News: BFI Southbank confirms 17 May reopening date and forthcoming programme

The BFI is pleased to announce that BFI Southbank will reopen on 17 May (pending confirmation that restrictions will be relaxed as planned), with a programme celebrating the unadulterated joy of the big screen experience. During the latest lockdown, BFI Southbank’s largest cinema, NFT1, has undergone improvements including a new projector and a new sound system, so that audiences’ return to cinemas will feel even more enjoyable after this prolonged absence. Seasons announced today include DREAM PALACE: MOVIES MADE FOR THE BIG SCREENHER VOICE: BLACK WOMEN FROM THE SPOTLIGHT TO THE SCREEN andROBERT ALTMAN: AMERICAN OUTSIDER. Alongside these seasons there will be extended runs of Awards season hits such as FIRST COW (Kelly Reichardt, 2019), NOMADLAND (Chloé Zhao, 2020) and BFI-backedAMMONITE (Francis Lee, 2020), as well as the BFI release of Aleem Khan’s powerful debut AFTER LOVE (2020), and the BFI re-release of Robert Altman’s masterpiece NASHVILLE (1975). 

Special events in May and June will include BFI Woman With a Movie Camera powered by Jaguar, previews of RARE BEASTS (2020), and the BFI Film funded WILDFIRE (2020), with both previews followed by a Q&A with their respective directors Billie Piper and Cathy Brady. There will also be a screening of DOCTOR WHO: DRAGONFIRE (BBC, 1987) to mark the forthcoming BBC Blu-ray release of Doctor Who: The Collection – Season 24 and a BFI African Odysseys screening of ULTRAVIOLENCE (2020), followed by a Q&A with directorKen Fero and contributor Janet Alder. BFI Southbank will also be a host venue for a number of partner Festivals in May and June, including the LONDON SHORT FILM FESTIVAL, BAGRI FOUNDATION LONDON INDIAN FILM FESTIVAL and TONGUES ON FIRE: UK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL


Health and safety measures including social distancing and the wearing of face coverings, will continue until government guidance advises otherwise. Full details of all measures in place to protect visitors and staff are available on the BFI website.


The ongoing Sight & Sound editorial campaign ‘My Dream Palace’, sees film industry luminaries pen their own love letters to cinemas; over the past year the campaign has celebrated and ‘kept a light burning’ while cinemas around the world were closed. Inspired by this, BFI Southbank will present DREAM PALACE: MOVIES MADE FOR THE BIG SCREEN, a season curated by filmmakers including Edgar WrightGurinder ChadhaLucaGuadagninoAsif KapadiaPrano Bailey-BondPeter StricklandFrancis Lee and many more. Our special guests, some of whom will introduce their choices in person and some virtually, have all picked the film that they would most like to see at BFI Southbank; the result is a wonderfully eclectic mix, all of which will be glorious on our dreamy big screens. Titles include: BLACK NARCISSUS (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, 1947) chosen by Edgar WrightCAR WASH (Michael Schultz, 1976) chosen by Gurinder ChadhaTHE WARRIORS(Walter Hill, 1979) chosen by Asif KapadiaFOOTLOOSE (Herbert Ross, 1984) chosen by Francis LeeBEAU TRAVAIL (Claire Denis, 1999) chosen by Kirsten JohnsonTHE ELEPHANT MAN (David Lynch, 1980) chosen by Prano Bailey-Bond and MIRROR (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975) chosen by Małgorzata Szumowska

Also running from 17 May – 30 June will be HER VOICE: BLACK WOMEN FROM THE SPOTLIGHT TO THE SCREEN – a tribute to some of the most iconic black women to have picked up a microphone, including Diana Ross, Ella Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker, Whitney Houston, Beyoncé and more. The season, programmed by film curator, writer and researcher Karen Alexander, will include music documentaries such as ELLA FITZGERALD: JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS (Leslie Woodhead, 2019), and …BUT THEN, SHE’S BETTY CARTER (Michelle Parkerson, 1980) as well as biopics about these incredible women such as WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT (Brian Gibson, 1993) starring Angela Bassett as Tina Turner. The season will also show that many of the iconic black women who were best known for their vocal performances, have also skilfully adapted their talents to film, with films such as STORMY WEATHER (Andrew L Stone, 1943) starring Lena Horne, SIREN OF THE TROPICS (Mario Nalpas, Henri Étiévant, 1927) starring Josephine Baker, DREAMGIRLS (Bill Condon, 2006) featuring Beyoncé and Jennifer Hudson and THE WIZ (Sidney Lumet, 1978) starring Diana Ross. 

Completing the line-up of seasons for BFI Southbank’s reopening will be part one of a major retrospective dedicated to one of the most distinctive and audacious American filmmakers of his time, ROBERT ALTMAN, which will run from 17 May – 31 July and include a BFI re-release of NASHVILLE (1975) on 25 June. Part one of the season will feature work from the early part of Altman’s career, from his first major hit, the anarchic black comedy M*A*S*H (1970) and his update of Raymond Chandler’s classic detective novel THE LONG GOODBYE(1973), to the magnificent live-action musical version of POPEYE (1980) and his utterly cinematic adaptation of stage play COME BACK TO THE 5 & DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN (1982).


Special events will include a BFI Woman With a Movie Camera powered by Jaguar preview of Billie Piper’s directorial debut RARE BEASTS (2020), about a chaotic and nihilistic single mother processing the painful divorce of her parents, while juggling parenthood and her career. The preview on 22 May will be followed by a Q&A with director, writer and star Billie Piper, who will discuss crafting her darkly funny and dizzyingly stylish exploration of modern women, relationships and the anxieties around ‘having it all’. Also screening in the series will be Cathy Brady’s WILDFIRE (2020), a masterclass in unease and a superbly performed study of sibling relations. Director Cathy Brady will take part in a Q&A following a screening on 20 June. WILDFIRE, which was made with support from the BFI using funds from the National Lottery, was a hit at the BFI London Film Festival in 2020, winning Brady the prestigious IWC Schaffhausen Filmmaker Bursary Award, in association with the BFI. 

BFI Southbank’s ongoing African Odysseys series will return on 26 June with a special screening ofULTRAVIOLENCE (Ken Fero, 2020), followed by a discussion with Ken Fero and contributor to the film Janet Alder, hosted by Tony Warner (African Odysseys chair and Activist in Residence at UCL). Almost two decades after their earlier film INJUSTICE, Ken Fero and Migrant Media continue their fearless exploration of UK deaths in police custody and the campaign for justice. This urgent film is a timely reminder of the powerful potential of political cinema, and will play on extended run following this special screening. On 12 June there will be a screening of DOCTOR WHO: DRAGONFIRE (BBC, 1987), to herald the forthcoming Blu-ray release of Doctor Who: The Collection – Season 24. This exciting closing story from Season 24 saw fans wave farewell to Bonnie Langford as Mel and introduced them to Sophie Aldred as Ace, the new companion to Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor.


Extended runs will include the BFI release of AFTER LOVE (2020), the powerful debut feature by writer and director Aleem Khan, who will introduce a screening on 4 June, the day it is released in cinemas UK-wide. This extraordinarily moving drama, which was supported by the BFI using funds from the National Lottery, tells the story of Mary Hussain (Joanna Scanlan), who converted to Islam when she married and, following her husband’s unexpected death years later, discovers that he had a secret life just twenty-one miles away, across the Channel in Calais. Also screening will be Francis Lee’s BFI-backed AMMONITE (2020), a love story of great intimacy and candour, Chloé Zhao’s masterly, multi-award-winning NOMADLAND (2020) and Kelly Reichardt’s subtle and touching tale of brotherhood, FIRST COW (2019). Also screening on extended run is Jerry Rothwell’s multi-award winning documentary THE REASON I JUMP (2020) which is also supported by the BFI using funds from the National Lottery; characterised by immersive surround sound and intense images, this exploration of neurodiversity is based on Naoki Higashida’s best-selling book about his life with autism. Re-releases will include the BFI release of Robert Altman’s masterpiece NASHVILLE (1975), in selected cinemas from 25 June, and the Coen Brothers’ classic tale of kidnapping and murder, FARGO (Joel Coen, 1996).


BFI Southbank will be a host venue for a number of film festivals when it reopens, including THE BAGRI FOUNDATION LONDON INDIAN FILM FESTIVAL, which returns to the big screen from on 17 June – 2 July at BFI Southbank and cinemas around London. The Festival will offer a thought-provoking, boundary-pushing array of premieres, curated classic films, and a special focus on British Asian filmmaking talent who have helped UK cinema to thrive. This focus will include a Q&A with screenwriter Hanif Kureshi following a screening of the seminal MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE (Stephen Frears, 1985) and a career interview with multi award-winning director Asif Kapadia following a screening of his stunning debut THE WARRIOR (2001). The festival screens the UK premiere of feature doc AHIMSA: GANDHI THE POWER OF THE POWERLESS (Ramesh Sharma, 2020) and the enfant terrible director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan returns to BFI Southbank with his evocative new mystery, A’HR (2020) starring one of India’s finest actresses, Manju Warrier. LIFF’s (socially distant) Opening Night will take place at BFI Southbank on 17 June, where audiences can expect some celebrities and fun surprises, including the arrival of artist Chila Kumari Burman’s WHITE TIGER promo car made for Netflix. Details of films available to stream from home and the full line-up for the Festival, which is supported by the BFI, using funds from the National Lottery, will be announced soon.

Also supported by the BFI, using funds from the National Lottery, is TONGUES ON FIRE: UK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL, at venues including BFI Southbank from 26 May – 6 June; at a time of global unrest and displacement, the curation of this year’s festival is inspired by the theme Ray of Hope. The Festival will open at BFI Southbank with the UK Premiere of RAAHGIR (Goutam Ghose, 2019) on 26 May, with a screening and Q&A. Featuring Adil Hussain, Tillotama Shome and Neeraj Kabi, this epic and elemental journey through relentless monsoon and breath-taking nature tells the story of a man and woman driven by hunger to search for work in the nearest town. The Festival will close at BFI Southbank with the World Premiere of THE BEATLES AND INDIA (Ajoy Bhose, Peter Comption, 2021) on 6 June. This fascinating documentary explores the The Beatles’ love affair with India, its religions and its culture and, in turn, the impact of their music and style on a young generation in India. Drawing on a rich array of archive and interviews, the film features leading figures such as the legendary Ravi Shankar.

The 17th edition of the LONDON SHORT FILM FESTIVAL comes to BFI Southbank from 25 – 30 June, with 5 programmes of shorts that played In Competition in this year’s Festival. I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Knowwill offer evocations of past lives and shared legacies; from the Afrofuturist currents of carnival in the Bahamas, to the mellower cadences of Patrick Cowley’s San Francisco. The Double Life Of… will be an eclectic set of character-led fiction films that dig into true selves and double lives. Compulsions, crushes and cravings come to a head in Close Quarters, a programme of films that profile the clashes and near-misses of our lives intersecting; including a lead performance from Daniel Kaluuya in TWO SINGLE BEDS (William Stefan Smith, 2020). From a dystopian far-right future, to the foot of the Eiffel Tower, to the multiplicity of black LGBTQ+ identity, the Lessons In Survival programme features films such as THE LONG GOODBYE (2020), a stunning collaboration between filmmaker Aneil Karia and actor and musician Riz Ahmed. The final programme The Devil’s in the Details is a compendium of speculative futures, dream logics and waking nightmares; these films, which include work from artist and experimental filmmaker Ben Rivers, layer fantasy over reality, from the megachurches of Lagos, to the other-worlds of Somerset’s Wookey Hole Caves. 


BFI Southbank’s ongoing BIG SCREEN CLASSICS series, where we screen essential titles on a daily basis for just £8, will spotlight THE TIMELESS BEAUTY OF BLACK-AND-WHITE from 17 May – 30 June, including classic films such as STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. (Charles F Reisner, Buster Keaton, 1928), THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (Charles Laughton, 1955) and CITIZEN KANE (Orson Welles, 1941). More recently a number of filmmakers have turned to black-and-white to tell stories, create mood and enhance meaning – titles such asTHE WHITE RIBBON (Michael Haneke, 2008), THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE (Joel Coen, 2001) and THE TANGO LESSON (Sally Potter, 1997) are exceptions to the modern norm that act as reminders that black-and-white might be a question of art, not of saving money. In addition to our £8 ticket offer for BIG SCREEN CLASSICS, audience members aged 25 and Under are able to buy tickets for BFI Southbank screenings, in advance or on the day, for just £3, through our ongoing ticket scheme for young audiences.


During the most recent lockdown BFI Southbank’s technical team have used this prolonged period of closure to make some upgrades and improvements to our biggest cinema, the 450 seat NFT1. This work has included a new screen, new sound system, improved lighting, and the imminent installation of a new laser projector. The NFT1 stage has also been adapted with a new permanent ramp to ensure the stage is completely accessible at all times; this complex piece of work (which has involved dropping the stage and raising the floor) means that event-specific temporary solutions are a thing of the past.


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