Tomorrow (Wednesday 7th October 2020) sees the start of the BFI London Film Festival. Running until the 18th of the month, the 64th edition of the UK’s most prestigious film event offers a packed programme of features, shorts, industry events and more. For us at S/W, the festival offers us a chance to not only delve into their ever-consistent short film programme but also cast a close-eye over their feature film selections, in the hope of spotting a familiar name or two.

Like most film festivals in 2020, LFF has undergone some changes due to current circumstances and instead of being restricted to screenings in the City, is now presented as a series of virtual screenings online and IRL screenings in cinemas around the UK. Described as the event’s “most accessible” edition ever, although the virtual screenings will be geo-blocked to the UK, all the Festival talks and LFF Expanded (the festival’s new strand of XR and immersive art) are available to experience for free from anywhere in the world.

This shorts-centric preview of the festival examines not only the short film programme at this year’s event but also takes a look at some of the filmmakers making the transition from short film to feature – something we keep a close eye on at S/W.

Short Films

As I mentioned earlier, the short film programme at LFF is one of the most consistent I encounter and although it would be easy to recommend a host of films to check out from the 52 selected shorts, here are our five top-picks, all with a S/W connection:

  • Hungry Joe by Sam Dawe & Paul Holbrook – Coming to S/W on January 11th 2020, this British Horror from directorial duo Dawe and Holbrook tells the unsettling tale of a young boy with an insatiable appetite. A stylish short with a creepy narrative, this is one for the genre fans.
  • Mother by Jas Pitt & Kate Stonehill – Having impressed us with her inventive, topical short doc Fake News Fairytale, Stonehill teams up with fellow London based director and DOP Jas Pitt to immerse their audience in a group of young dancers from Rio de Janeiro in this 21-minute documentary.
  • Shagbands by Luna Carmoon – A filmmaker we’ve had an eye on since we saw her impressive Nosebleed short, as part of the ShortFlix series, though we’ve never featured Carmoon on our site the film is produced by friends of S/W – Delaval Film (Marina and Adrienne, Lambing Season & The Pig Child). With their involvement and Carmoon’s distinct directorial style, this is definitely a short you’ll want to check out.
  • Witness by Ali Asgari – With a string of festival accolades to his name, including one for Best Short Film at LFF 2016, Asgari’s short’s (of which we’ve featured The Baby) come with a weight of expectation but never fail to entertain and engross. With his focus always on character, the Iranian filmmaker’s latest short is no different, as we witness a young Mother’s day quickly spiral after she tries to help an elderly lady at a shopping mall.
  • Wood Child and Hidden Forest Mother by Stephen Irwin – Having followed Irwin’s work since 2009, when we featured his film The Black Dog’s Progress, the animator/filmmaker returns with his first short in six years (since 2014 film The Obvious Child). Having already screened a wealth of festivals this year, including Glas, Go Short and Sundance, Irwin’s story of a hunter and his encounters with a strange creature in the forest, is the only animation in the short film programme at LFF this year.


Short film to Feature

Watching filmmakers make the jump from short to feature is something we love to see at S/W and there are a number of directors at this year’s LFF who made their name in short film and are now screening longer pieces at the festival. These aren’t all of them, but we highlighted nine that really stand out.

  • 180° Rule by Farnoosh Samadi – Not yet a filmmaker we’ve featured on S/W (check back this Friday – October 9th 2020 – to see her short Gaze), Samadi brings her first feature to LFF, after she made a new for herself with her impressive short film work over the last few years. 180° Rule sees the Iranian director take the approach she’s developed through three shorts and apply it to the longer feature format.
  • After Love by Aleem Khan – Khan’s 2014 short Three Brothers was one we overlooked on S/W, but his directorial talent was clear to see in this emotive tale of brotherhood. Screening his debut feature at this year’s LFF, After Love is the story of a woman left reeling upon discovering her late husband’s secrets
  • Ammonite by Francis Lee – Though Lee will now be better known for his award-winning feature God’s Own Country, his 2013 short BRADFORD-HALIFAX-LONDON will be a favourite of anyone lucky enough to have caught it on the festival circuit. With two features now under his belt, it’s unlikely he’ll be remembered for his short film work, but if we ever get the chance to bring the short online you’ll quickly understand why it holds a firm place in my memory banks.

    Director Francis Lee’s 2013 short Bradford Halifax London was a favourite of ours from the festival circuit.

  • Bloody Nose, Empty Pocket by Bill Ross IV & Turner Ross – With this section of the article focused on filmmakers who made the jump from short film to feature, the Ross brothers are somewhat of the odd-ones-out. Having started out in features, with 2009 SXSW award-winner 45365, brothers Bill and Turner only dipped their toes into short film with 2010 doc Dinosaur Curtains. As filmmakers we’ve featured on S/W we’ve avidly followed their career and it’s once again exciting to see a new feature from the duo.
  • Gold for Dogs by Anna Cazenave Cambet – Winner of awards at Palm Springs ShortFest and Cannes, Cazenave Cambet’s 2016 short Gabber Lover is one I’ve wanted on S/W since seeing at LFF in 2017. Unfortunately, it’s another film that has never come online, so for now we’ll have to make do with her debut feature, which takes the female coming-of-age narrative in a new direction.
  • Mogul Mowgli by Bassam Tariq – With Ghosts of Sugar Land, his short documentary about a group of Muslim’s attempting to understand the disappearance of a childhood friend, Tariq made a name for himself after winning a Sundance award and nominations at SXSW and Sheff Doc Fest. His first foray into feature filmmaking, Mogul Mowgli, stars Riz Ahmed (who also co-wrote the film) as a Pakastani rapper who finds his life turned upside down by a debilitating illness.

    Still from the Mogul Mowgli trailer.

  • Relic by Natalie Erika James – The Horror short has proved a hotbed for feature film development in recent years and Erika James’ Relic is a feature that has come on the back of short film success. After beginning to write the film in 2014, the director recognised that she needed evidence the film would work and so “very consciously decided to make a proof of concept for it”. That film, CRESWICK , proved popular on the genre festival circuit, helped the director land a U.S. agent and was instrumental in getting Relic made.
  • Rose: A Love Story by Jennifer Sheridan – Having screened at LFF 2019 with her short Love the Sinner, filmmaker Sheridan returns to the festival this year with her tense debut feature Rose: A Love Story. With a string of successful shorts dating back to 2011, it seemed like only a matter of time before we’d something longer from the director/editor.
  • Stray by Elizabeth Lo – A documentary filmmaker we’ve been following closely since we featured her shorts Mother’s Day and Hotel 22, Lo takes her unobtrusive filmmaking approach to the streets of Istanbul with her first feature film Stray. A portrait of a city and its inhabitants, seen from the eyes of its canine residents, it’s a bold and striking feature set to make Lo a filmmaker to watch in the documentary arena.