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Mangrove
Photograph: BBC

Steve McQueen’s ‘Mangrove’ to open the BFI London Film Festival

It’s dedicated to George Floyd and you can catch it for free at cinemas across the UK

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In a shift from tradition to adjust to these unprecedented times, Steve McQueen’s made-for-TV drama ‘Mangrove’ will open this year’s BFI London Film Festival. The film, which forms part of the Londoner’s five-part ‘Small Axe’ anthology, will get the new-look hybrid LFF underway on October 7.

Starring Letitia Wright from ‘Black Panther’ and Shaun Parkes (‘Human Traffic’), and co-written by McQueen and Alastair Siddons, ‘Mangrove’ tells the story of the Mangrove Nine, a group of Black activists whose participation in a 1970 protest march in west London ended in arrest and then a game-changing court battle. 

It’s the European premiere of the film – which also plays at the New York Film Festival in September – and tickets are free for simultaneous screenings at BFI Southbank and cinemas across the country. 

This represents McQueen’s second LFF opener in three years, with ‘Widows’ kicking off the festival in 2018, and brings an important and timely slice of London’s social history to the screen. ‘I couldn’t be happier that ‘‘Mangrove’’ will open this year’s BFI London Film Festival,’ says McQueen. ‘Although the themes are universal, [it] is a London story. It may have happened 50 years ago, but it’s as relevant today as it was then.’

‘[“Small Axe”] could not be more timely in the context of recent global protests around anti-Black racism and inequality,’ says festival director Tricia Tuttle, ‘and McQueen has been a powerful voice in challenging the status quo and demanding inclusion within the British film industry.’

This will be a second homecoming of the year for McQueen. The artist-filmmaker’s Tate Modern exhibition opened in February to rave reviews.

Instead of the traditional 12-day feast of movies mainly screened in West End venues, the streamlined LFF will be a predominantly virtual event between October 7 and 18. It will take in cinemas across the UK for the first time in its 63-year history: alongside ‘Mangrove’, there will be 12 other previews available to cinemagoers, to accompany 50 films that will be available via VOD. 

For those who can’t stream or attend the festival screenings, the whole ‘Small Axe’ pentalogy will air on the BBC and stream in the US via Amazon Prime in the autumn. 

Looking to support your local film house through this difficult period? Buy a membership to one of London’s independent cinemas.

A free audio movie tour is coming to Leicester Square.

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