Magazine article Screen International

The Public Eye

Magazine article Screen International

The Public Eye

Article excerpt

The BFI London Film Festival (Oct 10-21) enters a new era in 2012, with Clare Stewart at the helm and a focus on engaging audiences.

From striking international debut films to a red-carpet appearance by The Rolling Stones, the 56th BFI London Film Festival (LFF) aims to offer something for everyone. Indeed, audience engagement is at the heart of the LFF's first edition under the leadership of Clare Stewart.

Stewart is an Australia native who drove up audiences in her last job at the Sydney Film Festival before joining the BFI in October 2011. She has big shoes to fill after the departure of Sandra Hebron, the popular former head of the festival who stepped down in late 2011.

Stewart pays tribute to the festival she inherited which was in great standing, as audiences have increased in recent years. "You want to build a programme that's going to satisfy the existing audience and also be really attractive to a new audience," she says.

To that end, Stewart has already made significant changes: the festival has shortened its run from 16 to 12 days, the footprint in London has expanded into venues outside the West End including the Hackney Picturehouse and the Rich Mix in east London, and the Everyman Screen on the Green in north London, in addition to the usual central London cinemas in Leicester Square and at the BFI Southbank. The opening gala, Frankenweenie, will be shown in 30 UK cinemas and American Express gala Crossfire Hurricane will be shown across the UK and also internationally.

Also, Stewart has shaken up the festival sections by adding clearly defined sections for Official Competition, First Feature Competition and Documentary Competition, plus grouping the rest of the programme selections into themes rather than traditional sidebars.

"We have been looking at information about what influences audience choice. People respond more to what the film is about and genre than what stars are in it or reviews," she notes. Stewart introduced similar programming moods in Sydney, resulting in audience attendance growing by 31%.

The thematic clusters, and a representative gala for each, are Love (Amour), Debate (The Pervert's Guide To Ideology), Dare (The Reluctant Fundamentalist), Laugh (Sightseers), Thrill (Chakravyuh), Cult (A Liar's Autobiography), Journey (Beyond The Hills) and Family (Ernest & Celestine). The Sonic theme sees a screening of Spike Island. In all, the festival will present 225 features and 111 shorts.

The competitors

The international competition "reflects the festival's fantastic international profile and also a strong commitment to our audience", Stewart says. UK films are not segregated but spread across the line-up: in the Official Competition, UK film-makers represented are Michael Winterbottom with Everyday and Sally Potter with Ginger & Rosa. In a year when no women made the cut in Cannes, the LFF boasts four female film-makers in the Competition: Potter, Deepa Mehta, Rama Burshtein and Cate Shortland.

The Documentary Competition, in partnership with the Grierson Trust, includes films such as Sarah Gavron's Village At The End Of The World, Shola Lynch's Free Angela And All Political Prisoners, Alex Gibney's Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House Of God, Amy Berg's West Of Memphis and Sébastien Lifshitz's Les Invisibles.

The First Feature Competition, spearheaded by longtime LFF programmer Michael Hayden, and the Best British Newcomer selections showcase a range of work. "That includes films like My Brother The Devil which has been anticipated since Sundance and also real new discoveries like The Comedian and Shell," Stewart adds. "With the Best British Newcomer Award, we've got some really exciting talent coming up. It was exciting for me to see the responses coming out of Toronto," she says, pointing to Rowan Athale's buzzy debut feature Wasteland.

Increased capacity

Last year's festival already had an occupancy rate of 80%, with the 20% difference mostly for daytime weekday screenings. …

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