Gilbey on Film: the London Film Festival

Our film critic chooses five titles to look out for next month.

Public booking for the London Film Festival (which runs from 13 - 28 October) opens next Monday. Most of the big gala screenings will have been snapped up by BFI members, who will have been booking since 15 September, but that's ok because they're all about the hoopla anyway. I'm not pretending for a second that I am not as excited as anyone to see eye-catching marquee titles such as Mark Romanek's Never Let Me Go adapted by Alex Garland from Kazuo Ishiguro's subtly devastating novel, Darren Aronofsky's psychological thriller Black Swan, which received ecstatic reviews at the Venice Film Festival, or Danny Boyle's 127 Hours, about the mountain climber Aron Ralston (played by James Franco), who had to do something very nasty indeed to save his own life. The trick with the latter film will be to keep from counting the number of walk-outs and pass-outs during the grisly bits.

But these are the headline-grabbers that attract valuable attention for the LFF; they already have distributors and release dates in place. The real treasures are buried deeper in the programme and are, as ever, a matter of pot luck. I'm slightly perturbed by the return this year to the bad old days of padding out the festival with titles that are mere minutes away from being released. When you've been a student slashing your weekly food budget so you can afford LFF tickets, it's rather galling to then find that the films you've booked to see at inflated cost are opening within a few days of being screened at the festival. Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right is well worth seeing, but it's crazy that it is released just two days after its last festival showing. Perhaps in future the LFF brochure could, where possible, list release dates alongside the enticing blurbs for each title, to avoid near-overlaps such as Africa United (opening two days after its final LFF slot), The Arbor (four days), Olivier Assayas's Carlos "the Jackal" film, Carlos (six days) and Mike Leigh's Another Year (two weeks).

For the Surprise Film, my money this year is on either Rowan Joffe's Brighton Rock, which shifts the action of Graham Greene's novel to the 1960s, or Sofia Coppola's Somewhere, another hotel-based study of an actor's loneliness (like her reputation-making Lost in Translation), which won the Golden Lion at Venice earlier this month. Then again, the festival might buck the trend of giving the Surprise Film platform to an English-language title, and go instead for Francois Ozon's Potiche, a reputedly breezy farce starring Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu, which was widely declared a crowd-pleaser at Venice.

In the mean time, here are five titles that I will be seeking out. And that's as near as I'm willing to get to any guarantee of quality:

Treacle Jr - The third film from The Low Down's Jamie Thraves is the story of a man who walks out on his family, and is befriended by a misfit and his girlfriend. The excellent Aiden Gillen stars.

Meek's Cutoff - Kelly Reichardt has proved herself an insightful and elliptical filmmaker with Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy; this wagon-train drama, set in 1845 Oregon, is rumoured to be her finest yet.

A Screaming Man - From Mahamat-Salah Haroun, director of Abouna and Daratt, a tale of father/son tensions in present-day Chad.

Aurora - Five years ago, Cristi Puiu came to international attention with his grim, funny and affecting fable-cum-satire, The Death of Mr Lazarescu. His new film is a tense character study in which -- like fellow art-house new-wavers Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Climates) and Rafi Pitts (The Hunter) -- the director is also his own leading man.

Self Made - Gillian Wearing is the latest British artist to turn to cinema. Early reports about her debut -- the result of a newspaper advert asking "If you were to play a part in a film, would you be yourself or a fictional character?" -- are overwhelmingly positive.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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If the SNP truly want another referendum, the clock is ticking

At party conference in Glasgow, I heard Scotland’s governing party demand a future distinctly different from the one being sketched out in Westminster. 

Nicola Sturgeon described Glasgow as the “dear green city” in her opening address to the SNP party conference, which may surprise anyone raised on a diet of Ken Loach films. In fact, if you’re a fan of faded grandeur and nostalgic parks, there are few places to beat it. My morning walk to conference took me past chipped sandstone tenements, over a bridge across the mysterious, twisting River Kelvin, and through a long avenue of autumnal trees in Kelvingrove Park. In the evenings, the skyline bristled with Victorian Gothic university buildings and church spires, and the hipster bars turned on their lights.

In between these two walks, I heard Scotland’s governing party demand a future distinctly different from the one being sketched out in Westminster. Glasgow’s claim to being the UK’s second city expired long ago but I wonder if, post-Brexit, there might be a case for reviving it.



Scottish politics may never have looked more interesting, but at least one Glasgow taxi driver is already over it. All he hears in the back of his cab is “politics, fitba and religion”, he complained when he picked me up from the station. The message didn’t seem to have reached SNP delegates at the conference centre on the Clyde, who cheered any mention of another referendum.

The First Minister, though, seems to have sensed the nation’s weariness. Support for independence has fallen from 47 per cent in June (Survation) to 39 per cent in October (BMG Research). Sturgeon made headlines with the announcement of a draft referendum bill, but read her speeches carefully and nothing is off the table. SNP politicians made the same demands again and again – devolved control of immigration and access to the single market. None ruled out these happening while remaining in the UK.

If Sturgeon does want a soft Brexit deal, though, she must secure it fast. Most experts agree that it would be far easier for an independent Scotland to inherit Britain’s EU membership than for it to reapply. Once Article 50 is triggered, the SNP will be in a race against the clock.


The hare and the tortoise

If anyone is still in doubt about the SNP’s position, look who won the deputy leadership race. Angus Robertson, the gradualist leader of the party in the Commons, saw off a referendum-minded challenger, Tommy Sheppard, with 52.5 per cent of the vote.

Conference would be nothing without an independence rally, and on the final day supporters gathered for one outside. A stall sold “Indyref 2” T-shirts but the grass-roots members I spoke to were patient, at least for now. William Prowse, resplendent in a kilt and a waistcoat covered in pro-indy
badges, remains supportive of Sturgeon. “The reason she has not called an Indy 2 vote
is we need to have the right numbers,” he told me. “She’s playing the right game.”

Jordi McArthur, a member for 30 years, stood nearby waving a flagpole with the Scottish, Welsh and Catalan flags side by side. “We’re happy to wait until we know what is happening with Brexit,” he said. “But at the same time, we want a referendum. It won’t be Nicola’s choice. It will be the grass roots’ choice.”


No Gerrymandering

Party leaders may come and go, but SNP members can rely on one thing at conference – the stage invasions of the pensioner Gerry Fisher. A legendary dissenter, Fisher refused this year to play along with the party’s embrace of the EU. Clutching the
lectern stubbornly, he told members: “Don’t tell me that you can be independent and a member of the EU. It’s factually rubbish.” In the press room, where conference proceedings were shown unrelentingly on a big screen, hacks stopped what they were doing to cheer him on.


Back to black

No SNP conference would be complete without a glimpse of Mhairi Black, the straight-talking slayer of Douglas Alexander and Westminster’s Baby of the House. She is a celebrity among my millennial friends – a video of her maiden Commons speech has been watched more than 700,000 times – and her relative silence in recent months is making them anxious.

I was determined to track her down, so I set my alarm for an unearthly hour and joined a queue of middle-aged women at an early-morning fringe event. The SNP has taken up the cause of the Waspi (Women Against State Pension Inequality) campaign, run by a group of women born in the 1950s whose retirement age has been delayed and are demanding compensation. Black, who is 22, has become their most ­articulate spokeswoman.

The event started but her chair remained unfilled. When she did arrive, halfway through the session, it was straight from the airport. She gave a rip-roaring speech that momentarily convinced even Waspi sceptics like me, and then dashed off to her next appointment.


Family stories

Woven through the SNP conference was an argument about the benefits of immigration (currently controlled by Westminster). This culminated in an appearance by the Brain family, whose attempt to resist deportation back to Australia has made them a national cause célèbre. (Their young son has learned to speak Gaelic.) Yet for me, the most emotional moment of the conference was when another family, the Chhokars, stepped on stage. Surjit Singh Chhokar was murdered in 1998, but it took 17 years of campaigning and a change in double jeopardy laws before his killer could be brought to justice.

As Aamer Anwar, the family’s solicitor, told the story of “Scotland’s Stephen Lawrence”, Chhokar’s mother and sister stood listening silently, still stricken with grief. After he finished, the delegates gave the family a standing ovation.

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, the New Statesman’s politics blog

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood