Gilbey on film: What can we expect from this year's London Film Festival?

Incoming Festival Director Clare Stewart shows signs of having created a properly dynamic programme.

Another year, another London Film Festival — though this one distinguishes itself from its immediate predecessors by starting earlier than usual (October 10), running for 12 days rather than the usual 16, spreading out across more of the capital than ever before (reaching Hackney, Islington and Shoreditch), sharing some of its gala screenings with audiences across the country (the opening night attraction, Tim Burton’s stop-motion animated horror Frankenweenie, adapted from his own 1984 live-action short, will be screened simultaneously at other UK cinemas) and incorporating a competitive element that brings it more in line with other major film festivals. This new broom is wielded by the incoming Festival Director, Clare Stewart, former head of the Sydney Film Festival. Stewart will have quite a job filling the shoes of Sandra Hebron, but early signs are that she has concentrated on making the shape and content of the programme properly dynamic.

Now the tricky part: speculation. Looking back at the sorts of festival titles I’ve suggested in past years has thrown up the occasional embarrassment (I was as disappointed as you probably were by Rampart and This Must Be the Place). But not for nothing is the LFF known as a best-of-the-fests affair, rounding up the cream of Berlin, Cannes, Venice and Toronto. Sure enough, the 2012 programme includes this year’s Palme d’Or winner, Michael Haneke’s celebrated Amour; Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt, about the downfall of a kindergarten teacher, for which Mads Mikkelsen won the Best Actor prize at Cannes; and the same festival’s Best Director recipient, Carlos Reygadas, for his audacious drama Post Tenebras Lux. The Taviani brothers also return with their Berlin Golden Bear-winning Caesar Must Die, in which a group of prisoners stage Julius Caesar.

If it’s a surprise that neither Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master nor Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder have made the journey to London from their recent Venice premieres, perhaps that means they are in the running for a different kind of surprise—the LFF’s Surprise Film.

Here are ten other selections from the LFF programme, along with the reasons why I think they could be worth your time and mine:


In the House (Dans la maison)

Because François Ozon, great at camp (Potiche, 8 Women), is even better at psychological thrillers (Regarde la Mer, Under the Sand, Swimming Pool), and this study of the relationship between a teacher (the always excellent Fabrice Luchini) and his talented pupil looks full of promise. Kristen Scott-Thomas and Emmanuelle Seigner co-star.


Seven Psychopaths 

Because no one writes like Martin McDonagh. He also directs here for the first time since In Bruges, with a cast including Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell and Colin Farrell.



Because the premise of Michael Winterbottom’s drama about a family coping with the long-term imprisonment of one of its number is elevated by its execution: it was shot on-and-off over five years, the better to capture the authentic changes in its cast members.


Hyde Park on Hudson 

Because Bill Murray plays FDR. What more reason do you need?


For No Good Reason

Because it’s a documentary about the great, savage illustrator and cartoonist (not to mention NS contributor) Ralph Steadman.


The Central Park Five

Because it promises to be a powerful analysis of a miscarriage-of-justice case in New York City in the late 1980s.



Because Matteo Garrone’s new film, about a fishmonger who yearns to be on Big Brother, is his first since the extraordinary Gomorrah.


Paradise: Love 

Because Ulrich Seidl (Import/Export, Dog Days) is a continually daring and abrasive director, and this film about sex tourism, the first in a trilogy, would suggest he hasn’t yet defected to the romcom.


Obsessive and Compulsive 

Because this programme of shorts on the theme of obsession includes Up the Valley and Beyond, about Russ Meyer, and Picture Paris, directed by Brad Hall and starring his wife, Seinfeld/Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, as a woman hooked on Paris.


Mekong Hotel  

Because while it may be only an hour in length, it’s also by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (who made Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives), a filmmaker who crams more treasure, pleasure and meaning into a few frames than most directors do into an entire career.


Booking opens to BFI members on 13 September, and to the public from 24 September.

Photograph: Getty Images

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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The conflict in Yemen is a Civil War by numbers

Amid the battles, a generation starves.

Ten thousand dead – a conservative estimate at best. Three million internally displaced. Twenty million in need of aid. Two hundred thousand besieged for over a year. Thirty-four ballistic missiles fired into Saudi Arabia. More than 140 mourners killed in a double-tap strike on a funeral. These are just some of the numerical subscripts of the war in Yemen.

The British government would probably prefer to draw attention to the money being spent on aid in Yemen – £37m extra, according to figures released by the Department for International Development in September – rather than the £3.3bn worth of arms that the UK licensed for sale to Saudi Arabia in the first year of the kingdom’s bombing campaign against one of the poorest nations in the Middle East.

Yet, on the ground, the numbers are meaningless. What they do not show is how the conflict is tearing Yemeni society apart. Nor do they account for the deaths from disease and starvation caused by the hindering of food imports and medical supplies – siege tactics used by both sides – and for the appropriation of aid for financial gain.

Since the war began in March 2015 I have travelled more than 2,500 miles across Yemen, criss-crossing the front lines in and out of territories controlled by Houthi rebels, or by their opponents, the Saudi-backed resistance forces, or through vast stretches of land held by al-Qaeda. On those journeys, what struck me most was the deepening resentment expressed by so many people towards their fellow Yemenis.

The object of that loathing can change in the space of a few hundred metres. The soundtrack to this hatred emanates from smartphones resting on rusting oil drums, protruding from the breast pockets of military fatigues, or lying on chairs under makeshift awnings where flags denote the beginning of the dead ground of no-man’s-land. The rabble-rousing propaganda songs preach to the watchful gunmen about a feeble and irreligious enemy backed by foreign powers. Down the road, an almost identical scene awaits, only the flag is different and the song, though echoing the same sentiment, chants of an opponent altogether different from the one decried barely out of earshot in the dust behind you.

“We hate them. They hate us. We kill each other. Who wins?” mused a fellow passenger on one of my trips as he pressed green leaves of the mildly narcotic khat plant into his mouth.

Mohammed was a friend of a friend who helped to smuggle me – dressed in the all-black, face-covering garb of a Yemeni woman – across front lines into the besieged enclave of Taiz. “We lose everything,” he said. “They win. They always win.” He gesticulated as he spoke of these invisible yet omnipresent powers: Yemen’s political elite and the foreign states entangled in his country’s conflict.

This promotion of hatred, creating what are likely to be irreversible divisions, is necessary for the war’s belligerents in order to incite tens of thousands to fight. It is essential to perpetuate the cycle of revenge unleashed by the territorial advances in 2014 and 2015 by Houthi rebels and the forces of their patron, the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. This demand for retribution is matched by those who are now seeking vengeance for the lives lost in a UK-supported, Saudi-led aerial bombing campaign.

More than 25 years after the two states of North and South Yemen united, the gulf between them has never been wider. The political south, now controlled by forces aligned with the Saudi-led coalition, is logistically as well as politically severed from the north-western territories under the command of the Houthi rebels and Saleh loyalists. Caught in the middle is the city of Taiz, which is steadily being reduced to rubble after a year-long siege imposed by the Houthi-Saleh forces.

Revenge nourishes the violence, but it cannot feed those who are dying from malnutrition. Blowing in the sandy wind on roadsides up and down the country are tattered tents that hundreds of thousands of displaced families now call home. Others have fled from the cities and towns affected by the conflict to remote but safer village areas. There, food and medical care are scarce.

The acute child malnutrition reported in urban hospitals remains largely hidden in these isolated villages, far from tarmac roads, beyond the reach of international aid agencies. On my road trips across Yemen, a journey that would normally take 45 minutes on asphalt could take five hours on tracks across scrubland and rock, climbing mountainsides and descending into valleys where bridges stand useless, snapped in half by air strikes.

Among the other statistics are the missing millions needed by the state – the country’s largest employer. Workers haven’t been paid in months, amid fears of an economic collapse. This is apparently a deliberate tactic of fiscal strangulation by the Saudi-backed Yemeni government-in-exile. The recent relocation of the central bank from the Houthi-controlled capital, Sana’a, to the southern city of Aden is so far proving symbolic, given that the institution remains devoid of funds. The workforce on both sides of the conflict has taken to the streets to protest against salaries being overdue.

Following the deaths of more than 140 people in Saudi-led air strikes on a funeral hall on 8 October, Saleh and the Houthi leader, Abdulmalik al-Houthi, called for yet more revenge. Within hours, ballistic missiles were fired from within Houthi territory, reaching up to 350 miles into Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, in the Red Sea, Houthi missile attacks on US warships resulted in retaliation, sucking the US further into the mire. Hours later, Iran announced its intention to deploy naval vessels in the area.

Vengeance continues to drive the violence in Yemen, which is being drawn ever closer to proxy conflicts being fought elsewhere in the Middle East. Yet the impact on Yemeni society and the consequences for the population’s health for generations to come are unlikely to appear to the outside world, not even as annotated numbers in the brief glimpses we get of this war. 

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