Mangrove stars socially distance at opening night of London Film Festival

Tap above to watch video report by Ronke Phillips

Director Sir Steve McQueen and stars Letitia Wright, Malachi Kirby, Rochenda Sandall and Shaun Parkes posed for socially distanced photos on the opening night of the BFI London Film Festival.

Their film Mangrove, part of Sir Steve’s Small Axe anthology for the BBC, opened the festival with screenings at the BFI Southbank and around the country as part of its new regional programme.

Some 13 of the 50-plus films on the line-up will screen in cinemas around the country, while others will receive virtual premieres on the BFI Player, and the public will also be able to access free talks with the filmmakers and stars including George Clooney.

Mangrove tells the story of the march of 150 protesters of West Indian, African and South Asian heritage in Notting Hill, west London.

Director Steve McQueen and actress Letitia Wright attend the European premiere of Mangrove

They marched to local police stations in protest against police harassment in their communities including the Mangrove restaurant, and nine protest leaders – Frank Crichlow, Darcus Howe, Altheia Jones-LeCointe, Barbara Beese, Rupert Boyce, Rhodan Gordon, Anthony Innis, Rothwell Kentish and Godfrey Millett – were arrested and charged with incitement to riot.

The group later became known as the Mangrove Nine.

The celebration of cinema will also have an expanded online presence this year, prompted by the coronavirus pandemic and concerns over accessibility.

Director Steve McQueen at the European premiere of Mangrove

Tricia Tuttle, director of festivals for the British Film Institute, said the 2020 festival was designed as a “hybrid model” so it could still go ahead in the event of a second wave of the pandemic that would prevent in-person screenings.

She said: “While the cinemas plan is massively important to us and we passionately believe in the collective viewing experience and we love working with all the cultural venues that we are working with, there is still the London Film Festival even if we have to lockdown – 54 films from over 40 countries on our digital cinema, free talks and events, Q&As with filmmakers, virtual awards – it will still be a festival no matter what happens and it is still the most inclusive ever.

“While I so hope we don’t have to forgo the cinemas programme, we did design the festival knowing that could be a possibility.”

Other films in the line-up include closing night offering Ammonite, starring Saoirse Ronan and Kate Winslet; Supernova, starring Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci as a couple grappling with the quick progression of dementia; the new Pixar film Soul, featuring the voice of Jamie Foxx; Shirley, starring Elisabeth Moss; One Night In Miami, the directorial debut of actress Regina King, and Mogul Mowgli, starring Riz Ahmed, who also co-wrote the script; as well as Chloe Zhao’s eagerly anticipated Nomadland, starring Frances McDormand.