LONDON (AP) — The London Film Festival opens Wednesday with a movie about race, class and love — set in the 1940s but still entirely timely.
Amma Asante's "A United Kingdom" stars David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike in the true story of an interracial romance between a Botswanan prince and a London office worker that scandalized both their homelands in the 1940s.
It's the first film by a black female director to open the 60-year-old festival — and a symbol of its commitment to encouraging diversity in the film industry.
"With our opening night choice we are always looking for a film that both tells a British story and enables us to establish a talking point that carries throughout the festival," said festival director Clare Stewart. "This year's opening film does all those things brilliantly."
Last year's festival opened with Sarah Gavron's "Suffragette," and included events looking at women's representation in the film business. This year, performers, producers and filmmakers will attend a symposium on why black actors remain underrepresented onscreen in Britain and the United States.
Stewart sees a sign of progress in festival entry "Queen of Katwe," a Disney-produced chess-prodigy drama. Directed by Indian-born U.S. filmmaker Mira Nair and starring Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong'o, it's a family-friendly film made in Africa with an entirely black cast — a first for Disney.
"It's very exciting to see a studio telling what is a very African story," Stewart said.
The 12-day festival lineup includes Nate Parker's slave-revolt drama "The Birth of a Nation," whose reception has been clouded by a years-old rape allegation against its director. It also includes Spike Lee's "Chi-Raq," a satirical look at inner-city violence that Stewart calls "a dazzling rage-fueled hip-hop musical"; and "Lion," which stars Dev Patel in the true story of a young man who used Google Earth to track down his birth family in India.
Founded in 1957 to show the best of the year's world cinema to a British audience, the London festival has boosted its profile in recent years with bigger movies, more glittering stars and a reputation for promoting emerging awards-season contenders.
This year's lineup of 245 fiction and documentary features abounds in films generating awards buzz on the back of premieres at Sundance, Cannes, Venice or Toronto.
Gala features include Damien Chazelle's effervescent musical "La La Land," starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone; Kenneth Lonergan's emotionally powerful "Manchester by the Sea"; Denis Villeneuve's sci-fi drama "Arrival"; Tom Ford's moody "Nocturnal Animals"; and Lone Scherfig's "Their Finest," a tale of British wartime filmmaking starring Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy.
A jury led by director Athina Rachel Tsangari will award the prize for best film on Oct. 15 from a list of nominees that includes Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven's provocative revenge thriller "Elle," Barry Jenkins' Miami coming-of-age drama "Moonlight" and Chilean director Pablo Larrain's poet biopic "Neruda."
The festival wraps up Oct. 16 with "Free Fire," a high-energy comic thriller from British director Ben Wheatley.
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