We are taught from a young age never to judge a book by its cover. An idiom passed down from one generation to the next to encourage acceptance and a search for meaning below surface appearance, its essence is too often lost by ignorance, misunderstanding or sheer mean-spiritedness. Jane Gull’s debut feature My Feral Heart – premiering at this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival – is led by an extraordinary young actor who, in his lifetime, is likely to have been subjected to such mistreatment. It revolves around Luke (Stephen Brandon), a young man with Down Syndrome.

Understanding, in every sense of the word, is the essence of Swedish filmmaker Jonny von Wallström’s deeply personal, frequently galling documentary, The Pearl of Africa. Compassion and comprehension are the principle objectives of a film that aims to spread awareness, enlightenment and with any hope, much needed societal change.

Many artists down the years have crooned that breaking up is hard to do and cinema has forever shared a similarly morbid fascination with this particular hardship. Again returning to the everyday domesticity of family life, but with significantly less psychological brutality than his 2012 film Our Children, Belgian director Joachim Lafosse’s latest feature, After Love, is an unrelentingly dour take on divorce and the agonisingly slow death rattle of what was once, presumably, a loving relationship. 

There’s something deeply unsettling about the unstoppable, magma-like flow of Werner Herzog’s Into the Inferno. Imperceptibly bubbling away in time with the veteran filmmaker’s monotone delivery, and left-field, impenetrable musings on mankind’s interaction with the natural world, this documentary may concern itself with the incendiary hostility of some of Earth’s most dangerous volcanic activity but the tentacled rivulets of human consciousness attributed to these volatile mountains of fire seep under the skin to chilling effect.

“Try not to fuck it up, but don’t worry if you do.” Full of late twenties anguish and uncertainty, this rather tongue in cheek mantra could be applied to many aspects of Chanya Button’s Burn Burn Burn, a film which champions the notion of trying again, and again, if at first you don’t succeed. It’s clear throughout the young director’s debut feature that this project has been a labour of love both on and off-screen; a meandering tale of trial and error in which she, and a tremendous cast, have invested a great deal.

Set for its launch with an opening night gala showing of Mandla Dube’s Apartheid-era biopic, Kalushi: The Story of Solomon Mahlungu, Film Africa 2016 is the Royal African Society’s 6th annual celebration of cinema from right across the continent. Narrative film and documentaries from South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana, Chad, Mali and many other nations, tell compelling, insightful and thought-provoking stories and explore crucial current affairs relating to migration, urbanisation, sexuality, political freedom and much more.

Most people would gladly, and rightly, watch Isabelle Huppert act in just about anything, such is her peerless talent and effortless screen presence. In Belgian director Bavo Defurne’s Souvenir – one of two films the great French actress appears in at LFF this year, alongside Elle – she plays a former nearly-winner of the Eurovision Song Contest.

Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have justly developed a brand of filmmaking synonymous with targeted, dispassionate but engrossing social realism. The Unknown Girl, the latest endeavour co-written, produced and directed by the pair, features in the Debate strand of the 2016 London Film Festival but sadly is unlikely to spark the heated thematic discussions they had perhaps hoped to achieve.

Their Finest is a nostalgic, jolly hockey sticks moving picture. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. “Authenticity informed by optimism” is the name of the game for British propaganda productions concerned with the morale of a blitzed public in the early years of World War Two and Danish director Lone Scherfig’s film about filmmaking opts for a similar spirit of stiff upper-lipped positivity. It’s full of the keep calm and carry on attitude which characterised the era, where people firmly believe that a cup of tea can solve all.

Lion, the debut feature from Australian director Garth Davis, is the tale of a tiny needle in a very large haystack and perseverance against all odds. By turns tragic, deeply moving and heartfelt, it tells the remarkable true story of a young Indian boy, played in his childhood by Sunny Pawar and later in life by Dev Patel, who is lost at a train station and must find himself – both literally and figuratively – later in life.