This year’s Festival had a very strong programme, reflected in the positive response by many of the audience to the overall programme. In terms of numbers there were 35,000 admissions who enjoyed 270 separate screenings and events. I am uncertain how the numbers stack up with previous years. Reports from friends and colleagues suggested that a number of screenings had smaller audiences than in previous years though there were also quite a number of sell-outs. I have to confess that I was attracted mainly by the more esoteric items in the programme, so I was rarely siting in a packed auditorium.
As in previous year audiences had then opportunity to vole on their appreciation or otherwise of the varied features. Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt came out on top. Other among the top twenty were the Palestinian film Five Broken Cameras, the Hollywood’s revisionist history Argo and (of course) the new Michael Haneke Amour (all three are receiving some sort of UK distribution). I thought Amour was a masterful film, the equal of Haneke’s earlier and much praised Cachet, and a worthy Palme D’Or winner. The animation selection seemed particularly strong with two films from this appearing in the audiences top ten: Ernest and Celestine from Belgium and Wolf Children from Japan.
For me the jewels in the crown were the retrospectives, of the Japanese actress and filmmaker Kinuyo Tanaka and the Soviet films of the director Andrei Konchalovsky. The former also offered the pleasure of mainly 35mm prints: the latter were on DCP. The Soviet films had clearly been transferred from old 35mm prints. Some of the subtitles caused a certain amount of amusement among some Russian speaking members of the audience, and at least one had some unfortunate cropping of the framing. But they were fascinating examples of an exciting era in Soviet film.
A bonus this year was that all the 35mm prints were screened at either the Hyde Park Picture House or the Cottage Road Cinema, both of which have proper facilities for this format. It was good to see the Cottage Road in its centenary year participating in the Festival with the screening of early film comedies including Harold Lloyd. The rest of the festival was in a variety of digital formats. Whilst the Festival brochure suggested this would mainly be DCP and HD-Cam, in fact there were an array of other formats including both Blu-Ray and DVD. One of my disappointments was that several of the screenings of early film with live accompaniment were on these formats. Formats which do not do justice to the films as originally conceived. One fortunate and enjoyable exception was the Japanese Crossways.
In terms of venues the sound at the Town Hall has improved, but there is still a muffled quality to the soundtracks, more noticeable in certain parts of the seating. It would be good if the centre of the Festival returned to its original home at the Hyde Park Picture House.
However, it was a full and rewarding fortnight overall. The numerous volunteers were always smiling and helpful, and I am sure the organisers and screening teams were exhausted with their efforts by the end. The good news is that dates have already been marked for 2013, the 8th to 22nd November. This will actually be a shorter period; austerity is hitting us again. We should be thankful (I suppose) that the Festival will continue.