Your definitive guide to autumn’s releases – from a powerful doc about Syria’s civil war to a period drama remake starring every actor you’ve ever loved
2019 has been a remarkable year for international and independent cinema. We’ve enjoyed thought-provoking docs about Chelsea Manning, the Satanic Temple and a nonagenarian sex therapist in XY Chelsea, Hail Satan? and Ask Dr Ruth; powerfully moving, thoughtfully intimate dramas about family, sexuality and identity in The Farewell, We the Animals and Girl; and award-winning queer blockbusters with The Favourite and Boy Erased. The second half of the year looks to be just as tantalising – alongside recommendations from the BFI’s Kate Taylor, here are our pick of docs, indie features and big-hitters that you won’t want to miss.
For Sama, September 13
Quite simply, For Sama is one of the most powerful, moving and necessary pieces of filmmaking of the last decade. Directed by Emmy award-winning filmmakers Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts, the doc is equal parts intimate and epic in the way it captures one woman’s experience of war. A love letter from a young mother to her daughter, For Sama tells the story of al-Kateab’s life through five years of the uprising in Aleppo, Syria as she falls in love, gets married and gives birth, while cataclysmic conflict rises around her. “I couldn’t step back from the protests, nor from the worst affected parts of Aleppo. I was mixed between the journalist I want to be and the woman who’s witnessing this and participating in it,” she told AnOther. It’s an urgent and deeply personal witness to events that are all too often digested and discarded in an endlessly churning news cycle.
Honeyland, September 13
In a deserted Macedonian village, Hatidze tends to her bedridden mother, her cats, dogs and countless swarms of wild bees, nestled precariously in handmade hives embedded deep in the mountainside. One of the region’s last wild beekeepers, Honeyland documents the change brought to Hatidze’s peaceful kingdom, as serenades and secret chants give way to roaring engines, seven shrieking children and 150 cows that risk destroying her way of life forever. It’s a vivid, visually stunning and emotionally rich story about one woman’s struggle for survival in a world which prioritises industry over ecological harmony. Poetic, contemplative and thought-provoking it prompts audiences to rethink our relationship to the natural world.
The Goldfinch, September 27
Adapted from Donna Tartt’s globally acclaimed best-selling novel – the story won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction – The Goldfinch promises to be a stirring, cinematic epic. Directed by Brooklyn’s BAFTA-winning John Crowley, starring an unrivaled cast, the film follows Theo Decker from the age of 13 after his mother is killed during a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum Of Art. This tragedy changes the course of his life, sending Decker on a fraught and deeply moving odyssey of grief, guilt, reinvention, redemption and love.
Mystify: Michael Hutchence, October 18
A journey into the heart and soul of Michael Hutchence, internationally renowned lead-singer of INXS, Mystify is a complex study of a shy man who spent much of his life in the public eye. Cataloguing the beginnings of Michael’s fractured family life, to the peaks of his rock stardom and the depths of his subsequent decline after a freak accident in Copenhagen, Mystify is a touching portrait of one man’s struggle to reckon with personal and professional collapse.
Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project, October 2 & 4 (London Film Festival)
Marion Stokes was a librarian, computer collector and Star Trek-loving civil rights activist who decided to record TV news broadcasts over the span of 30 years. This kaleidoscopic documentary from Matt Wolf explores her obsession, and the powerful legacy of her amateur archive – with its prescient belief that mass media would rewire viewer’s thoughts – sound-tracked by a mesmeric Owen Pallet score.
County Lines, October 8 & 9 (London Film Festival)
There’s a surge of strong British debuts playing at LFF this year, marking a new energy in UK filmmaking, and here Henry Blake dazzles with a controlled and disquieting drama about a 14-year-old London boy being used as a mule by nationwide drug traffickers. It’s a moody and exquisitely composed film with an unflinching look at violence, and a knockout performance from young talent-to-watch Conrad Khan.
Heart, October 8 & 10 (London Film Festival)
Jeong Ga-young is a South Korean director making mumblecore-esqe indie dramas, in which she stars as a filmmaker, often (ab)using her power to try to seduce men. There’s something Sophie Calle-like about her characters’ brazenness, and in Heart she’s at her jaw-dropping-worst/best, making for an exquisitely uncomfortable mix of exploitation and vulnerability.
Ema, October 11 & 12 October (London Film Festival)
Dancer Ema and her choreographer husband have made a massive mistake with their adopted son, and now she’s on a mission to put it right. Set to a booming reggaeton soundtrack, and with a plot that explodes with multiplicities of sexual expression, Ema is the most invigorating cinema-going experience you’ll have this year.
Burning Cane, October 11 & 12 (London Film Festival)
There’s an inevitable buzz about the youth of director Phillip Youmans – who won the top prize at Tribeca for this directorial debut aged 19. But the real appeal of this woozy portrait of a Louisiana family and their pastor, is Youmans’ astonishingly bold filmmaking style, placing audiences in a heightened sensory state, immersed within the bleak, alcohol-infused world that he has created.
Monos, October 25
In Alejandro Landes’s intensely thrilling twist on Lord of the Flies, Julianne Nicholson plays a terrorised American engineer held captive by teenage guerilla bandits in an unnamed South American jungle. Leaderless and rootless, the child soldiers puff themselves up with names like Rambo, Smurf, and Bigfoot, and survive the tedium and predation of the wilderness through sexual games and cult-like rituals. As they wage physical and psychological warfare on perceived enemies – and, inevitably, among themselves – they are reduced to a state of desperate barbarism. This is a tense and captivating watch, pregnant with surreal menace and a discordant soundscape.
The Report, November 15
Following 9/11, the CIA operated ‘enhanced interrogation’, an intelligence programme they claimed was “safe, legal and effective”. In truth what they built was brutal, twisted and incompetent. The Report tells the real-life story of Daniel J. Jones, a senate staffer who worked for six years with a very small team to reveal that truth, and to hold America’s institutions accountable in the face of cynical politics and fear.