This year's BFI London Film Festival has an impressive lineup of Screen Talks, premieres and events. From George Clooney to Ava DuVernay, Soul to Relic, the 64th year has implicitly promised that the current state of the world won't impact the calibre of its content.
Some of this year's exciting films, as featured in our image above, are Mangrove, Ammonite, Mogul Mowgli and Supernova – amongst many more. This high-level lineup wasn't always a given, as Festival director Tricia Tuttle tells Digital Spy.
There was a steep learning curve, and not a lot of time to surmount it.
How have the logistics of organising something like The London Film Festival changed with trying to wrangle everybody virtually?
Every year we evolve slowly and we change things that need to be refreshed. But it's slow process of evolution this year. We are literally doing almost every every letter different; almost every writer compensation is different, the financial model is different.
So that's a huge, huge, huge challenge when you're delivering an event that previously has had audiences of 180,000 people in London and 200,000 attendances across the UK wide as well. It's a big, big operation.
Last year, we had 200 employees; we had 900 filmmakers come through London. So that's the difficult thing. It should be easier, and I guess it would be easier if we were delivering this year on year.
There are there lots of positives. And there are lots of things that are particularly challenging this year.
In terms of accessibility, how has that changed for LFF this year?
What's really different this year is that pretty much every film in the festival is available not just to London audiences but across the UK. The thing that obviously is a challenge is we still we want to replicate that festival experience, so we're still going to be screening virtual premieres at scheduled times.
Audiences will, in most cases, have to get into the screening within 30 minutes or they miss the film. Typical Q and A's and intros are going to be around those films to try to replicate that collective festival experience. And we're also capping the maximum number of tickets so it it won't be an unlimited access across the UK, but gives audiences an opportunity to see those films.
There are exceptions to that — all of the short films in the festival this year will be available for free for the entire window of festival. Every year we have these incredible classic films that have been newly restored. We're making that part of the programme free.
Every year, we have huge filmmakers and on screen talent attending the festival and delivering a what we call screen-talks. This year those will all be free to view in unlimited number of across the UK.
How has going virtual changed your approach to inclusivity especially for disabled people?
I mean, [being virtual] does create not just access geographically, but also physical ability access. You know, not all cinemas are accessible to people who have particular access needs. In this year, obviously, wherever you are, all of us are accessible physically to anyone.
And we're also going to be closed captioning all of our short films and quite a few of our of our feature films. We're going to be having some titles audio described, so it is an accessible festival in that sense as well.
Looking ahead for when we return to in-person festivals, are there elements of what you've had to implement now that you would carry over into them?
Undoubtedly. I mean, one of our long term goals is not had always been to deliver benefits for audiences outside of London. So this has really accelerated that goal.
And there are so many innovations this year. We will want to see what works to take into the into the future, as long as distributors and filmmakers are happy to go there with us. I mean... having said that, we absolutely are super keen to get back also in cinemas.
There are other festivals that have gone ahead with in-person attendance. Have you received any pushback in terms of 'well, Venice is doing it. Why can't you do it?'
Not so much. I mean, we've had hundreds and hundreds of conversations with sales agents, with rights holders, with filmmakers, and with cinemas over the last four months where, I think, we are all trying to solve problems in similar ways in every country.
There's a real awareness of the fact that even though COVID is an international issue that it manifests differently in every country, and every national festival is going to have a different response to that, different restrictions. And we're responding to our own.
So I think the way that festivals look are unique — Toronto looks very different to Venice. New York Film Festival looks very different to London Film Festival. San Sebastian is going to look very different to London Film Festival. So there is a real acknowledgement I think amongst distributors and filmmakers that we all just have to deliver things to our safety and operational protocols.
Was there a new sense of camaraderie that you experienced with your colleagues — of wading into the pool, and everything is slowly getting deeper and deeper and worse and worse?
Yeah, definitely. I have a very, very friendly relationship with [festival] directors and we see each other at other international film events, [and have] some sort of open line of communication.
But I've never done what I did this year, which is have regular phone calls with other directors of major international film festivals to sort of check in and see what they were planning and what kinds of challenges they were facing.
Do you feel that the innate competition between festivals has been ameliorated a little bit? Or was that competition never really there for LFF in particular?
We're an audience-focussed festival. I mean, I'm not particularly fussed about world premieres for our festival. So it isn't there. We're not involved in that sort of jostling.
That jostling does happen with festivals where their current model is about the moment where that film is revealed to the world. But ultimately, this year, it's about what's available when it's available. It's a very collaborative process with some rights holders.
Filmmakers must have some kind of vested interest in how and when their films are shown. Do you deal with that directly?
It's a real mix. I mean, sometimes we're working with the sales company. Sometimes we're working with production companies, sometimes a filmmaker is coming straight to us. So yeah, it's incredibly, incredibly varied.
Filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, like Steve McQueen, like Frances Lee who is closing our festival [with Ammonite], like Spike Lee who has closed the festival, these artists who do have a say in and a very strong voice in the strategies for their films and where they want them.
In terms of communicating with those filmmakers who have that kind of clout, has that also been in a more collaborative spirit?
I think so. Yeah. I mean, it's hard to [talk about] every conversation and every film, so I wouldn't necessarily make a blanket statement. But in general, I think the whole industry sort of recognises that we're trying to solve the same big problems, solving them in different ways, depending on what situation and what country you're in.
We're all we're all facing really, really challenging times, and I think there's a willingness to collaborate and a willingness to experiment.
Has going virtual impacted the films you're premiering this year?
We haven't had to compromise the programming texture and the programming strategy at the festival. We think of it as a sort of Trojan horse model.
You have sort of big filmmakers and big on screen talent — like this year Colin Firth, and Stanley Tucci — but then the audiences, who might be newer to festivals, come to the festival and we love that they quite often experiment [with what they watch] and I'm excited about that that year.
I think one of the things people love about the London Film Festival, and I loved when I came as an audience member, rather than working on the festival, is you get what's called quickening sense of the excitement of cinema.
It's like, the possibilities are so rich, and there's something for everyone in the London Film Festival. And I feel like we despite the challenges, we've delivered that this year, so I'm really, really happy about that.
The 64th BFI London Film Festival runs October 7 — 18
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