As Barry Norman says, the London Film Festival is "the only important showcase for international cinema in Britain". After over 50 years, film lovers congregate in London's cinemas each October to view the year's most breathtaking productions.
Celebrities converge in the West End of London in order to connect with friends and colleagues. From Kate Hudson to Michael Caine to Jane Horrocks, festival goers observe their favorite celebrities. In 2012, 16,000 film fanatics showed up at the festival, along with 735 Industry delegates and 660 press delegates.
In 2001, Adrian Wooten stepped up as the new director of the London Film Festival; skeptics dreaded the change, but Wooten chose to make only minor changes to the programme saying, "We've decided we didn't want to make any radical changes. We were perfectly happy with the way things were running." Due to his leadership, attendance has increased yearly.
The popular "Festival on the Square" presents films on large screens in the centre of Leicester Square. Film lovers come to the square to party and watch films throughout the night. To the disappoint of many, not all films are in English; however, the Festival's directors choose to present some of the best movies from around the globe even though they may be filmed in other languages.
Unlike many popular film festivals, this month's London Film Festival does not offer prizes only for the short film competition. The "Classic Shorts" film competition is judged by popular actors, directors, and other celebrities each year; former judges have included Ewan McGregor, Ridley Scott, and John Madden.
Now in its year, the London Film Festival is the longest, most comprehensive festival in the world. Stretching over 16 days, the Festival screens more than 300 films from around 50 countries each year. Spread throughout London, the London International Film Festival occupies much of the city's space and the public's mind during the two plus weeks of the festival.
London does not have the high profile premieres found at some of the other European festivals, but the atmosphere is uniquely buzzing. Attendance is high, and at least half of the screenings are generally sold out. Leicester Square is packed during the Festival, and the rest of the city also feels the effects of the thousands of extra guests coming to the city to celebrate the silver screen.
The Times Eye says, "It is often said that film festivals resemble the city in which it takes place. So Berlin is meticulously organised, precise; easygoing Venice always appears to be on the verge of collapse; and Cannes is flashy, wealthy and sun-baked. The Times BFI London Film Festival meanwhile is huge, vibrant, diverse and undoubtedly cool."
Recent Festival Happenings
The London International Film Festival has experienced some interesting off-screen drama through the years. In 2002, United States director, Larry Clark, had his film taken off the schedule after he attempted to choke his British distributor during an argument. His film, Ken Park, was set to be screened during the Festival, but now the distributor is considering whether the film should even be distributed. The film shows violent, graphic, incestuous sex, which could be disconcerting for viewers.
According to Laura De Casto, managing editor of Metro Tartan, who was sitting at the table, "It all happened so suddenly, as they had a discussion about politics. I saw Mr Clark stand up, throw a punch at Mr McAlpine, kick the table over, jump at him on the ground, and start choking him, before two chefs came out of the kitchen and pulled them apart." Such stunts obviously do not happen often, but when they do, the Festival experiences a serious damange to its reputation.
In 2003, the closing Gala screened Christine Jeff's Sylvia starring Gwyneth Paltrow. The film was a major success in all respects. "This is a film very close to our hearts," said Paltrow, "When you play someone who is not fictional you have a great responsibility to stay true to the character, especially someone like Sylvia who is so brilliant and complicated." According to all those attending the screening, Paltrow did an amazing job staying true to Plath's character.
The greatest success of the 2003 Festival was the film Osama by an Afghan director, Siddiq Barma. The story is presented through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl who disguises herself as a boy in order to try and earn a living. The judges praised the film for opening the world's eyes to the difficulties and starkness of life under the Taliban rule "in a style which is direct, accessible and unflinching." The film won the influential Sutherland trophy and the BFI award, presented annually to "the most original and imaginative feature film from an international director screened at the festival."
The 2003 Festival was especially strong with attendance up 5% from the previous year. Attendance rose above 115,000 with a record 123 screenings sold out during the festival. Organisers and attendees judged the film lineup to be especially strong that year, and much of the credit for the festival's success should go to the movie makers who created an exceptional selection of movies.
In 2012, the 46-year-old actress Helena Bonham Carter joined her partner Tim Burton at the premiere of his new movie Frankenweenie. The director, who is well-known for his films Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice and Corpse Bride, was seen posing with the stars of his latest film.
And before Bonham Carter joined them she was seen paying some special attention to a fan in the crowd who had showed up dressed as the Red Queen - a role which the actress took on in Burton's remake of Alice in Wonderland.
The London International Film Festival and its participants, organisers, and attendees recognize and devote themselves to the power of film to touch people's hearts and fight injustice. As the London Press Service said, "This year's London Film Festival will send a strong message, that cinema remains the most politically unbiased and therefore the most recognised by the popular culture medium in the UK and internationally."
Throughout much of the world, governments
regulate what is shown at film festivals, but in the UK, the London Festival,
as well as others, showcase cutting edge and often controversial fare, often in documentary often. It is particularly because of London that the documentary has made a comeback and we should be thankful for it.