The Big Hebron Interview

Wednesday December 22nd 2010


Photo by Katy Dillon

To celebrate the end of 2010, we spoke to London Film Festival Artistic Director and star of the @ultraculture Twitter feed Sandra Hebron, about watching 650 movies a year, signing autographs and living up to expectations.

How many films did you see in 2010?
It’s quite hard to say, I don’t really keep count. Probably around 500 for the LFF, plus the ones I watch just for myself, say another 150 or so. What tends to happen is that I’ll watch like six a day when I’m at a festival and fewer otherwise.

Could you pick any favourites?
How I Ended This Summer really blew me away: so sparse and yet incredibly powerful and tense. I saw it for the first time in Berlin, very late at night in Russian with German subtitles. My German isn’t very good and I was still really affected by it. And then I watched it again with English subtitles and loved it even more. The Arbor surprised me too, how it managed to weave its different layers together and be so emotionally charged. And Double Tide and Meek’s Cutoff, very different from each other but both extremely minimalist and hugely evocative.

Do you ever pay to go to the cinema?
Oh, absolutely! I think you have to. I used to watch a lot more of the films that come in through open submission, where you’ve got no idea what you’re watching really. I’d sit with a stack of DVDs and have whole weekends literally just watching one after another. And it would get to Sunday night and I had to go to the cinema and hand over cash and sit and watch something, just to remind myself what the cinematic experience actually was. Because, frankly, I might watch ten DVDs in a day and none of them would give me that impression. Plus, I’m still at a point where I can watch films for pleasure, and I think the minute I stop being able to do that I’ll have to stop doing what I do.

You see it with critics all the time, where they’re so bored with everything that they sit there thinking ‘okay, impress me’ but actually they don’t really want to be impressed because if they were, it would totally alter their life view.

Do you ever walk out of films?
I find that I’m much more generous than I used to be, and it’s a total bind because obviously it’s more time consuming. Inevitably I do walk out of films sometimes because – viewing for the festival – there’s a lot to get through, but I always watch the first reel. So if the first twenty minutes are irredeemably bad then I’ll go. If they’re just moderately bad, then I’ll watch another twenty and if the film hasn’t drawn me in by then, it’s not going to draw anybody in, because remember I’m invested in wanting to like it.

It’s not necessarily even that films are bad, it might just be that they’re not for the LFF. So I could see something great, but think ‘okay, that’s a Frightfest film,’ or ‘that’s a Raindance film,’ or ‘that’s not for anybody’.

Do you have a favourite place to see films?
I like seat H9 in NFT1, that’s my favourite. If I ask for a seat there, people know that’s the one I like. And I like The Renoir, just because I like that period of architecture. But I’m quite promiscuous in that sense: I go wherever a film I want to see is showing.

What’s it like stepping into the public eye for two weeks of the year, during the LFF?
I would say it’s the part of the job that I find most difficult, because I’m actually quite private so it feels weird to be so ‘on display’. We have to keep it in perspective though; usually my roll in the festival is to stand next to somebody who people are interested in hearing from. And that’s absolutely fine by me. But what’s quite interesting is how that’s changed over the years. There was a moment when I knew that things were changing when, on one opening night when I was speaking to the line-up of press outside the cinema, one of the journalists said to me, ‘who are you wearing?’ Why would that be of any interest to anybody? Is there some strange equation that says I could pick good films because I’ve got a good dress? Is my ability to dress myself connected to my ability to programme the festival?

People on Twitter are certainly interested in your ability to dress yourself.
I’m quite horrified at that. If you think about people who are properly famous and recognised, what a hideous kind of life that must be. But even having it on a tiny scale is odd. And this year, for the first time, I’ve had the experience of arriving at the cinema and having the autograph guys by the barriers asking me to sign stuff. And it’s just like, ‘believe me, this is never going to be of any value – you’re not going to be selling this on eBay’. I know there are people who would really love that; who would be very happy and very comfortable with that. For me, it’s a part of what I do but not a part of who I am.