More female film-makers will feature in the galas and special presentations of this year’s BFI London film festival, which organisers say is a sign the industry is heading in the right direction.
This year’s programme, announced on Tuesday, will feature 21 film world premieres including the opening movie, Jeymes Samuel’s western The Harder They Fall, starring Idris Elba; and an animated sci-fi comedy Ron’s Gone Wrong, the first film from the UK studio Locksmith Animation.
The festival has, in recent years, been upfront about gender disparity in film. In 2017, a quarter of films at the festival were directed by women. In 2018, the figure was 38%. This year, 39% of the programme is from female and non-binary directors/creators or co-directors.
But Tricia Tuttle, the BFI’s festivals director, said that did not tell the whole story. “I do think the industry is moving in the right direction,” she said.
“I love the fact this year that we have more female film-makers in the gala and special presentations here than we ever have done. I think what that says is that more is being invested in female film-makers to tell big stories that will play alongside any other film in the world.”
Tuttle said more films by women were making it into the top 100 international box office list.
The festival does not have quotas, Tuttle said. “At various points in the programming process we stop and we check in and we look at what the numbers are looking like. It is really, really important that we programme the work first but always keep in mind representation as we do.”
This year’s festival will screen 159 feature films, deliberately down on the 220-plus of previous years. One of the biggest changes is that red carpet galas and special presentations will take place at the Royal Festival Hall on an 18-metre screen.
Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog Photograph: Kirsty Griffin/AP
They include Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut, an adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter, Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir: Part II, Eva Husson’s Mothering Sunday, and Jane Campion’s 1920s western The Power of the Dog, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as a ruthless and probably gay Montana cattle rancher.
“Benedict Cumberbatch is just incredible in the lead role,” said Tuttle. “It is a type of Benedict Cumberbatch performance I haven’t seen before, a very brooding, magnetic central performance.”
Other galas include Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, a love letter to his childhood; Pablo Larraín’s Princess Diana drama Spencer; and Paul Verhoeven’s 17th-century lesbian nuns drama Benedetta, which, after its Cannes premiere, was described by the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw as “a bizarre nunsploitation drama, doing for pious young women in wimples what he did for exotic dancers in his cult classic Showgirls”.
Olivia Colman in The Lost Daughter, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut. Photograph: Yannis Drakoulidis/Netflix
The festival will also feature more television than ever before, including the European premiere of the first two episodes of the third season of the media dynasty drama Succession.
Tuttle said the festival was back to being a live and large event with, it is hoped, 100% capacity audiences in its various venues, 10 of which are outside London. They include the Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle and Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff.
BFI Southbank will play host to competition films and “Covid-willing we will fill every nook and cranny with free talks, events and screenings,” Tuttle said.
The 65th BFI London film festival will run from 6-17 October.