THE LONDON FILM SCHOOL CONQUERS THE WORLD; with Two Films by Recent Graduates Going Head-to-Head at the Prestigious Locarno Festival, Mike Leigh's Movie Academy Is Having Its Best Year Ever, Says Nick Roddick

The Evening Standard (London, England), July 24, 2009 | Go to article overview

THE LONDON FILM SCHOOL CONQUERS THE WORLD; with Two Films by Recent Graduates Going Head-to-Head at the Prestigious Locarno Festival, Mike Leigh's Movie Academy Is Having Its Best Year Ever, Says Nick Roddick


Byline: Nick Roddick

THIS afternoon, a small group of film-industry talent-spotters will gather in a Covent Garden basement to watch a selection of recently completed work by students of the London Film School. When they adjourn upstairs for a drink, there will be much to celebrate - it's been a golden week for the school's film-makers.

Last week, Moon - the feature debut by David Bowie's son, Duncan Jones (LFS class of 2001) - was released to rave reviews. Then Locarno, one of a handful of A-grade film festivals and a traditional launchpad for new talent, announced that it had picked films by recent LFS graduates Babak Jalali (Frontier Blues) and Oliver Hermanus (Shirley Adams). The latter was Hermanus's graduation film, and Locarno beat Venice, San Sebastian and Berlin in a bidding war to show it.

Meanwhile, fellow graduate Michael Johnson is writing the screenplay for Jones's upcoming sci-fi flick Mute, having completed work on Guy Ritchie's version of Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey and Jude Law - and alumni Michael Mann continues to do the work at the box office with Public Enemies.

Running since 1956, the LFS is pri-vatepricey (it costs around [pounds sterling]44,000 to complete an MA there) and entirely postgraduate. It takes just over two years to complete the degree, which covers directing, writing and the technical aspects of film. The approach is very hands-on - and the LFS is an extremely international institution, with 75 per cent of its students coming from abroad.

"Oliver, Babak and Duncan are excellent representatives of the school," says LFS chairman Mike Leigh, who studied there in the Sixties. "And coming up is a group of really talented and motivated students from Europe, Latin America, Asia and North America. That is what the School is all about."

The international student mix is a key to the school's success, says director Ben Gibson, who previously ran the BFI Production Board and produced films by Derek Jarman and Terence Davies. "Everyone's foreign here, and that's the thing you really go to film school for: the other students. Equipment you can get in a shop."

Hermanus, a 26-year-old South African, initially found it all a little daunting. "From the day you arrive, the older students are telling you how you have to make films and then show them to an audience of students and film-makers and have them ripped apart. But I prefer that to the more comfortable situation you get in some film schools: it's more real."

The LFS ethos is a blend of the freedom-to-experiment mantra of the Sixties and the harsh realities of the contemporary film industry. As Gibson puts it: "It's a safe place to fail - until 6 o'clock!" The result is an eclectic range of projects: nothing could be further from the intense social realism of Shirley Adams than the poetic nostalgia of Frontier Blues.

Hermanus admits that he has been playing around with the idea for his film for 10 years after his sister, an occupational therapist, told him the story of a teenage boy paralysed in a shooting incident. …

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