After a year of peering at movies on, at best, a flatscreen telly or at worst, a laptop (me, sorry), it’s safe to say we’re all gagging to get back into the cinema. Surround sound, high definition, no chance of burning the popcorn… what a dream. In celebration of the reopening of cinemas everywhere, the BFI has asked a clutch of amazing filmmakers and film-enablers, from Asif Kapadia to Zhu Shengze, to pick a festival-worth of movies that really need to be seen on the big screen. Dream Palace kicks off on May 17 and here, eleven film folk tell us the flicks they’ve chosen and why.
Gurinder Chadha on Car Wash (Michael Schultz, 1976)
Car Wash showed Black characters living everyday life
Car Wash was released in 1976. I was still at school and TV was showing alleged ‘comedies’ like Love Thy Neighbour and Mind Your Language. Then BOOM, Car Wash on the big screen exploded something in my brain. Here was a film with all kinds of Black characters dealing with everyday life in a myriad of ways. There was humour, pathos, music and politics. I didn’t know it then as a school girl, but this would become the currency of my films years later when I unexpectedly, against all odds, became a film maker. I love this film for showing me what affectionate, subversive film making was at such an early age.
Sarah Smith on Broadcast News (James L Brooks, 1987)
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Broadcast News is one of those films one stumbles across in a late night TV schedule. But it’s a wonderfully witty, sophisticated movie that deserves to be seen as a cinema experience. It’s a rare thing – a really intelligent adult relationship story and newsroom drama that’s properly funny, while at the same time far ahead of its time in its examination of the ethics and politics of news and television.
Holly Hunter, Albert Brooks and William Hurt are a stunning triangle (never mind Jack Nicholson and Joan Cusack in support). It’s one of the few films by legend James L Brooks – Taxi, The Simpsons, As Good As It Gets – and is such a satisfying, memorable movie with many pleasures, from the hilarious scene of a newsreader’s horrifying onscreen sweating outbreak, to the poignancy of the overlooked ‘best friend’, and an outstanding female lead. Hunter’s feisty, whip-smart, workaholic producer remains for me an iconic heroine. Am I here because I wanted to be her? Maybe.
Tricia Tuttle, BFI Festivals Director on David Byrne’s American Utopia (Spike Lee, 2020)
Not enough people have seen the film on a big screen
Films capturing stage shows rarely have the cinematic vibrancy of Spike Lee’s adaption of David Byrne’s American Utopia. Spike’s camera offers an intimacy amongst the performers, showing off the extraordinary musicality and show-craft that make Byrne and his band feel like a single organism. This film was quick to sell out at LFF last October, in that brief, beautiful window of movie-going prior to lockdown two, but very few people have seen it on the big screen.
And what a treat, with its subliminal siren calls demanding that you get up and dance in the aisles. Talking Heads classics like Once in a Lifetime and This Must Be the Place give way to Janelle Monáe’s Hell You Talmbout which compels the audience to say the names of Black victims of police brutality in America. While the staunchly political Byrne is never hectoring, it’s a charged, slightly uncomfortable moment for the mostly white, middle-aged crowd watching the show, with us in the dark watching them. It’s given extra power knowing who is behind the camera.
Asif Kapadia on The Warriors (Walter Hill, 1979)
Asif Kapadia thinks of The Warriors whenever he’s on the subway
I had an older brother, Salim; he was 10 years older and he was a huge influence on me when I was younger. He was into early hip-hop, New York street culture, breakdancing, Bruce Lee films, Johan Cruyff, and he first brought films like Taxi Driver, Evil Dead and The Warriors home on VHS tapes. I was obviously too young to watch them (but I did). I remember the VHS cover of The Warriors, with the red graffiti style writing, making a big impression.
Whenever I’ve travelled on the New York subway, the film – about turf wars between rival NYC gangs – has always come to mind. A few years ago I made a pilgrimage to Coney Island, where The Warriors are from, with the family.
Over the years I’ve seen the film many times, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it on the big screen, so I thought this was the perfect opportunity. With everything going on politically in this country, it’s a reminder that we the people outnumber the corrupt politicians, and if we come together and keep the truce, we could take this city… because it’s all our turf!
Kirsten Johnson on Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999)
You won’t forget this movie, ever
You have the chance to see Beau Travail in a movie theatre?!
Look down at your own hand and turn it over. Make a fist and search for the map of veins under the surface of your skin. Stretch your fingers. Now, remembering your body is your own, spring up and make a date with your own destiny.
You won’t forget this movie, ever, even when you are much older than you are now. You will bask in the heat of its sun. You will be in longing. You will want to go back to a place you have never been.
I can’t really count how many times I’ve seen it. But every time, I find myself prickling alive, breathing boldness, open-mouthed at the contradictions and mysteries of being human. Memories of Beau Travail float through me in the most unexpected moments. May they float with you too.