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Mostly New Films to Look Forward to at MBFF

Screening 26 Films, the Mostly British Film Festival Takes Place at the Vogue Theater from February 15th-22nd

Guest Column by Mostly British Film Festival Co-Director, Ruthe Stein

How to Have Sex

Watching the BAFTAS (aka the British Oscars) a few nights after our Mostly British Film Festival comes to a close, my crack programming team will be torn, as will I, on which nominee to root for as Outstanding British Film. Much to our delight as well causing us consternation our closing night film “The Old Oak” is competing in this category with our opener, “How to Have Sex” (alongside heavyweights “All of Us Strangers” and “The Zone of Interest”).

Since winning a jury prize at Cannes, “How to Have Sex” has become an awards darling, raking up four BAFTA nods to add to 13 nominations for British Independent Film Awards. I had an opportunity to speak to Molly Manning Walker, the first-time director of this mesmerizing drama following three teenage girlfriends on holiday on Crete whose sexual experiences go awry. Manning Walker’s captures images “that sear themselves into your eyes,” as the Guardian critic put it. She makes you care about these young women and worry for their safety.

In a Zoom interview to run opening night, Manning Walker told me she made her film to be blunt about sexual assault and how hiding it creates a culture of shame and silence. To research her film, she held workshops with teens all over the UK, shocking her into the realization of “a general lack of education about what consent means. If women aren’t taught that it is an act of negotiation it could go horribly wrong,” she believes, a point brought poignantly home in “How to Have Sex.”

It’s looking like our closer “The Old Oak” will be the final film from veteran director Ken Loach, after six decades bringing social realism to the screen in works like “Carla’s Song” and “I, Daniel Blake.” If he does retire, it will be on a high note with a film celebrating community and solidarity in its story of out-of-work miners who turn against newly-arrived Syrian refugees but are brought together by a local barkeeper.

Talking via Zoom to Mostly British Senior Programmer Maxine Einhorn for the festival’s closing night interview, Loach said film has an extraordinary power to change attitudes and generate social change. As a collective experience it can resonate, “a small voice in a very large chorus singing another song.”

Local Hero

Another recorded interview is with Peter Riegert, etched in memory as the Pickle Man in “Crossing Delancey.” He spoke to us about “Local Hero.” Mostly British turns a spotlight on this classic film from 1983. Riegert stars as an executive gopher in the employ of a crackpot oil magnate who sends him to purchase a Scottish coastal village that his boss seeks to convert into a refinery site. The magnate is played with great vigor by Burt Lancaster, and Riegert has only praise for his co-star. He told us that Lancaster approached him to ask if they could run lines together. He said that he always has trouble with a scene. “When I asked him which one, Burt said, ‘That’s the problem I never know.’’’ The two of them passed many hours in Lancaster’s hotel room. “I wouldn’t have had the nerve to suggest rehearsing together so I was delighted when he asked me,” Riegert recalls.

Mostly British is particularly thrilled with the new crop of centerpieces, most of them yet to be released. Any time we can star Anthony Hopkins, we grab him, and in “One Life” the British great gives a shattering performance as a real-life humanitarian known as “the British Schindler.” “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” is a delightful rom-com starring adorable Lily James as a filmmaker documenting her Pakistani neighbor’s arranged marriage. Her camera catches cracks in their relationship that few see. Emma Thompson appears as James’ meddling mother planning a match for her daughter.

Some of the words coming out of the mouths of Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley in “Wicked Little Letters” may shock their fans. The plot revolves around a series of unsigned obscene letters Colman receives with Buckley as the main suspect.

Fans of “The Diplomat” will be thrilled to see the better-looking-than-he-has-to-be Rufus Sewell in the black comedy “The Trouble with Jessica” The cast also includes Olivia Williams and Shirley Henderson in this hilarious story of two couples who find themselves having to move a dead body to ensure that an imminent house sale doesn’t collapse.

Shayda

At this time of the year my friends are prone to ask me for recommendations for the festival’s secret little movies, the ones that don’t have name stars but are sure to send an audience home with a smile. As it happens I do have a few. “Shayda” tells a story so close to the bone it almost has to be based on real life. So I wasn’t surprised when Noora Niasari, a nominee for best first-time director by the Directors Guild of America, told an audience at a preview screening in San Francisco that the title character is based on her mother. The deeply gripping film is about an Iranian woman who with her young impressionable daughter takes refuge in a women’s shelter after her husband, for whom the family uprooted from Iran to Australia, becomes physically abusive. Women’s shelters have been portrayed in other movies but “Shayda” is special for showing us how the residents care for one another and make it possible for them to get on with their lives.

Tarrac

The always popular "Irish Spotlight" boasts a few of these hidden gems. Set in a small town in Northern Ireland, “Ballywalter” explores an unlikely relationship between an aspiring stand-up comic who hires a woman taxi driver struggling to pull her life together to take him to his weekly comedy class. “Tarrac” is a heart-warming drama about a young woman who returns to her home in Kerry and bonds with a team of rowers in the competitive world of Naomhóg (the native Irish boat they commander). And who can resist a feature documentary about Peter O'Toole? Jim Sheridan's "Peter O'Toole: Along the Sky Road to Aqaba" features never-before-seen footage and a host of A-List celebrity contributors.

Peter O'Toole: Along the Sky Road to Aqaba

Hope to see you at the Mostly British Film Festival. Do look for me and tell me what you think. I am always in the lobby post screening.

Mostly British Film Festival Takes Place at the Vogue Theater from February 15th-22nd. Tickets are available at mostlybritish.org and the Vogue Theater box-office, 3290 Sacramento Street.

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