Culture

Composer Jóhann Jóhannsson arthouse film debut Last and First Men lands on BFI Player

Following its premiere at the 2020 Berlin Film Festival, the debut and only feature film by the Oscar-nominated Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, Last and First Men, will make its streaming debut on the BFI player July 30.

Based on Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future, a visionary sci-fi novel written in 1930 by British author Olaf Stapledon, the film is set two billion years in the future, with humanity on the verge of extinction. It’s narrated by Tilda Swinton.

A mix of music, image and narration, Jóhannsson described it as “a film that straddles the border of fiction and documentary. It is a meditation on memory and failed Utopia, contextualized through the literary mode of science fiction.”

Last and First Men was a long-term passion project of Jóhann Jóhannsson (The Theory of Everything, Sicario, Arrival), developed over many years and completed by his collaborators after his untimely death in 2018. 

Jóhannsson won a Golden Globe for Best Original Score in 2015 for his work on The Theory of Everything

Last and First Men is an experiential feature

Jóhannsson’s orchestral score is set to 16mm black and white footage shot by cinematographer and co-producer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen (Victoria, Rams) of the giant abstract brutalist monuments known as Spomeniks, erected during the communist era in the former Yugoslavia. 

A world premiere live performance took place at the Manchester International Festival in 2017 with the BBC Philharmonic orchestra.

Jóhannsson won a Golden Globe for Best Original Score in 2015 for his work on The Theory of Everything, the story of Stephen Hawking, as well as Oscar nominations for his scores for both Sicario and The Theory of Everything. He received BAFTA nominations for both, along with Arrival

Behind the scenes of Last and First Men

After Johannsson’s death, his team of collaborators returned to complete the advanced edit, with sound artist and composer Yair Elazar Glotman finishing the music. 

“The music feels like its own character,” says Glotman. “It has its own physical entity.”

In addition to its digital release and theatrical screenings, the production team are hoping to tour the film with live orchestras in the future.

The soundtrack to Last and First Men was released by Deutsche Grammophon digitally and on CD and vinyl earlier this year.

About Steve May

Creator of Home Cinema Choice magazine, Steve muses and reviews for Trusted Reviews, T3, TechRadar, Home Cinema Choice, Ideal Home, The Luxe Review, Channel News and the i newspaper. He’s also the editor of professional home cinema website Inside CI, and contributor to industry trade magazine ERT. He's on Twitter and Instagram as @SteveMay_UK

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