at £50k, the most significant bursary of its kind in the UK film industry. This is for a British-based writer or director with a first or second time film in the Festival and this year's nominees are Joseph a. Adesunloye (White Colour Black), Hope Dickson Leach (The Levelling), Alice Lowe (Prevenge) and Paul Anton (Have You Seen My Movie?). We also run workshops and masterclasses for emerging British filmmakers selected to participate by our colleagues in the BFI Film Fund. To coincide with the Festival's launch of the BFI's Black Star programme, and in a move that sees the BFI take further action on increasing opportunity and inclusivity in film for talented filmmakers, this year's NET.WORK@LFF cohort will be focused on supporting 15 rising British Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic writers and directors to gain skills and inspiration from international filmmakers and industry executives at the Festival.
The Festival also plays a vital role positioning London as one of the world's leading creative cities. We want a vibrant, innovative film industry that engages imaginatively and resourcefully with the broader creative industries including television, music, art, games and creative technology. LFF Connects, our high-impact talk series, now in its second year, features another exciting line-up of guest speakers and events including featuring TV creators Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones, and director Joe Wright; games writer, director and pioneer David Cage; Australian artist and filmmaker Lynette Wallworth; speculative architect Liam Young, electronic producer Forest Swords, artist and filmmaker Takashi Makino, composer Simon Fisher Turner, hip hop turntablist DJ Yoda and beatboxer Reeps One.
With more than 380 feature and short films in the programme from over 70 countries, this gives just a sense of what is in store at this year's 60th edition of the BFI London Film Festival.
Clare Stewart, Festival Director
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