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BFI London 2019 – Film Reviews
by Christine Riney

The Aeronauts

Tom Harper, UK | USA

THE AERONAUTS, the name for balloon pilots, is full to the brim with adventure, thrills, an amazing female role model, great beauty, love, humor and sadness. It is based on a composite of true stories, starting from the late 1780s, about the quest to reach the upper atmosphere and make scientific discoveries along the way. However, don’t expect overly detailed accounts of humankind's first attempts to explore our upper atmosphere; it is an escapist film, sit back and enjoy the ride, pun intended.

It explores and seeks to understand the people that push themselves relentlessly on despite the odds to explore, make new discoveries and revel in a sense of wonder of the world we live in. Jack Thorne (also wrote Harry Potter and the Cursed Child stageplay) certainly helps us see the magic and wonder we should never forget exists. This film shows our fascination for going ever upwards and, I think, how we ended up on the moon and beyond.

The performances by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are excellent. They bring to life the spirit of adventure seekers everywhere. They convey the fragility and the strengths of being human.

The special effects really do take you for a ride, you feel part of the thrill to be breaking height records of the time, even if you remain grounded. You feel the wind, the wonder, the peace and the terror! If you are scared of heights, beware. But do sit back and enjoy the wonder of the journey and think about my favorite quote from the film “Change the world by the way you choose to live in it”. A sentiment that we should all refer to in this time of environmental awareness and action. (CR)

La Llorona

Jayro Bustamante, Guatemala | France

This is a film that stays with you long after the end credits roll. It is a haunting thriller, and while the story of oppressive genocide by military dictators is not new, or unknown, it is the way the story unfolds through the Guatemalan legend of LA LLORONA (The Weeping Woman) that gives this film its powerful rendering.

La Llorona comes for the General in the guise of a house maid after a trial convicting him of mass murder is overturned. She is there to provide justice for those who were killed at the hands of the military dictator and his men. As protests rage against the injustice, the General and his entire family (mother, father, daughter and granddaughter) are trapped in their opulent home. At first only the General is tormented by La Llorona’s eerie weeping that only he can hear. But as the protests worsen outside the rage inside also builds. It soon becomes clear to the family that all is not as it seems with the new maid and the whole family are affected, or you could say “haunted” by the justice seeking presence, until the bizarre and inevitable climax.

The director Jayro Bustamante cleverly sets real life horrors within the horror film genre. Although, as a horror film goes, it is so subtle you could almost believe it to be a psychological thriller, or sadly, a documentary genre film. As in fact, thousands of indigenous people in Guatemala were killed and as late as 2013, Guatemala’s former dictator Jose Efrain Rios Montt was convicted of this genocide but later, shockingly, was overturned.

Who will provide justice for the dead? This Guatemalan director and cast, amidst death threats had to resort to filming in embassies in Guatemala, are doing what they can by immortalizing the story in film.

Surprising for all who attended the film, the final question at the Q&A was from the Guatemalan Ambassador to London who, after introducing himself, praised the filmmaker for making this film. After which a collective exhale could be heard from the audience. (CR)


Remembering ‘The Troubles’

by Christine Riney

As Britain continues to grapple with Brexit and a border with Northern Ireland becomes a hot topic, I watched two films that provided a reminder of why the issue of how to place a ‘border’ between UK/Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland/EU is not a clear cut one.

‘The Troubles’ refers to the three-decade long conflict between Irish Nationalists (mainly Roman Catholic) and British Unionists (mainly Protestant) in Northern Ireland beginning in 1969. The trouble was due to the Irish Nationalists desire for a united Ireland and the Unionists desire to remain part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The desire is still strong on both sides of this conflict with sectarian and nationalism tensions apparent.

More than 3,700 people were killed in the conflict, of whom 52% were civilians, 32% were members of the British security forces, and 16% were members of paramilitary groups. ‘In 2010 it was estimated that 107,000 people in Northern Ireland suffered some physical injury as a result of the conflict. Based on data gathered by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, the Victims Commission estimated that the conflict resulted in 500,000 'victims' in Northern Ireland alone. It defines 'victims' are those who are directly affected by 'bereavement', 'physical injury' or 'trauma' as a result of the conflict.’ These figures will only be magnified if we were to include victims in the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain.

‘The Troubles’ were officially brought to an uneasy end by a peace process which included the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. One part of the Agreement specifies that Northern Ireland will remain within the United Kingdom unless a majority of the Northern Irish electorate vote otherwise. Although, technically ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland have ended, there has been sporadic violence since 1998 with the latest death in April 2019, almost 21 years after the ceasefire was agreed. With Brexit looming, the issues and tensions that are still simmering are on the minds of many, with the hope that a border does not materialize providing an excuse to reach a boiling point.  “There was never a good war or a bad peace.” –Benjamin Franklin


Mariah Garnett, USA | UK

Artist Mariah Garnett chooses a very personal story for her first film, an experimental documentary about her father, David Coleman, whom she had not seen since she was two years old. The film takes place through a number of perspectives; through her eyes, his internal struggle, their first meeting and long suppressed memories. All telling us the story of a young man caught in a conflict that he did not understand but that changed his life irrevocably. I was struck by how this highlighted the fact that you can leave a place behind, but you forever keep your history with you. The film debut was at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery.

In 1971 a BBC documentary was aired in Northern Ireland. The topic, love across the religious divide of Northern Ireland. It was never supposed to air in Northern Ireland but when it did the fallout for David, a nineteen-year-old Protestant, was life-changing. David was born and raised in a very poor section of Belfast and relationships between Protestants and Catholics were not only discouraged they were taboo, but attraction does not know religion or nationality and in a life changing moment a boy fell for a girl. The airing of the documentary led to threats towards David from both Catholic and Protestant paramilitary groups, locals and his own friends and family. The result was his eventual flight from Ireland. Fearing for his life, he cut all ties with friends and family and has never returned. We are left to wonder what became of his love interest, Maura, a teenage Catholic girl.

The film shows old footage, new footage, interviews with people who knew David when he was a nineteen year old dealing with the aftermath of the broadcast as well as interviews with people living in Ulster today, which seems to have remained as it was with the same resentments and issues bubbling below the surface. Mariah, portraying her father, reconstructs David’s life in Belfast in an unusual cross-gender performance. Every element reveals the traumatic effects of political, social, and religious divides on Belfast communities then and now. A profoundly timely documentary with the added element of a daughter getting to know her estranged father from both inside and out. (CR)


Dermot Lavery, Michael Hewitt, UK

This is a poignant reminder of the cost of war, both for lives lost and lives scarred by the conflict in Northern Ireland. Based on the book LOST LIVES, 2001 authored by journalists and historians (Chris Thornton, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney, and David McKittrick), that records every single death and its circumstances since the beginning of the war in August 1969. This tragic, earnest documentary memorializes all the victims to film. The narration is provided by famous Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland actors, including Kenneth Branagh, Brendan Gleeson, Roma Downey, Liam Neeson, Ciarán Hinds, and Bronagh Waugh. The film uses archive footage, new and old recordings, static peaceful images as well as orchestral scores to give the viewer a heartwrenching account of so many lives taken due to hate. What is clear from the 186 children who died from 1969 until 2006, as young as 18 months old, war does not discriminate. The fragility of peace is highlighted by the last entry in the film; Lyra McKee (31 March 1990 – 18 April 2019) killed by a bullet during rioting in Derry, just a few weeks past her 29th birthday.  This leaves the audience with profound sadness of the violence that is past but is still ever present in Northern Ireland. (CR)