The 60th annual BFI London Film Festival was an experience to remember. With over 245 films from 74 countries lasting for a duration of almost two weeks, the film festival really has something for everyone. I took the coach from Cardiff to London and stayed overnight in London at a quaint hotel that reminded me something of a Shakespearean set, just to be able to attend the film festival. I myself have been attending film festivals with my parents since I was a child growing up in America and I have to say that this was by far the best one I had ever attended. I saw three films: Houston, We Have A Problem (Slovenian); Noonday Witch (Czech) and Zoology (Russian). Houston, We Have A Problem was part of “laugh” or comedy category; Noonday Witch was part of the “cult” category while Zoology was categorised as “dare.”
The cinemas were easy to find as they were playing in the main West End Vue Cinema and the Institute for Contemporary Arts (ICA). The staff were friendly and it was convenient that the first two I attended: Houston, We Have a Problem and Zoology had allocated seating so one doesn’t have to arrive early and queue just to get a good seat that isn’t too close to the screen. I had pre-booked the tickets online and had to pick them up at the box office at the BFI on the Southbank which was a bit inconvenient as it was quite far from where the films had been actually playing. Fortunately, that is why I had decided to get to London a day early so I can do a bit of sightseeing and shopping, as well as not having to worry about picking up my tickets before the films especially seeing since the first film started at noon. Even if you are big enthusiast of films, I highly recommend not making the mistake as I did and seeing three films in one day as it can be a bit too much especially since all three were about 90 minutes long respectively.
Unfortunately, I didn’t stay for the post-film Q&A sessions but I am sure they were interesting as they featured the producers, actors and for the first, Houston, We Have A Problem even the director and ambassador to Slovenia had to showed up! Houston, We Have A Problem didn’t feature much of an introduction but the second film, Zoology had a very comical, brief introduction translated from the Russian with the dashing, young male actor who starred in the film who talked about how much he loved London. The third film, Noonday Witch had an intro by two of the producers who comically stated they do not know where the director is so not to ask! Finally, I must say that if you are a student, tickets, especially weekend tickets which normally cost about £16/17 are only about £11, which may not be Cineworld prices but it is well worth the money you will spend on some of these unique films that you will only have one opportunity to see in the cinema.
Houston, We Have A Problem!/Houston, Imamo Problem! – Dir. Žigo Virc (Slovenia-Croatia-Germany)
Houston, We Have a Problem is a documentary-style comedy about a clandestine deal made between American President Kennedy and the Yugoslav President Tito in the 60s. During the Cold War era, Russia and the United States were not the only two countries participating in the space race. A third, lesser known country, Yugoslavia was also in the midst of developing their own space programme. There was one problem, however, they had the ideas and “supposedly,” the technology but not the financial means to develop it. Thus, Tito turned to America and in secret, sold the Yugoslav space programme to the USA for billions of dollars. Through black and white clips, we see Yugoslavia celebrate their newfound wealth, featuring Tito against the backdrop, as a national hero. However, it was soon discovered that once the technology arrived in America, it didn’t work! Furious, Kennedy and the U.S. government demanded Yugoslavia pay the money back or make the technology work. In this hilarious debut comedy, Slovenian director, Žigo Virc skilfully combines archival footage and interviews with key figures- such as philosopher, Slavoj Žižek-to make a top-notch film that examines Cold War foreign diplomacy that raises question about national identity.
Zoology/Zoologiya – Dir. Ivan Tverdovsky (Russia)
Zoology is a modern fairy tale set in contemporary Russia and featuring Natasha, a middle-aged women in her fifties who lives with her mother and an ancient cat and works at the zoo as a procurement officer. Her life consists of taking care of her mother and constantly being on the receiving end of mean jokes by her colleagues. However, Natasha has an anomaly-she has grown a tail! Rumours soon begin to spread about a women marked by the Devil and Natasha makes frequent trips to the hospital to see if she can get the tail removed. She quickly falls in love with the young, handsome radiologist and develops a relationship with him as he is the only one in society who hasn’t shunned her. She even changes her appearance to make herself look much younger and sexier. No one knows about her condition but it soon becomes discovered-most embarrassingly when she is at a nightclub dancing the night away with her handsome radiologist, Petya, and her tail falls out of her dress! This absurd, witty debut film is about being different in a society where no one accepts you and you are constantly faced with life’s little injustices.
Noonday Witch/Polednice – Dir. Jiří Sádek (Czech Republic)
Noonday Witch is a new twist on the classic Czech fairy tale of the same name. The film is about a young, pretty, single mother, Eliska, who relocates to the village where her late husband grew up. It tells the story of her fragile relationship with her young daughter who still believes her father is alive and is coming back to live with them…Until she discovers the truth. Constantly having to evade the sexual advances from some of the men who also live in the village and help her with her new home, Eliska soon discovers the old witch who keeps coming to haunt her and her daughter. Supposedly being the mayor’s insane wife, the story goes that the witch returns to take children where she later strangles them. The mayor’s wife keeps trying to warn them, not realising she herself is the witch. This intriguing film on the supernatural is full of those “jump-in-your-seat” moments and ends with a surprising twist! Although the film is not exactly a horror, it is not for those easily frightened!