The London Film Festival: a cut-out-and-keep primer

Thursday August 30th 2012

The Dates
The jewel in London’s glittering film calendar, the BFI London Film Festival (in partnership with American Express </contractual obligation>) returns to the Big Smoke this year between the 10th and 21st of October and will once again be based at the Vue West End in Leicester Square and the BFI Southbank… on the Southbank. The press launch is due to take place on Wednesday 5th September, with the announcement of the full programme and the consumption of a large number of complimentary pastries. Booking will open soon after, first for BFI members and then  — once there are roughly a dozen tickets remaining — for the proletariat.
The Opening Film
It was announced last week that this year’s Opening Night Gala will be the European premiere of Tim Burton’s $85million vanity project Frankenweenie, a 3D black-and-white stop motion-animated remake of his own 1984 short film of the same name. This will mark the second time in four years that the festival has opened with an animated film (2009’s fest began with Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox) but in what’s almost certainly an attempt to get one over on old Wes, Frankenweenie will in fact receive 30 simultaneous premieres in cinemas across the country. Consider my fingers well and truly crossed for the Putney Odeon.
The Closing Film
‘Cherished’ British director (and worst thing ever to happen to the Harry Potter film franchise) Mike Newell makes his first trip in more than a decade to the festival with his new version of Great Expectations, adapted by One Day author David Nicholls from the Jacobi-adored Dickens classic. Newell is quoted as saying that he’s ‘tried to make a film for a young modern audience’ — ten of the most ominous words ever committed to a press release.
The New Hebron
As you may or may not remember (you bloody should), 2011 marked HRH Sandra Hebron‘s last year as the festival’s artistic director. This October, ex-director of the Sydney Film Festival Clare Stewart takes on the not-undaunting task of filling those downright stylish boots. I know that many of you will feel a great deal of resentment towards Stewart by mere virtue of her not being Hebron, but please, let’s give her the benefit of the doubt for now. It’s what Sandra would have wanted.
The New Strands
In a radical change of tack, the London Film Festival is this year dropping its well-worn geography-based category system in favour of a new set of thematic strands. So if you fancy something French you’re screwed, but connoisseurs of love, adrenalin, challenge, debate, cult, journeys and laughter are in for a treat. And as you can see, those who enjoy arguing the precise meaning of ‘cult film’ will have plenty to occupy themselves with too. There’s also a new partnership with Nintendo, who are sponsoring a gala and running a short film competition ‘using the 3D video recorder built into the Nintendo 3DS system’. Hmm.
The Toronto Influx
As ever, the festival’s proximity to the Toronto International Film Festival, which ends less than a month before London begins, means that many of the films premiered there will inevitably amble across the pond for a low-key showing or two here. Hyde Park on HudsonArgo and To The Wonder all seem like safe bets, and given that every single one of his films has appeared at the LFF In one form or another, a snub for Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers would be a tragedy of global proportions.
The World Premieres
The London Film Festival isn’t really about world premieres (or at least it hasn’t been since it inexplicably got the first showings of Fantastic Mr. Fox AND Frost/Nixon back in 2009) but a few do tend to sneak in on the lower echelons of the festival programme. One that’s already confirmed is the world premiere of the 1929 (stay with me) Hitchcock silent film The Manxman, or at least its shiny new BFI National Archive restoration. Probably one of the more subtle films you’ll see playing in the 1300-seat Empire Leicester Square this autumn.
The Chances of George Clooney Coming This Year
Sadly, for the first time since 2008, it seems somewhat unlikely that The Cloons will be joining us in Leicester Square come October. His last six films have all shown at the festival, but his next one — Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity — isn’t due until 2013. I hope you’ll join me in pouring one out for this absent angel as we watch Helena Bonham Carter grouching up the red carpet for the 162nd time.