Magazine article Variety

Quick-Change Artistry

Magazine article Variety

Quick-Change Artistry

Article excerpt

With all due respect, new fest director finds bold moves are beautiful

LONDON

After revitalizing the struggling Sydney Film Festival, Clare Stewart is facing a very different challenge in taking over the British Film Institute's buoyant London Film Festival from much-loved former artistic director Sandra Hebron.

"It's the delicious conundrum of great success," says Stewart, a confident and outgoing Australian who moved to the U.K. last year to take up the expanded role as the BFI's head of exhibition.

"I fully accept that I've come into a very successful festival, a festival that to all intents and purposes has reached its capacity, and the challenge is how to continue the growth."

Stewart certainly hasn't been afraid to make major changes, importing several innovations that she pioneered in Sydney.

She has cut the length of this 56th edition from 16 days to 12. It opens on its usual Wednesday (Oct. 10) with Tim Burton's "Frankenweenie," but now closes on a Sunday (Oct. 21) with Mike Newell's "Great Expectations."

However, she has increased the spread of venues, expanding from the traditional BFI Southbank and Leicester Square core to farther-flung arthouses, including the Hackney Picturehouse, the Screen on the Green in Islington, the Renoir in Bloomsbury and the Rich Mix in Shoreditch.

As a result, the capacity of the festival has actually risen 18%, including a 40% jump in evening and weekend screenings that are more likely to sell out.

"In a metropolitan festival, it's different from Park City or the Lido or Cannes, where you have a very controlled geographical space, and the festival is all that's going on," Stewart says. "London is a very big cultural marketplace, and one way to ensure awareness of the film festival across the city is actually to expand your physical presence."

Stewart's other eyecatching innovation is to do away with sections defined by geographical origin, and replace them with "pathways" according to theme, each with its own flagship gala. There's Love, Debate, Dare, Laugh, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Sonic and Family, along with Experimenta, Treasures and Shorts.

"We looked very carefully at data to try and see what are the factors that inform audience choice, and right at the top was what a film is about - the genre - ahead of the star, word-of-mouth or reviews," Stewart says. …

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