Thoughts on this year’s London Film Festival

As the audience settles down for the closing night gala screening of Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea, a few thoughts about this year’s London Film Festival.

The perennial ticketing issue

I don’t like starting with a grumble, but ……. As a BFI member, I usually book tickets by post and haven’t done too badly in the past, but it’s always been a rather haphazard method. This year, trusting soul that I am, I decided to book two films I thought would be in most demand by post and leave the rest to the website.  As soon as online priority booking started, I was there – and after two hours I still didn’t have a single ticket!  The website kept crashing, freezing and it was generally impossible to book anything.

With the LFF being 55 this year, I’d hoped that by now the BFI would know that there are going to be peaks in demand on certain days and would have a website that could cope with this, instead of telling me that my application has timed out or trotting out trite messages apologising for any inconvenience because the website is very busy.  No!!  Really??

I checked to see if any social networking sites were flagging up that the site was crashing and Facebook had a number of posts from people with exactly the same experience as me – from 2010!

I’m pleased to say that both my postal applications were successful and, eventually, I got the tickets I wanted online as well.  In the days of online technology, snail mail clearly still rules.  I know how I’ll be booking my tickets next year!!

Good but not vintage

This year’s line up of films has been a interesting one and the event has provided a good showcase for the movies themselves though, as you’ll see in the next section, anybody wanting to dig deeper could have felt short-changed.  And that chance to look at things in more depth has to be integral to a true festival of film.

That said, I was fortunate enough to see the films that really interested me and I could easily have seen more – Polanski’s Carnage and tonight’s The Deep Blue Sea were two that caught my eye.  The Surprise Film, which is always a sell-out and often turns out to be one of the big films of the year (think No Country For Old Men and The Wrestler), was Damsels In Distress from Whit Stillman.  Whether it’ll live up to its predecessors remains to be seen ……….

What’s happened to Screen Talks?

At previous festivals, I’ve really enjoyed the Screen Talks and have been to some great interviews with the likes of Laura Linney, Julianne Moore, Wes Anderson and Robert Carlyle.  But they’ve diminished of late, with only three last year and this, so that festival goers have fewer opportunities to get a more in-depth view of films on the schedule.  Is there truly a shortage of performers and directors who want to talk about and promote their latest work?

In the run-up to both last and this year’s festivals, there’s been a tremendous series of lectures by screenwriters: last year’s focus was on British screenwriting and I saw Sir David Hare and Ronald Harwood, while this year’s had a broader remit and I was fortunate enough to be there for Paul Laverty and the truly inspirational Charlie Kaufman.  I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t an argument for incorporating this series into the LFF so that the Screen Talks element is restored to its former glory, rather than letting it fade away.  Of course, they would need to have a film showing at the festival, but …….

A note on no-shows

All the screenings I attended were shown on the LFF website as being fully booked – but each one had seats to spare.  In fact, Coriolanus was only two thirds full!  Admittedly, as a daytime showing, its ticket price was only £7 (a bargain, if ever there was one!) so maybe the no-shows didn’t worry about losing a small amount of money.  But I also understand from staff at the ticket office that tickets can only be returned “at the management’s discretion” – which would probably account for all those spare seats.  It would also account for all the people who would have loved to have seen a film – but couldn’t!

A pause or applause?

When I first went to the LFF, I was struck by how audiences showed their appreciation at the end of a film, regardless of whether any of the stars or film-makers were in attendance.  Clapping a film at your local multiplex just isn’t the done thing, although there have been times when I’ve felt like it, so being being allowed to was wonderfully refreshing.

But a couple of years ago, things seemed to change.  At the end of Soderberg’s The Informant!, the audience just got up and walked out in silence: I took this as a comment on the film and, if it was, I agreed with it.  But now I’m not sure that this was the case.  Last year nobody clapped at Clooney’s The American and the screening I attended this year of We Need To Talk About Kevin was greeted with silence, much to my surprise.  I’m hoping that the applause that accompanied Coriolanus and The Ides of March might be a sign that it’s coming back into favour again.

And finally ……

Well, it is finally for LFF Artistic Director Sandra Hebron, as this year’s festival was her last.  Apparently, the roles of Artistic Director for the LFF and for BFI Southbank are being combined, so it’ll be interesting to see how one person can handle both roles.  Hebron took up the director’s chair in 2003 and has successfully increased audience figures every year since, no mean achievement in recent years.  And London is now a credible fixture on the international film festival circuit, attracting big name visitors like George Clooney, Danny Boyle and Robert Redford.

I’ve only being going to the London Film Festival since 2006 but, in that time, have seen some excellent films, such as The Assassination of Jesse James, The Savages and this year’s The Ides of March (plus a few duds like The Informant!, Lions For Lambs and W), as well as some great interviews.  It’s a permanent fixture on my calendar and I sincerely hope it stays that way.  Good luck to Sandra in whatever she does next.  Her successor will need a large portion of luck too: she’s a tough act to follow.

Here’s to next year!



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