The 59th BFI London Film Festival happened between 7-18 October 2015, and I was super excited to get hold of tickets for three of the galas. The Festival had the theme this year of Women; either subject matter that focused on females or works by female directors, this was an interesting and worthwhile approach as women are often marginalised in the world of cinema.
My girlfriend and I went along to the Friday 9th October screening of He Named Me Malala (Guggenheim), Beeba Boys (Mehta) on Saturday 10th October and Brooklyn (Crowley) on Tuesday 13th October.
In this article I will review the first of those three films as well as let you in on the atmosphere of the festival itself, what went down and what to expect from future events.
He Named Me Malala (Guggenheim, 2015)
Starring: Malala Yousafzai, Ziauddin Yousafzai
Country: UAE, USA
Runtime: 88 mins
This screening was my introduction to the BFI London Film Festival on the Friday, early afternoon, and it was a good way to kick off. The gala was held at Odeon Leicester Square and was very well organised with a hassel free ticket collection, and friendly staff who allowed me to get a refund on the difference of an adult ticket that I had bought accidently in place of a student one.
There was no bonus or special features with this screening however having never been inside the huge and ornate OLS before this was good enough in itself; seriously the screen is awesome, more like a theatre than a cinema. Staff inside the screen were also very friendly and helpful; lots of smiles. Semi-annoyingly there were loads of seats left empty throughout the cinema even though I rushed madly to snatch up what were shown on the festival's site to be the very last of the good seats (middle back). In other words lots of people had bought tickets but hadn't bothered to turn up; depriving others of places! Not cool people!
Now on to the film; this is the story of Malala Yousafzai, who we follow in this charming and original documentary. If you don't know who Malala is, which I didn't really going in, she is the young Pakistani girl from Swat Valley who you may have seen featured on the news worldwide; she survived a Taliban gunshot to the head for persisting with a banned education, schooling for girls having been outlawed in her part of Pakistan, and has since gone on to become an activist for global women's rights. Despite being in high demand at talks and human rights events across the world she continues with her secondary school education, and maintains the persona of a lovely, well grounded young woman.
It opens with some beautiful animation illustrating the backstory of Malala's namesake, Afghan folk hero Malalai of Maiwand, a young girl who died whilst rallying local Pashtun troops against the British in 1880. This opening sent a tingling sensation down my spine, it was so epic on the big screen, a great way to get stuck in!
The animation continues throughout, used to illustrate hardhitting and significant sequences from the life of Malala and her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai.
This film was really engaging although I felt at times it focused a little too much on presenting Malala, and her family, as very nice, normal people. I found this a tiny bit patronising both to her and the audience; why wouldn't she be nice and normal!
As a quick side note, one aspect I found a little abnormal was the amount of oil Malala's dad uses to fry an egg! Incredible! Watch it and you'll see what I mean! Irrelevant but something that stayed with me...
Anyway, I did still enjoy the inserts of family life, even though it was a little too heavily relied upon in my opinion; the back and forth banter with her brothers was fun, and the obvious love and support from her father was heartwarming.
One aspect I felt was a little problematic however was the fact that her mother was largely abscent from the story. I even remember wondering towards the begining of the film that perhaps her dad was a single father, and hence the insistence of the He in the title.
For a documentary so focused on spreading a message of gender equality and women's rights it is a little dissappointing that the mother was featured so little, we learn about her mostly through other people. This was explained however as the fact that she is very traditional and shy, this is fine, it is also her right not to appear in the documentary as well, I just felt it was a bit of a shame.
For its few flaws He Named Me Malala is a fascinating piece of work and does well in getting the overall message across; progress lies in gender equality and the education of women.
I would definitely recommend this film, I particularly enjoyed the sequences which depict Malala talking to children in countries around the world including African villagers and Syrian refugees, as well as her talks at global events. Here we really get to see what a phenomenal public speaker she is, on all levels. I loved seeing her connect with different people, and to see the warmth and understanding in her eyes. It is incredible to get such a sense of wisdom from someone so young.
Coming soon - Beeba Boys Review!