Friday, October 12, 2012

British Film Institute - London Film Festival

Between October 10th and October 22nd, the British Film Institute are hosting their 56th annual London Film Festival, featuring movies that are shown before their UK release date and films that will probably never get a UK release date or distribution. It was officially opened with the animated film Frankenweenie 3D, and will end with the UK premiere of Great Expectations featuring Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes.

56th BFI London Film Fesitval logo - Source: BFI

As a film fan, as soon as I heard about this year's festival, I was on the BFI's website and shortlisting films I wanted to see. As a reader of Empire Magazine, I was pleased to see the appearance of Room 237, a documentary on Kubrick's The Shining, which Empire had rated 5-stars. That was the first film added to my shortlist. Having watched the 1946 version, I was also keen to watch Great Expectations, but alas with this being the premiere and all, it was sold out.

Also on my shortlist was the Italian film The Interval, the thriller Blood, and one I thought looked particularly interesting - the South Korean film Helpless. I asked my girlfriend to write her own list of films too, and interestingly both of our lists contained 12 films - although they were varied somewhat. We had both picked out Seven Psychopaths, the follow-up to my favourite black comedy, In Bruges. She was also keen to push Blancanieves, which looked an interesting mix as it was declared to be Tim Burton meets The Artist.

In the end the list had to be shortened down to two or three films that we could see on the same day (living a while away from London causes logistical issues). Tying up which films were being shown sequentially narrowed down the choices, until I finally settled on Room 237 and Painless - a Spanish thriller/drama about children who do not feel pain.

I feel it has a certain air of sophistication to be going to a 'film festival', but I just told my work colleagues that I was effectively going to London to go to the cinema twice. After leaving the screening for Room 237 this is exactly what it felt like. I'd sweated on the London Underground, dodged rain and avoided a school trip on my way to the Leicester Square showing - there was little more to it than that, except for a pleasing lack of adverts before the show.

We'd previously travelled to the second cinema to get an idea of where it was. Ciné Lumière was a single screen literally surrounded by French culture in the Institut français du Royaume-Uni (French Institute in London) and is more renowned for showing French films that the British are largely ignorant of. The building also houses a cafe and a mediatheque - something far more charming and quaint than the big-screen multiplexes common in leisure parks up and down the country.

The cinema didn't have allocated seating, so we were keen to get in quick to get our seats and happily ended up in our favourite place - our view placed firmly in the centre of the screen. We were pleasantly surprised by the announcement before the show that director Juan Carlos Medina would be on stage afterwards for a short question and answer session which provided a unique insight into this film including his experiences of working with the actors and his personal background showing why the film was special to him.

Call me naive, but I knew very little about the Spanish civil war and didn't even realise that Painless touched on this era. The post-film interview with Juan Carlos Medina opened my eyes on a very recent and rarely covered piece of Spanish history. Medina himself said with brutal honesty that "no-one talks about it... because the bad guys won".

The most harrowing part of it all was that it - along with many of this year's festival - will probably never see a UK release or distribution. At this point I realised that it was this reason that make film festivals around the world so special. There isn't a big fanfare before or after the showings and neither should there be. They are films like any other - but often without the budget or studio backing of the blockbusters that dominate the other 90% of cinemas up and down the country.

Big conglomerates should give these smaller films a chance to share their culture - if only for one showing per week. Without smaller, personal cinemas like Ciné Lumière we are forgetting the heritage of films and leaving it to Hollywood to dominate our screens with repetitive tales of comic book heroes.

Thank you, BFI and the London Film Fesitval for opening my eyes and I look forward to next year!

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