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La La Land, Arrival and Birth of a Nation among 2016 London Film Festival highlights

La La Land

Story by Jack Foley

DAMIEN Chazelle’s musical La La Land, Dennis Villeneuve’s sci-fi drama Arrival and Nate Parker’s slavery drama The Birth of a Nation are among the highlights of this year’s 60th BFI London Film Festival.

All three films will receive headline galas at the week and a half long event, which takes place from October 5 to 16, 2016.

Chazelle returns to the festival following the gala presentation of the award winning Whiplash (LFF2014), with La La Land, the hotly anticipated bittersweet love letter to the city of Los Angeles, combining the charm of golden era of Hollywood musicals with the visual flair of French maestro Jacques Demy, and starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend and Academy Award® and BAFTA winner JK Simmons.

Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, meanwhile, will receive the Royal Bank of Canada gala. This emotionally arresting, visually inventive science fiction movie, based on the award-winning Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg.

And The Birth of a Nation, which won the Sundance Jury and Audience Awards, receives its European Premiere as a Headline Gala. This grueling account of the life of an enslaved African-American who led a slave revolt in Virginia in 1831 stars writer-director Nate Parker himself alongside Armie Hammer, Aunjanue Ellis, Aja Naomi King and Gabrielle Union.

As previously announced, the festival opens with the European Premiere of Amma Asante’s A United Kingdom, starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike.

Director Asante, a previous winner of the Festival’s UK Film Talent Award, returns to the Festival for a second time with a film that tells the true story of Seretse Khama, King of Bechuanaland (modern Botswana), and Ruth Williams, the London office worker he married in 1947 in the face of fierce opposition from their families and the British and South African governments.

There will be a live cinecast from the London event and simultaneous screenings taking place at cinemas across the UK.

And the European Premiere of Ben Wheatley’s high octane Free Fire will close the Festival on Sunday, October 16. Free Fire is Wheatley’s third film to be presented at the Festival, following High-Rise (2015) which screened as Festival Gala, and Sightseers (2012), which screened as Laugh Gala.

Sharp-witted Justine (Brie Larson) brokers a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two Irishmen (Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley) and a gang led by Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Ord (Armie Hammer) who are selling them a stash of guns. But when shots are fired in the handover, a heart stopping game of survival ensues.

The previously announced American Express Gala is Garth Davis’ feature debut Lion, starring BAFTA nominee Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, David Wenham and Academy Award® winner Nicole Kidman.

Adapted from Saroo Brierley’s engrossing memoir A Long Way Home, Lion tells the true story of how a wrong train takes a five-year-old Indian boy hundreds of miles from home and family. Adopted as a child by an Australian couple, and twenty-five years later, haunted by memories of his childhood, he sets out to find his lost family.

Other galas to look out for include…

The European Premiere of Manchester By The Sea is another Headline Gala, seeing Kenneth Lonergan return to the LFF with his third feature as director. The film starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler and Lucas Hedges is a visually eloquent and emotionally devastating exploration of grief and redemption.

The May Fair Hotel Gala is J.A. Bayona’s A Monster Calls, a highly moving film based on the hugely popular book by Patrick Ness.

A young boy’s vast imagination enables him to see wonder beyond his tough circumstances in this sublime fantasy with Lewis MacDougall in the lead role as 12-year-old Conor. The film also stars Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, and the melodic and imposing voice of Liam Neeson.

With Nocturnal Animals, Tom Ford returns with a dark, sophisticated adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan. With a stellar cast including Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher and Armie Hammer, the film reunites many of the creative team behind A Single Man (LFF2009).

The Virgin Atlantic Gala is the European Premiere of Queen Of Katwe, Mira Nair’s vibrant, powerful true life tale of one girl’s determination to escape from poverty in Uganda by becoming a chess champion. The film stars newcomer Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o.

Snowden is presented as a Headline Gala. Oliver Stone’s super-charged political thriller stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the titular intelligence operative alongside Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson and Scott Eastwood.

The Mayor of London’s Gala is the European Premiere of Their Finest, which sees director Lone Scherfig return to the Festival following An Education (LFF2009). Gemma Arterton and Sam Claflin star in this delectable comedic drama, set in the world of filmmaking in London during the 1940s.

The Archive Gala is the World Premiere of the BFI National Archive restoration of Arthur Robison’s The Informer (1929). This rare silent adaptation of Liam O’Flaherty’s famous novel is set among Dublin revolutionaries in the early days of the newly independent Irish Free State, formed in 1922. The screening will be accompanied by a specially commissioned score by Irish composer Garth Knox performed live by a six-piece ensemble.

Special presentations

Four films take the spotlight in this section: the Festival Special Presentation, American Honey, Andrea Arnold’s sun-soaked and tune-filled epic about door-to-door teenage magazine sellers travelling America’s highways;.

The Documentary Special Presentation, Ava DuVernay’s far-reaching and powerful The 13th, offers a searing look at a century of race relations in America.

The Experimenta Special Presentation, Fiona Tan’s dazzling Ascent, explores the beautiful and mysterious Mount Fuji using imagery from across the history of still photography.

And the BFI Flare Special Presentation will be Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only The End Of The World, which won the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Now in its 60th year, the programme will see each of the headline galas presented at the Odeon Leicester Square on each evening of the 12 day festival.

But festival visitors will also be able to enjoy a brand new cinema experience with Competition and Strand Galas presented at the new Embankment Garden Cinema, in the beautiful Victoria Embankment Gardens.

With 780 cinema-style seats, Dolby 7.1 surround sound and 4k digital projection, this temporary venue brings the festival to even more people and connects screenings in the West End with the BFI’s home cinema at BFI Southbank.

This, combined with the Festival’s Special Presentations, a rich, diverse programme of international films, as well as insightful events and talks with leading lights of the international film and creative industries, reaffirms London’s position as the world’s leading creative city.

This year’s festival includes an agenda-setting Symposium event that heralds the BFI’s Black Star project, the UK’s biggest ever season of film and television dedicated to celebrating the range, versatility and power of black actors coming in late October.

Films within the Festival programme will amplify the season, while the Symposium will ask searching questions about the continued under-representation of black actors on screen, probing why opportunities for black actors in the US and the UK remain limited and aiming to drive forward a progressive agenda by spotlighting and exploring key issues for the film industry.

The Festival will screen a total of 193 fiction and 52 documentary features, including 18 World Premieres, 8 International Premieres, 39 European Premieres. There will also be screenings of 144 short films, including documentary, live action and animated works.

A stellar line-up of directors, cast and crew are expected to take part in career interviews, Screen Talks, Q&As and Industry Talks: LFF Connects.