London Film Festival round up

Things being what they are – let history show that LFF 2020 was conducted in a pandemic, so you couldn’t actually go to any of it – I didn’t get to see as much festival stuff as I’d have liked.

Despite being the “voice” of the festival on official broadcast partner BBC Radio London, I felt very much a disembodied one. But there was just enough good stuff I managed to stream to my TV to make a few things worth reporting to you.

One Night in Miami (featured image) was really enjoyable. It’s directed by Regina King, the Oscar-winning actress making her debut as a film-maker with a powerful, thoughtful ‘what-if’ drama about the night, in Miami in 1964, that Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston to win his first heavyweight championship belt. According to this movie, he celebrated by talking the night away with his adviser Malcolm X, and his pals American football star Jim Brown and singer Sam Cooke. All the actors are great  – Eli Goree as Clay, Leslie Odom Jr as Cooke in particular – and the ideas are very strong in the back and forth as they push each other’s buttons about blackness and masculinity and how to influence the world from their positions as icons.

It’s a very strong piece written as a play originally by Kemp Powers, who co-wrote the screenplay and co-directs, yep, Pixar movie Soul… During Miami, in my favourite exchanges of dialogue, Malcolm and Sam get very heated, Cooked, even: but it does lead to Sam writing his masterpiece A Change is Gonna Come.

Mangrove movie

Mangrove

The festival really celebrated black stories and black film makers – even the Pixar movie SOUL was a first for that animation studio, featuring its first black characters. And it all kicked off with Mangrove, by Steve McQueen, and it would be wrong not to tell you how good it is – definitely one of the best I’ve seen this year and perfect opener to the festival,

McQueen directs a meticulous reconstruction of the events around the raids on the Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill which, after a street protest, lead to the landmark trial of the Mangrove 9 in 1970.

Shaun Parkes, Laetita Wright, Malachi Kirby as Darcus Howe, are all brilliant and the impeccable structure of the film  is something to admire, as McQueen gradually builds up the tensions and the threat to black life from the police while London progresses in the background and the Westway is built and Grenfell goes up,

So, the scene and the attitudes set, and the characters established, it comes to the trial, again, done perfectly, a court room drama with the right amount of rage and injustice but shot through with calm dignity and even a sense of humour, which is remarkable given that this was no laughing matter and institutional racism is never to be taken lightlly

It’s just a monumentally good film, maybe the best I can remember the LFF ever opening to, just perfect – what a shame big crowds couldn’t be there to celebrate it, cheer the performers, give black British film making the spotlight and bounce the night to Toots and the Maytals.