BFI Player – What To Watch, and Why


We are really pleased to be partnering with BFI Player to offer GFT audiences access to some of the best films from cinema history. While our doors are closed, BFI are supporting us with a promotional offer for all GFT CineCard members, who will receive a special code that extends the standard 14-day BFI Player free trial to 6 weeks. And if you’re a CineCard member who has already used the 14-day trial, you will still receive 4 additional weeks of free access with the code.

Alongside the offer, GFT has its very own page on the BFI Player, where we’ve curated our selection of titles from the hundreds available. Of course, you can browse and watch whatever you want, but we’ve highlighted 24 films to get you started.

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Indie Gems

BFI Player is stuffed with early work from now-established indie greats. Andrea Arnold’s atmospheric and haunting debut Red Road is fascinating for its setting in the formerly iconic Glasgow flats, and features a rare lead role for one of Scotland’s hardest-working actors, Kate Dickie. Short Term 12 is a brilliant little drama from 2013 about care workers in a teen residential home. It stars a host of actors who were all on the cusp of breaking out, including Oscar-winners Brie Larson and Rami Malek, Booksmart’s Kaitlyn Dever and LaKeith Stanfield (Get Out, Sorry to Bother You). 

Two low-key gems from female directors dig up stories of backwater America – Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves is a brooding environmental thriller with Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning, while on the Canadian border, Frozen River features an amazing lead performance from Melissa Leo as a single mum eking out an existence and driven to consider drug smuggling. It earned writer/director Courtney Hunt a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her unsparing screenplay.

Filmmaker Alex Ross Perry has carved a niche with his dramas that look unflinchingly at characters best described as ‘difficult’, and Jason Schwartzmann’s misanthropic author in Listen Up Philip certainly fits that description. The film is a dark and uncomfortably funny picture of an all-too-real narcissist creative, also featuring a typically brilliant performance from Elisabeth Moss.

Last in this section is Once, one of the most original musicals of recent times. From Irish director John Carney (Sing Street), it tells the story of a Dublin busker and Czech immigrant who meet and spark a connection, both musically and romantically. Thanks to beautifully naturalistic performances from real-life musicians Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, it’s a moving and joyful watch, with great songs.

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The World Beyond Hollywood

BFI have always made a point of seeking out the best cinema outside of America and introducing audiences to the whole world of film, and the same is true on the Player. Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos had his biggest hit to date with The Favourite in 2018, but his 2009 film Dogtoothis still arguably his finest achievement. This disturbing story of a family intentionally self-isolated from the world, living in a culture completely created by the parents, gains new relevance and terror in our own current period of isolation. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, The Cave of the Yellow Dog is a family-friendly tale of a nomadic Mongolian family, seen through the eyes of the little daughter, who finds a stray dog that becomes her closest ally. It’s a lovingly observed story that gently introduces all-age audiences to a part of the world they would never otherwise know.

Moving to Hungary, Ildikó Enyedi’s 1989 debut My 20th Century is a historical drama like no other. It is a surreal and funny tale of technology, invention and feminism, told through the story of twin girls, Dora and Lili, who are born in 1880 Budapest on the same moment Thomas Edison presents his electrical lightbulb to the world. Reminiscent of the films of David Lynch and Guy Maddin, but also entirely its own thing, this is a true one-off.

A further trio of groundbreaking female directors complete this whistle-stop world tour: Mia Hansen-Løve’s French dance music epic Eden is an evocative ‘90s period piece, Daisies from Czech New Wave pioneer Vera Chytilová is a thrilling celebration of rebellion against state authority, and Tomboy, made by recent GFT CineMaster Céline Sciamma, is a tender and affecting story of a young 10-year-old’s exploration of gender identity.

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Stone Cold Classics

Of course, the cornerstone of the BFI Player is presenting the greats of cinema history; these are our picks from what’s currently available. Two titans of Japanese cinema, Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa, are very well represented on the Player. Tokyo Story is in many ways the definitive Ozu film, a profoundly moving tale about generational differences and family responsibility, told in Ozu’s immediately recognisable style: low camera, fixed frames, patient storytelling. From Kurosawa, Rashomonstands as one of the most influential films of all time, in terms of structure and the possibilities of storytelling. It concerns a rape and murder in a Japanese forest, told from the perspectives of four different characters, who give conflicting accounts. Darkly atmospheric, the film holds up the idea that the truth is ultimately unknowable.

The Blue Angel created an icon in Marlene Deitrich, and remains stunning 90 years on from its release. Another German cinema classic, Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, is equally deserving of praise – its story of an angel above Berlin who chooses to join the human world is the closest to poetic perfection that cinema has ever come. For a different kind of poetry (in motion), Buster Keaton’s The General is a supremely entertaining story of a runaway train during the American Civil War, that can still induce gasps of joy. 

Lastly, this selection of greats wouldn’t be complete without a creaky horror story, and The Old Dark House is just that. Made by Frankenstein director James Whale, it’s a great fun comedy-horror, about a group of stranded travellers who seek shelter in the house of the title. But the family who live there are anything but ordinary…  

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And There’s More

BFI Player has a rich selection of documentaries, including James Marsh’s Oscar-winner Man On Wire. Told like a heist film, this gripping doc focuses on Philippe Petit, a French tightrope walker who in 1974 set himself the impossible task of wire-walking between the newly-constructed twin towers in Manhattan. The film reveals Petit to be a flawed and fascinating individual, and is a brilliant study of the pursuit of a mad vision.

A more experimental approach to documentary is found in Gabrielle Brady’s Island of the Hungry Ghosts – a multi-faceted and moving study of Christmas Island, one of the last-discovered places on earth. Home to a unique mix of natural life, the island also houses a massive detention facility for asylum seekers. The film follows trauma counsellor Poh Lin Lee, exploring the island’s stunning landscapes, its violent past and its inescapable present.

The third documentary our selection highlights is Of Love & Law, a lovely observational doc about the lives of Fumi and Kazu, who run the first and only law firm in Japan set up by an openly gay couple. Driven by their own experience as outsiders, the law firm attracts a range of clients that reveals the hidden diversity of a country that prides itself on collective obedience, politeness and conformity.

Our selection concludes with My Childhood, My Ain Folk and My Way Home, three films that make up a trilogy by inspirational Scottish filmmaker Bill Douglas. Made between 1972 and 1978, these three autobiographically-inspired films depict his impoverished childhood and young adulthood, growing up in a Scottish mining town. Shot in black and white with very precise, spare use of sound, these films convey the reality of this life, as Douglas skilfully uses cinema’s empathic tools to draw us in, to feel and know his experience.

Click here to enjoy our selection on BFI Player, and head on over to Twitter to let us know what you think of the films #AtHomeWithGFT

Paul Gallagher
GFT Programme Manager


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