The 60th London Film Festival starts on October 5th and runs to October 16th. The official website is here. After last year’s booking cock-up I actually managed to get tickets booked in the members’ ‘window’ before they went on sale to the general public. This time booking was painless and swift online which was a relief. London is, however, even more expensive and I couldn’t believe the expense of hotels – consequently it’s just a limited trip this time. I only go for the films I don’t expect to get a release in the UK – so the most obscure by UK standards. Even so, the best seats were already gone in many venues. The ‘best seats’ in this case being the front of the centre block and also the end of row seats in the centre block.
I’m not sure if it is a new feature or if I’ve simply not noticed it before, but there is a link on the festival website that allows you to scan a Country A-Z of all 245 film titles in the festival. The festival proudly announces that 74 countries are involved – truly an international offering. But what does this actually mean? The representation of different countries is considerably skewed. By far the most films come from the US, UK and France. OK these are all major industries and that seems reasonable enough, but other major industries are seemingly under-represented. India, Japan and China (all 3 industries including Hong Kong and Taiwan) are all limited to a handful of titles. But the real issue is the relative paucity of films from Latin America, Africa and South-East Asia. Where such films do exist they are often either shorts or co-productions with European partners. London is essentially a commercial festival with an increasing emphasis on ‘Gala Screenings’.
The film offers available to me on the days I can attend this year are dominated by Arab cinema and I’m looking forward to films from different production contexts in Egypt (2), Jordan and Tunisia. Two of these are to be screened in a new 700 seat pop-up cinema on the Embankment which is described as having 4K projection and other standard features. Sounds interesting, but rather an extravagant gesture if it is to be dismantled after 12 days of screenings. I was intrigued to discover that one of the titles I had chosen, Divines by Houda Benyamina, was promoted by Jonathan Romney in yesterday’s Observer as one of his five festival picks so I’m particularly looking forward to my trip down to the Ritzy in Brixton.
Out of curiosity I’ve been looking back at old brochures of previous BFI Festivals. I looked in detail at the 18th Festival in 1974. The festival has grown enormously over the last forty years. In 1974 Festival Director Ken Wlaschin was responsible for 50 features and 70 shorts using just NFT 1 and 2 plus two West End cinemas for Sunday Hollywood showcases. London was then a ‘festival of festivals’ and this meant that the programme was packed with established and ‘coming’ global auteurs. I’ve included the booking form here and if you click on the image you should be able to see the whole programme. In his introduction Wlaschin welcomes us to a festival featuring Bresson, Tati, Jancsó, Franju, Welles, Fassbinder, Resnais, Rivette, Peter Hall, Wiseman, Szabó, Olmi, the Taviani Brothers, Kobayashi, Saura, Widerberg, Borowczyk and Kluge (Wlaschin’s listing – I’ve missed off a couple). It’s quite a list and I note from the booking form that I saw Wim Wenders’ Alice in the Cities as well as Fassbinder’s Effie Briest – this was the breakthrough year for New German Cinema. I’m not arguing the festival was ‘better’ then, just noting how much it has changed. Most films then were European art/specialised films. The major plus is that now all films are subtitled and we don’t have to suffer ‘earphone commentary’ through those dreadful old bakelite headsets!
Reports on new films coming at the end of next week after my visit.