On my train down to the London Film Festival this year I read a comment piece in the i newspaper in which David Lister wondered why the LFF existed. Here is the whole paragraph:
Does London really need a film festival?
The London Film Festival opened this week . . . and I wish it hadn’t. I have argued before, and I still maintain, that London is the wrong place for a film festival. A country’s premier film festival should be held outside the capital city, just as the more illustrious film festivals are Cannes, not Paris, Venice, not Rome, and Sundance not Washington. A festival is a time to shine a light on another city, bring publicity, revenue, stars and filmgoers to it. And in a city like London, already full of films and cinemas, premieres and stars, most citizens don’t even notice that the London Film Festival is happening.
There are aspects of this I agree with. He’s right that film premieres and red carpets, especially in Leicester Square, are ten a penny in London. The commercial ‘festival on the square’ adds nothing to film culture – many of the ‘gala films’ will open in the West End within days or weeks of their LFF screenings. On the other hand the Q&A sessions with directors from outside Hollywood are culturally valuable since these directors are unlikely to be interviewed in the UK media. Avoiding the gala films I have to say that the LFF programmers usually choose very well from the films available on the festival circuit. I’ve been attending the festival on and off since the 1970s and I’m grateful for the opportunity to see a wide selection of films from around the world. Screenings of films like Solaris (USSR 1972) or Ichikawa Kon’s The Wanderers (Japan 1973) in Leicester Square on a big screen were events I’ll never forget. I think it was also the LFF that introduced me to the Fifth Generation of Chinese directors in the mid 1980s. Now the big Leicester Square events are invariably Hollywood films with red carpets and the highest seat prices. Lister’s idea is a good one – why doesn’t the BFI sponsor a festival in another UK city, one which needs a bit of film glamour – Birmingham perhaps? It would be good to see London Film Festival return to focusing primarily on this global films from the festival circuit that don’t otherwise get a UK showing. It’s worth reminding BFI management that the Institute is a national cultural agency promoting film culture and film industry in the UK. It isn’t part of the London tourist business.
Despite my qualms I enjoyed my brief visit and it was good to visit Hackney Picturehouse and Curzon Mayfair as venues new to me for festival screenings. Since I usually moan about screenings at multiplexes I should also say that my visits to the big screens at the Vues in the West End (once the Warner) and Islington were very enjoyable.