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7 September 2017updated 17 Sep 2021 8:49am

The 12 most interesting films without a distributor at the BFI London Film Festival

From an Iranian documentary shot on a mobile to Michael Cera playing a journalist, here are the festival's unknown quantities.

By Ryan Gilbey

Booking for the 61st BFI London Film Festival opens today for BFI members and a week later, on September 14, for the general public.

There is the usual wealth of acclaimed titles vacuumed up from other film festivals, among them Lynne Ramsey’s intense thriller You Were Never Really Here, which won Joaquin Phoenix the Best Actor prize at Cannes for his performance as a Gulf War veteran who rescues the victims of child-sex rings; Sebastián Lelio’s sublime and Almodóvar-esque A Fantastic Woman, starring Daniela Vega as a trans woman left stranded emotionally by the death of her partner; Loveless, the new drama from the uncompromising Andrey Zvyagintsev, about a couple who are on the brink of divorce when their son vanishes; and Martin McDonagh’s blackly comic thriller Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, with Frances McDormand as a grieving, butt-kicking mother who takes an ineffectual police department to task for failing to find her daughter’s killer, all the while cussing like no one else since Jack Nicholson in The Last Detail. 

Those titles, along with many others in the line-up (such as Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories or On Chesil Beach, adapted by Ian McEwan from his own novel), have already secured distribution, so it won’t be too long until they’ve arrived at your local picture palace. Better instead to get in the festival spirit and take a punt on an unknown quantity. Here are 12, currently without a distributor at the time of writing, that leap alluringly from the pages of the LFF programme. 

Apostasy

Competing in the First Feature strand is this British drama about an 18-year old girl who risks expulsion from her Jehovah’s Witness community.

Chauka, Please Tell Us The Time

A documentary shot secretly on a mobile phone by the Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani in a detention centre on Manus, Papua Guinea, where asylum seekers are held indefinitely while trying to reach Australia.

Good Manners

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Full disclosure: with Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Aquarius as my favourite film of the year so far, I feel particularly drawn right now to Brazilian cinema, which explains my interest in this psychological thriller about a live-in nanny caught up in the life of her wealthy employer.

Last Flag Flying

Back to The Last Detail with Richard Linklater’s tribute-cum-sequel to that acerbic 1973 comedy-drama, which catches up with the same characters, now played by Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne, more than 40 years later.

A Matter of Life and Death

As usual, the LFF has a tantalising selection of restorations on offer, including Dario Argento’s Suspiria, Isaac Julien’s Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask and Toshio Matsumoto’s little-seen Funeral Parade of Roses. But the cream of the crop has to be Powell and Pressburger’s playful and rhapsodic fantasy—one of the duo’s very best—starring David Niven as the Second World War pilot who slips through heaven’s grasp. The picture is more than 70 years old and still looking spry.

Person to Person

If you think the selections in this list tend toward the serious, try this retro-flavoured comedy-drama, shot on 16mm, starring Michael Cera as a reporter mentoring an up-and-comer (Abbi Jacobson from the sassy sitcom Broad City) on a tabloid paper.

The Pure Necessity

It’s The Jungle Book but not as we know it: the Belgian artist and director David Claerbout redraws Disney’s 1967 favourite, stripping out the narrative to give the impression that the animals are existing in their natural context free from anthropomorphism. Sounds invitingly strange. Here’s a taster.

Reinventing Marvin

From Anne Fontaine, director of last year’s discreetly disturbing drama The Innocents, comes this study of a gay bullied teenager (Finnegan Oldfield) who constructs a new identity through theatre.

A Season in France

Drama about a professor and his children seeking political asylum in France; Sandrine Bonnaire stars, the excellent Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (Daratt) directs.

Sheikh Jackson

Top marks for oddness: an Egyptian comic drama about an Islamist preacher who undergoes a crisis of faith after the death of Michael Jackson.

Tonsler Park

This 16mm black-and-white documentary about the 2016 US election as seen at one polling booth would surely be fascinating under any circumstances. That its setting is Charlottesville, Virginia surely makes it urgent viewing.

Zama

Lucretia Martel’s The Headless Woman remains one of the most haunting and mysterious films of the 21st century so far. Her long-awaited follow-up is an intricate drama about an officer estranged from his family by his duties in imperialist Spain. Adapted from Antonio di Benedetto’s novel.