58th BFI London Film Festival

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The 58th BFI London Film Festival closed on Sunday after offering an enormous range of films over 12 days across 17 venues (and other one-offs). The festival screened 248 features and 148 shorts. I managed 10 in three days. Even if I’d kept that up for the whole twelve days I would only just have scraped a bit off the surface. The only way to see four films a day (given that screenings tend not to start until 12.00 at the earliest) is to choose one you want to see and then work out the other titles you can fit round it. Even so, I found myself dashing between venues more than 30 minutes apart by public transport.

All the films I saw were worthwhile. Most were very enjoyable and some were painful  but still interesting. I think three of the ten will get a UK release soon and one of those is one of the best films I’ve seen this year. Four of the films were directed by women and six of the screenings included Q & As with the director. Overall then the festival can certainly be made to work as a celebration of film culture. I’ve no complaints about what I experienced on screen. I do think, however, that since I first attended it some forty years ago the London Film Festival has become too big and too commercial. There are now as many ‘Gala’ screenings (mainly of UK/US films that will soon be released anyway) as high profile screenings from other festivals. The programme with its sections on ‘Love’, ‘Dare’, ‘Laughter’ etc. is very difficult to navigate. Archive restorations are buried in these sections and there is no easy way to find say Indian or Chinese films. In some ways, the festival is like ‘BFI Southbank’ as we are now supposed to call the BFI’s HQ – efficient, modern, ‘popular’ but also for me a little soulless and missing the excitement of smaller festivals. Of the screening venues, I was in NFT2 for three screenings and I think it’s time it was replaced – it’s a rather cramped rectangular shape with a screen that’s too small. I was lucky that four of my films were showing in the largest of the screens at the Vue West End and I enjoyed the CinemaScope presentations on the big screen.

Reviews to follow over the next few days.

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