This month marked the 58th occurrence of the BFI London Film Festival and my fourth year in attendance. I love the London Film Festival – it’s a very ‘London’ combination of excellent films and overpriced tickets with a general air of hipster, and I wouldn’t have it any other way (except maybe the ticket prices).
The great thing about LFF compared to other film festivals is a. it’s in the city where I live and b. it takes place after all the other major festivals and therefore acts as a kind of ‘best of’ compilation, capping off the festival season and setting up the awards season. This year I was able to see Cannes Palme d’Or winner Winter Sleep, whilst much talked about films like Brad Pitt flick Fury and angry drumming film Whiplash were also playing. But LFF also presents the chance to see more obscure films, which is something I really appreciate happening in my home town once a year.
The films I saw at the festival are some of the best I’ve seen all year, and they’re the kind of thing that are (unfortunately) unlikely to get any kind of wide release. I found Macondo an insightful and engaging interaction with the inhabitants of a refugee settlement outside Vienna from a child’s point of view, which includes a stunning non-professional cast; The Way He Looks was the most adorable and heart warming story about the developing sexuality of a blind Brazilian teen; and Kelly & Cal was the kind of independent spirited American film I like, about an unconventional relationship with a particularly excellent performance from Juliette Lewis.
On a side note about wide releases, LFF often presents that odd aspect of the film industry (in particular the UK film industry) where films successfully play festivals across the world and then take an age (or fail altogether) to get a general release – and not just the ‘small’ films like the ones mentioned above. It’s absurd that last year’s ‘Surprise Film’ – Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmaster (a martial arts film directed by one of the world’s finest filmmakers, with Hong Kong’s most recognisable stars, an international cut overseen by Harvey Weinstein, and two Oscar nominations) is still waiting for a UK release which is now scheduled for this December, 14 months after its LFF debut. The film industry probably needs to make films more accessible, right?
The other great thing about LFF is how it shows off London. There’s a great atmosphere across the West End when it’s going on, with red carpet premieres, directors in attendance of most films, and a feeling of shared experience as hundreds of film fans crowd into the bigger screenings at Vue or Odeon in Leicester Square. But LFF makes the most of London’s smaller venues too. I am increasingly convinced after seeing Kelly & Cal there this year and Drinking Buddies last year that Screen 1 of Hackney Picturehouse is my favourite place to see a film in London. Plus one of my favourite things this year was when I had 45 mins to get from a West End screening to a Hackney screening, adding a kind of thrill to the chase and a city wide scale to the festival.
My only slight annoyance with LFF is the ticketing process. Not having a BFI membership makes it hard to get tickets for the big films, but on the upside I like picking up the left over tickets that go on sale a just before the festival begins and I enjoy scouting out the smaller films. And then there’s the ticket prices – £16 for a regular evening screening is pretty steep and Galas or Imax films go above £20. This definitely limits the number of films I can see, but hey, it’s to be expected from London I guess.
LFF is one of the many reasons I love living in London – having the connection to these kind of events is something that makes this city great.