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lff 2006 roundup
Fifty years young.

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Celebrating its Golden Jubilee, this year’s London Film Festival galloped through its two weeks like an eager, wide-eyed ingénue rather than the world-weary grande dame its anniversary suggests. Any 50th birthday calls for special commemorative events but the strong core line-up of films, filmmakers and stars was reason enough in itself to party.

Things kicked off with Kevin Macdonald’s The Last King Of Scotland, an urgent, intelligent account of Idi Amin’s brutal regime in 70s Uganda, filtered through a visiting naïve young Scots doctor, with stellar performances from Forest Whitaker and soon-to-be-massive James McAvoy, both onscreen and on the red carpet. The homegrown momentum kept going, not least with Andrea Arnold’s gritty voyeuristic Red Road and Shane Meadows’ superb early-80s coming-of-age drama This Is England. And whether you claim Sacha Baron Cohen’s hysterical Borat for Britain or Kazakhstan, his intrepid reporter’s arrival in a Leicester Square downpour with a posse of Kazakh beggars, orphans and prostitutes assembled to sing their national anthem, was an international incident in itself. Niiiiice.

Genuine European concerns featured some of the continent’s most acclaimed new films, including Dane Anders Morgenthaler’s outrageous animation/live-action Princess, and Aki Kaurismäki’s Loser Trilogy finale, the delightfully deadpan Lights In The Dusk. One veteran back home from Hollywood – and back on form – was Dutch provocateur Paul Verhoeven, whose gripping WWII thriller Black Book, his best in two decades, provided a lively Script Factory discussion; as did John Cameron Mitchell, whose controversial sex comedy, Shortbus, is surely the sweetest natured film yet to have someone sing The Star Spangled Banner into his lover’s back passage.

US cinema was also well represented in engaging Screen Talks with, among others, indie lynchpin Richard Linklater for polemic Fast Food Nation and, best of all, acting legend Dustin Hoffman. Ostensibly over here for meta-comedy Stranger Than Fiction, Hoffman’s 40-year-career examination produced spontaneous laughter, tears and a standing ovation from a delighted audience.

But if anything stole the show this year it was London itself. As promised by the Festival’s Artistic Director, Sandra Hebron, and her crack team, the capital was showcased like never before. Fifty venues, including a prison, a hospital and someone’s front room, hosted the traditional Surprise Screening, and Trafalgar Square was transformed into an impromptu film and music editing suite, courtesy of director Mike Figgis and co’s Portrait Of London. Fifty years young, the LFF looks to be in the prime of its life.

Leigh Singer 02 November 06
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