Oscar contenders & other gems to watch at the BFI London Film Fest

There are Academy Awards submissions and assorted films that cannot be missed at this year's festival celebrating cinema in London -- and all featured on our list have roots in the SWANA region!
Oscar contenders & other gems to watch at the BFI London Film Fest

The BFI London Film Festival is a yearly Fall event that remains a highly anticipated stop on the festival circuit. It has come to be a place for international titles to secure UK distribution. And it is also where one gets to catch up on titles that may have been missed in Cannes or Venice, with leisurely press and industry screenings held each morning as well as ticketed showings every afternoon and evening of the nearly two week long event. But don't misunderstand me, LFF is not a festival where you can just show up and think of securing tickets last minute. Most of the films, which typically have multiple showings, have been sold out since the day sales went online.

Among our favorites here at MIME there are four Oscar submissions and two Iranian gems that simply need to be added to your must-watch list.


Swedish born Egyptian filmmaker Tarik Saleh knows how to push the right buttons. The second film set in his homeland, after the controversial 2017 The Nile Hilton Incident, depicts the inner and outer struggles faced by a young man who has been chosen to attend Cairo's most prestigious religious institution, Al-Azhar University. Told as a thriller, it depicts the journey of Adam (played by the spellbinding Tawfeek Barhom), a young man from a fishing community in northern Egypt, as he arrives in Cairo and is faced by the politics of religion all around him. Also starring Fares Fares, Makram Khoury and Mohammad Bakri, Boy from Heaven is this year's Swedish submission to the Best International Feature Film Oscar race. If you wonder why it isn't Egypt's, well you'll have to watch the film to understand just how problematic it is for both the Egyptian religious institutions as well as the government of the country.


An Iranian story, backed by the Danish as their submission to this year's Academy Awards, shot in Jordan substituting for Iran. Now there's a mouthful! This Persian-language crime thriller, directed by Ali Abbasi is based on the true story of Saeed Hanaei, a serial killer who targeted sex workers and killed 16 women from 2000 to 2001 in Mashhad, Iran, the film depicts a fictional female journalist investigating a serial killer. In Cannes, where the film premiered this past May, leading lady Zahra Amir Ebrahimi won the Best Actress award and online streaming company MUBI is representing the film while in London, having picked up the film's UK rights, as well as for Ireland, Latin America (excluding Mexico) and Malaysia, while on the Croisette.


While Mani Haghighi's latest film has not been named the Iranian submission to this year's Oscar race, it remains a masterpiece in our book. With a sci-fi feel, eerie settings and camera work and a script that allows two actors to become their characters, split in two thus playing four roles in total, Subtraction is a must-watch. We reviewed it here and we also have an exclusive interview with the filmmaker from this year's TIFF, which is where the film world premiered.


The critics all agree that Maryam Touzani's The Blue Caftan is a powerful piece of filmmaking. The film has been chosen to represent Morocco in the Oscar race and it is a strong, courageous move by the country -- one that will affect how films are made and watched throughout the Arab world. Because at the heart of The Blue Caftan is an LGBTQ story, wrapped in tones of tenderness and intimacy -- foregoing the typical in favor of the unexpected. With two wonderful veteran actors, Lubna Azabal and Saleh Bakri and a newcomer to watch Ayoub Missioui, the film is an absolute must-watch for all who believe in the power of love. And cinema of course.


Another surprise hit with everyone who has managed to watched it so far, is Joyland, the feature debut of Saim Sadiq. It is now the official Pakistani submission to the Oscar race and also deals with an unusual love story, one that crossed the borders of what you'd typically expect from a South Asian film. Gone are the Bollywood lavish numbers of its cinema cousin to the South, replaced instead by a human story, complete with those who fail to understand that love sometimes comes in unusual form, and falls out of line from the norms imposed on us by the society we find ourselves in. It is another act of courage on the part of Pakistan to have submitted this film to the Academy Awards and we wouldn't be surprised if both these titles, Joyland and The Blue Caftan end up on the shortlist -- at the very least.


We have yet to watch the latest film by Jafar Panahi, but being huge fans of both the filmmaker and the man, we just can't wait! It was in Venice, where the film world premiered but we had already left by then. And now in London it will be a cool watch amidst all the other gems. No Bears once again sees the persecuted Panahi, who has been in an Iranian jail since July after having been confined and penalized for the past half a dozen years, reinventing cinema. While the poster and images from the film are cool enough, we wanted to share Venice President of the Competition Jury, Julianne Moore holding a placard demanding the release of the filmmaker on the red carpet at the premiere of the film.

For more info on the BFI London Film Festival and to book tickets, check out their website.

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