BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL EMBRACES CHANGE
by Tora Chung
October 2, 2012
As a film festival veteran—both filmgoer and former staffer—I found myself suffering from festival fatigue. After years of film-viewing marathons, I had lost the ‘festive’ in film festival.
What I’d previously loved about the experience—discovering gems that I wouldn’t otherwise have access to, swapping recommendations with fellow cinephiles, impromptu dancing in the aisles while watching a concert film, unpredictable and sometimes even cringe-worthy moments during Q&A’s—had lost their charms as I began to grow weary of all that time spent in the dark.
But when I saw the changes that this year’s BFI London Film Festival has lined up, I wondered: Can an old festival learn new tricks?
The LFF may be 56 this year but there is no shortage of ‘tricks’ up its sleeve. Spearheading the changes is new festival director Clare Stewart. “I definitely come in with an approach,” says the former director of the Sydney Film Festival, who brings with her some new world energy.
For the first time, select films will compete in one of three programs: Official Competition, First Feature Competition and Documentary
Competition. In addition, a best British newcomer prize will be awarded.
Stewart believes the introduction of competitive sections will bolster the festival’s international reputation. “It puts you in the playing field with festivals like Cannes, Venice and Berlin.” But the focus, she says, will remain on the audience experience instead of on the industry. “I’m much more about the idea of films competing rather than festivals competing,”
The structure of the program will be based not on geography, but on themes—LOVE, DEBATE, DARE, LAUGH, THRILL, CULT, JOURNEYS, SONIC, FAMILY—making it easier for filmgoers to navigate and choose films that match their tastes.
Additional venues this year in Shoreditch, Islington and Hackney will bring new audiences to the festival, says Stewart. “Whether it’s a film aficionado diving straight into our festival program or a moviegoer coming to the festival for the first time–more screenings, more venues and more London boroughs makes it a film festival for everyone.”
Tim Burton’s black and white 3D stop-motion animated feature FRANKENWEENIE will open the festival, simultaneously premiering in 30 cinemas across England. Tim Burton (who now makes London his home) and his wife Helena Bonham-Carter are expected to attend.
The highly anticipated CROSSFIRE HURRICANE, by documentary filmmaker Brett Morgen, is a portrait of rock legends The Rolling Stones. “Everyone was wondering if the Stones would show up for the closing night of the Olympics,” laughs Stewart. “They didn’t—but we got them!” The screening will be simulcast in 200 cinemas around the UK and beyond.
The unconventional LIAR’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY: THE UNTRUE STORY OF MONTY PYTHON’S GRAHAM CHAPMAN is an animated fictional account of comedian Graham Chapman’s life. Fellow Monty Python members Terry Jones and Michael Palin are expected to attend.
Closing this year’s festival will be Mike Newell’s visually stunning adaptation of GREAT EXPECTATIONS, starring Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter, just in time for Charles Dickens’ bicentenary.
Stewart is keenly aware of the “palpable energy” created by the recent Olympics and expects it to carry through to the festival. “It feels like a very rich time for the UK in terms of its sense of self and interest in culture. There is definitely a feeling in the air of people wanting more.” And more is definitely what they’re going to get when the festival opens on October 10th.
225 fiction and documentary features
68 countries represented
34 European Premieres
15 International Premieres
14 World Premieres
Dates: October 10 – 21
Tickets on sale now at: 56th BFI London Film Festival