The London Film Festival had its opening night on Wednesday 13th October with Never Let Me Go and it runs to 28th October with screenings across London, but with a focus on BFI Southbank and the Vue West End in Leicester Square. This week I hope to report on a four day visit to the festival. It’s something like 20 years since I last visited the LFF and a lot has changed since then.
The new BBC Film 2010 programme started on Wednesday and included an item on the festival. What came across was the relatively recent sense of celebrity appearances and glitz and glamour. The rather gushing coverage emphasised the big name titles in the programme and the claim that London is up there with Cannes, Berlin, Venice and Toronto. I don’t think it is – yet. But there is clearly a determination to push it in that direction, indicated partly by extra public funding going to London and an assumption that it has now eclipsed Edinburgh as the UK’s premier festival. It was always bigger than Edinburgh, but arguably less exciting and it didn’t have prizes. It also came later in the year when most high profile films had already been seen at Berlin, Cannes etc. London was in a sense conceived as a festival of festivals – screening the best of the other festivals. The highpoint was often the archive screenings of restored prints. Those are still there but have receded into the background a little. British Cinema has generally grown in importance as a festival strand and now there are five prizes/awards. Two of these, the BFI Fellowship and the Grierson Documentary Award have been there for longer than I can remember but now there is The Sutherland Award for the director of the most original and imaginative feature début, The Best British Newcomer Award and the Best Film prize. I find the explanation in the brochure confusing but at least one of the above gets a ‘Star of London’ trophy.
In addition, the LFF now has higher profile industry events alongside the programme of Q & As and Master Classes. I know that Rona is going to cover a couple of screenings with personal appearances. The main strands of the festival alongside New British Cinema are the Gala Screenings and ‘Film on the Square’, both offering the highest profile films with a strong Anglo-American showing. ‘French Revolutions’, ‘Cinema Europa’ and ‘World Cinema’ are self-explanatory. ‘Experimenta’, Treasures from the Archive and Shorts make up the other strands. Finally there are education events, but these aren’t listed in the main programme.
My own interest is in the ‘World Cinema’ and ‘Cinema Europa’ strands, though I’m also going to take in a couple of French films since the festival timetable dictates what’s on offer at the times I can go. My reasoning is that most of these are films that I might never get to see distributed in the UK. I can’t see the point in scrambling for tickets for a film that will be released everywhere a few weeks later. So, I’m afraid my choices will be pretty obscure, but I am aiming to see films from Egypt, Bolivia, Singapore, Zimbabwe and Lebanon and I’m hoping for some surprises.