(For all of my LFF film reviews, head over to Take One)
With a poster that invites you to ‘Feel it’, the 56th BFI London Film Festival is a veritable treasure trove of tantalising cinema, as ever promising to sate even the most eclectic tastes. Taking place until 21st October, the eleven day festival has been subjected to something of a change; taking over from Sandra Hebron, who bowed down from her eight year stint as artistic director last year, Clare Stewart makes her debut as festival director for the latest showcase of international cinema, wafting fresh air into a somewhat dated formula. Former director of the Sydney film festival, Stewart has done away with the old structure of the programme and rearranged it, creating something of a more regimented and incisive approach to capturing the inclusive nature of the festival’s wide variety of films.
Instead of differentiating the films through categories that section off their respective nationality (New British Cinema, World Cinema, etc), Stewart has implemented a significant alteration that sees new categories that help to index the broad range of films. Festivalgoers can now choose films from a desired section: Love, Debate, Dare, Laugh, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Sonic, Family, Shorts, Events & Exhibitions, Experimenta and Treasures. Though this is a somewhat rudimentary tactic, it does help to classify cinema, offering both the film aficionado and the more discerning novice opportunity to fully get to grips with their chosen film and appreciate their basic associations with specific genres as they navigate through the 200 plus feature films on offer (plus a variety of shorts).
As ever, the festival features a selection of Gala screenings, prestigious films that promise to represent most of the new categories in some respects. Kicking off the festival is Tim Burton’s awaited return to stop-motion with Frankenweenie, an expansion of the director’s 1984 live-action short film of the same name. Very much a British-aided production, this darkly humorous and whimsical film is set to start the festival in exquisitely crafted style, something mirrored by the Closing Night Gala screening of Mike Newell’s Great Exectations, a ravishing new adaptation starring Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes and Jeremy Irvine. Other anticipated Gala’s come in the shape of Crossfire Hurricane, a documentary celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Rolling Stones (with band members in attendance, no less); Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or-winning AMOUR; the follow-up to The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema in the shape of The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (once again featuring madcap cineaste Slavoj Žižek); Sight & Sound’s presentation of Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills, as well as the world premiere of Hitchcock’s The Manxman, which brings the BFI’s glorious ode to the master of suspense to a silent close.
Of course, attempting to fully convey the range of other films playing would be a lugubrious task, but rest assured that there are a number of spectacular films sprinkled throughout the Official Competition, Documentary and First Feature competitions, with the latter containing such films as Benh Zeitlin’s wondrous Beasts of the Southern Wild and Scott Graham’s devastatingly human Shell. Whatever your tastes, make sure you at least take note of the treats the latest festival has in store, as there is a multitude of fine films that will no doubt be vying for your attention throughout the next year or so.